BAGHDAD, Iraq – The massacre of 50 unarmed Iraqi cadets headed home on leave suggests Iraqi insurgents have infiltrated Iraq’s security forces deeply enough to gain intelligence and make precision strikes of their own.
Although U.S. officials say it’s too early to tell whether the cadets were set up, some American officers have long regarded Iraq’s security forces as susceptible to infiltration. Last week, defense officials in Washington described Iraq’s security forces as “heavily infiltrated” by insurgents.
“The police and military forces all have insurgents in them,” according to Lt. Col. Jeffrey Sinclair of the 1st Infantry Division. “You don’t have a pure force.”
The massacre Saturday night near the Iranian border was the most dramatic of a growing number of precision attacks by guerrillas who appear to be operating with inside information on movements, identities and future plans of Iraqi security forces.
“Subversion of the government and armed forces is the bread and butter of an insurgency,” said Bruce Hoffman, a RAND Corp. counterinsurgency expert who advised the U.S.-led occupation authority. “These people know what they’re doing. They’re pushing all the levers.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim acknowledged Monday that “undesirable elements” joined the Iraqi police and National Guard last year.
“Definitely the government is dealing with this issue,” Kadhim said. “We do not want untrustworthy security officers.”
Examples of infiltration are widespread.
At Abu Ghraib prison, Iraqi guards gave maps of the prison to inmates who wanted to escape and smuggled in drugs and weapons, including a handgun given to a prisoner who engaged in a shootout with U.S. troops, said Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was once in charge of the prison.
The U.S.-led occupation authority “simply bypassed the vetting process,” said Karpinski, who was relieved of her command after prisoner abuses at the prison came to light.
Karpinski said she suspects two car bombings next to the prison were done with help from Iraqi guards, many of whom disappeared as soon as they were given weapons.
In Tikrit, Sinclair said last month that his division was carrying out spot checks of Iraqi police cruisers to try to stop crooked police from running guns to the insurgents.
Dozens of suspect police officers and Iraqi soldiers have been arrested across Iraq for insurgent ties, although U.S. and Iraqi officials declined to release numbers.
In September, U.S. troops arrested a senior Iraqi National Guard commander, Lt. Gen. Talib al-Lahibi, for insurgent ties. Al-Lahibi was arrested in Diyala province near where Saturday’s massacre occurred.
And last month, U.S. troops arrested an Iraqi National Guard battalion commander, Col. Daham Abd, allegedly for providing ammunition, money and information to the insurgents near the northern city of Kirkuk.
The fact that the insurgents managed to waylay so many troops Saturday – unarmed, wearing civilian clothes and headed home on leave – led some Iraqi officials to speculate the guerrillas may have been tipped off on the recruits’ movements.
“There was probably collusion among the soldiers or other groups,” Diyala’s deputy Gov. Aqil Hamid al-Adili told Al-Arabiya television. “Otherwise, the gunmen would not have gotten the information about the soldiers’ departure from their training camp and that they were unarmed.”
A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Steve Boylan, said it was too early to declare the Diyala massacre an inside job.
“Do I have any hard evidence either way? No,” Boylan said. “I’m not sure anyone does, neither us nor the Iraqi government. It’s way too early to conclude that it was guys who went over to the other side.”
During a briefing for reporters at the Pentagon last week, a U.S. official said Iraq’s security forces were heavily infiltrated. In some cases, members of the Iraqi security services have developed sympathies and contacts with guerrillas; in others, infiltrators were sent to join the groups, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The official pointed to a mortar attack Oct. 19 on an Iraqi National Guard compound near Baghdad as a probable inside job. The attackers apparently knew precisely when and where the unit’s members were gathering and dropped mortar rounds in the middle of their formation. At least four Iraqis were killed and 80 were wounded.