1 February 2004
New York Times, January 31, 2004
By EDWARD WONG
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Jan. 30 The Iraqi authorities, with the help of American intelligence agencies, are creating an intelligence service here that will focus on rooting out guerrilla fighters, especially those from outside the country, Iraqi and American officials said Friday. The service will employ some former agents of Saddam Hussein's security apparatus and will probably receive financing from the American government, the officials said.
Many of the agents will work in the border towns of Iraq to identify foreign fighters who have slipped into the country and will monitor their activities, said Ibrahim al-Janabi, a senior member of the Iraqi Governing Council's security committee. The service will employ 500 to 2,000 people, he said, and is expected to be formed well before the Bush administration transfers sovereignty to an Iraqi government on June 30.
The Central Intelligence Agency is taking the lead in helping put together the new service, American officials said. The C.I.A. has close ties to the Iraqi National Accord, an opposition group founded by former Baath Party members who worked from London and Jordan to try to overthrow Mr. Hussein's government.
The head of the group, Iyad Alawi, heads the Governing Council's security committee and met in December with the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, at C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., to discuss the new intelligence service, officials said. Mr. Janabi, also a senior official in the group, is a leading candidate to head the new service.
The formation of an intelligence service is a very delicate matter here because of the deadly history of Mr. Hussein's secret police force, the Mukhabarat, the main instrument of domestic repression. The agency dissolved after the ouster of Mr. Hussein in April, and many senior officials fled to neighboring countries.
"Under the Saddam regime, the entire structure of Iraq was built on security," Mr. Janabi said as he sat in his office in a building once used to train Baath Party officials. "The mentality of the people revolved around this security."
The new service's projected focus on foreign fighters could help allay public fears of a return to those days.
Mr. Janabi said fewer than 5 percent of the workers in the new agency would be recruited from the ranks of the Mukhabarat and other security forces that operated under Mr. Hussein. They will be vetted to weed out those guilty of human rights crimes, he added. He insisted that their connections, knowledge and experience could prove invaluable.
The creation of the new service comes at a time when American and Iraqi officials are trying to determine the significance of the role played by foreign fighters in the insurgency. Their numbers might not be large, but some officials say the most devastating attacks the suicide car bombings appear to be the work of such fighters.
Some Iraqi officials, including Ahmad Chalabi, a Governing Council member with strong backing from the Pentagon, say they oppose the new effort out of fear that it may empower dangerous members of the old security forces.
Mr. Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress, has long competed bitterly with the Iraqi National Accord for backing from the American government, which helps explain the clash between the two over the new service.
Another point of contention is that the Iraqi National Congress condemns the participation of former high-ranking Baath Party members in any aspect of public life, and especially in the new security forces. Mr. Chalabi is heading a committee on the Governing Council in charge of purging senior Baathists from the government, and recently unveiled a new set of laws intended to do that.
Organizers of the new intelligence service "are recruiting former Mukhabarat officers in other countries, people who went into exile after the war and who are now coming back," said Entifadh K. Qanbar, a spokesman for Mr. Chalabi who sits in on meetings of the Governing Council's security committee. "We should vet them before they're recruited."
Mr. Qanbar said American agents had recruited several such people in Jordan. Though he insisted that some recruits had taken part in the "oppression of the Iraqi people," he said he could not provide evidence to back that assertion.
He added that the creation of the new intelligence service was being conducted in secret and that it might be viewed as illegitimate under the new sovereign government established after June 30.
As planned now, the service will fall under the Ministry of the Interior, which supervises many of the new security forces in Iraq, including the police and the border patrol. Nouri Badran, head of the ministry and an official in the Iraqi National Accord, sharply criticized the Baathist purges at a news conference this week. He said the "so-called de-Baathification laws" put into effect in May by L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, had wrecked the country's security forces.
"We lost a lot of people with long experience, with all kinds of experience," Mr. Badran said. "We had to let them go."
Securing the borders is crucial because "now there are indications of foreign intelligence activity and attempts to infiltrate Iraqi institutions," he added. "We need intelligence agencies to get information on the terrorists that are coming into the country."
There are varying estimates of the number of foreign fighters in Iraq. Mr. Janabi, the senior official at the Iraqi National Accord, said he believed that there were up to 5,000 such fighters in the country, with less than a fifth of those carrying out the operations and the rest involved in financing, recruiting and other logistical activities. Many were coming across the Syrian and Saudi borders, he said, and some from Iran.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a spokesman for the occupation forces, estimated that there were a total of 3,000 to 5,000 guerrilla fighters in Iraq, with 5 to 10 percent of those coming from outside the country.
Many of the new intelligence agents will be trained outside Iraq, primarily in Jordan and Egypt, Mr. Janabi said, adding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation may help with the training.
Mr. Janabi said there was "nothing official" in the way of financing coming from the C.I.A. But Washington will probably provide some money, American officials said. The American government secretly contributes to several intelligence services in the Islamic world with which it has close ties, including those in Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan and Algeria.
The Iraqi National Accord and the Iraqi National Congress have long been archrivals, each working for the overthrow of Mr. Hussein but with backing from competing branches of the American government.
The Iraqi National Accord, led by Sunni Arabs who once belonged to the Baath Party, was nurtured by the C.I.A. In 1996, operating with the agency out of Jordan, it tried to organize a coup by military officers in Iraq, but failed when Iraqi intelligence agents learned of the plans. Several months before the American-led invasion last March, it tried reaching out to top Iraqi military officials to persuade them to turn against Mr. Hussein.
The Iraqi National Congress is supported by the Defense Department and works closely with the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon's intelligence arm, even though the party has been sharply criticized for exaggerating the threat from illicit weapons. The party has taken over the old headquarters of the Mukhabarat, and American men in civilian dress apparently D.I.A. operatives can be seen walking the hallways of the building.