BAGHDAD – Suspicious of Iraq’s CIA-funded national intelligence agency, members of the Iraqi government have erected a “shadow” secret service that critics say is driven by a Shiite agenda and has left the country with dueling spy agencies.
The minister of state for national security, a Shiite named Sherwan Waeli, has built a spy service boasting an estimated 1,200 intelligence agents out of a second-tier ministry with a minimal staff and meager budget, Western officials say.
“He has representatives in every province,” a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At the moment, it’s a slightly shady parallel organization.”
Shiite officials say the minister is providing information on al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party that isn’t being supplied by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS, the institution meant to be Iraq’s primary spy service.
The INIS was established in the spring of 2004 by the U.S. occupation authority and since then has been under the command of Gen. Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, a Sunni involved in a CIA-backed coup plot against Saddam a decade ago. Over the last three years, Shahwani’s agency has been funded by the CIA, according to the U.S. military and Iraqi officials.
The service reports directly to Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but Shiite members of his government distrust the agency, which contains intelligence agents from the Saddam era. For most of 2005 and the first part of 2006, Shahwani was banned from attending Cabinet meetings.
“The general feeling is that the intelligence service is not functioning or conducting its work in the proper way,” said Deputy Parliament Speaker Sheik Khalid Attiyah, a Shiite.
The two spy agencies risk becoming open partisans in Iraq’s civil war if vying political parties do not strike a real agreement on how to rule the country, one analyst warned.
“If no critical compromise is reached, the security services are going to fall apart on ethnic, sectarian and party lines,” said Joost Hiltermann, Middle East director of the International Crisis Group. “It will be a failed state situation like Somalia.”
Shahwani’s agency has antagonized Iraq’s new Shiite elite since its conception. In September 2004, his men arrested at least 50 members of a southern Shiite party called Hezbollah and detained them for several months. That autumn, Shahwani accused one of the country’s main Shiite political parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, of being on Iran’s payroll and blamed its militia for the deaths of 10 of his agents.
The Shiite drive to strengthen the parallel secret service can be traced to the spring of 2005, when Washington, D.C., mindful of Shiite politicians’ close ties to Iran, rebuffed then-Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s effort to take charge of the INIS.
The Americans had invested heavily in creating a strong spy service and had appointed Shahwani to head the organization. Shahwani, who owns a home in the United States, has been a crucial asset to the Americans since the fall of Saddam’s regime, providing them access to old army officers, and forming an Iraqi special forces unit, called the “Shahwanis,” that fought in the November 2004 battle to retake Fallujah from Sunni insurgents.
U.S. funding for the INIS amounts to $3 billion over a three-year period that started in 2004, a U.S. military official said.