Iraqi intelligence services accused of targeted killings

A secret conflict is underway inside Iraq's intelligence services, with officers being assassinated by fellow agents as rival factions battle for control.

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Damascus // A secret conflict is underway inside Iraq's intelligence services, with officers being assassinated by fellow agents as rival factions battle for control, according to Iraqi security officials. The conflict, as described by both a senior Iraqi intelligence officer and a high-ranking former Iraqi security official, is largely along sectarian lines dividing Shiite and Sunni agents affiliated with different political parties.

"Shiite officers are being assassinated by an organisation inside the intelligence service," an Iraqi brigadier general who, until recently, was working in intelligence operations in Baghdad, said in an interview. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is worried about his safety and he is not authorised to talk to the media. "We think the killers are from Saddam Hussein's secret police who have been rehired to work for intelligence again," he said. "They have classified information about other officers' movements and activities that they are using to kill them."

Such information, he said, could only come "from inside the Iraqi intelligence system, or from the Americans". It is impossible to independently confirm any of the information or allegations made by the Iraqi officers. A CIA spokeswoman dismissed as "absolute rubbish" any suggestions that the US foreign intelligence agency might be involved. The Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS) routinely refuses to comment on intelligence matters.

The general said security agents and officers were being murdered in attacks that were reported as random bombings or shootings but were, in fact, skilfully targeted assassinations. "My colleagues are being killed and the official reports say they were 'terrorist incidents', but there is never a full investigation into what happened," he said. "They are being killed with plastic explosives, sticky bombs and silenced pistols."

He said he personally knew of six officers from different intelligence departments who had been killed in recent months, he said, adding that he was certain others had been killed, too. He provided no details nor specific verifiable cases in which agents had been assassinated. The general, a Shiite affiliated with the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq political party, said he and other officers had received modern tactical instruction from the US intelligence services and that groups would need similar operational know-how to find and kill them. "Only those with the same professional US training as us would be able to carry out these killings," he said. "We are very careful; we vary our routes, our movements and our vehicles but officers are still being killed.

"I believe we are being killed by insiders or with help from insiders, and so do my colleagues." The claims were supported by a senior serving Iraqi intelligence official who, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had survived an assassination attempt that he believed to be an inside job. "I don't trust my colleagues anymore," he said. He is convinced the assassins were using sophisticated mobile-phone tracking systems to precisely locate the signals of individual handsets being used by their targets.

"We all have mobile phones and the details are logged with the office and they track that," he said. "I now use a phone that is unregistered and I don't let many people know the number." The security officer said former secret police operatives from Saddam's regime had been recruited to the intelligence services and were involved in the assassinations. He also said a classified, written report on the issue had been sent to senior government officials a month ago. "Nothing has been done about it," he said.

The general and the serving intelligence officer admitted they had no proof about who was behind the attacks but both were adamant the killers were highly trained and had access to inside information. They also both pointedly underlined the central role of US intelligence agencies in Iraq, noting that the United States has been instrumental in building, funding and working alongside the INIS, since its creation in 2004.

"There are reasons to suspect the Americans could cooperate in this," the serving intelligence officer said. Shamel al Bassam, an independent political analyst from Baghdad, said the murder of agents had convinced him a "huge fight" was underway within the INIS - long considered a highly politicised agency - pitting elements close to Tehran against those siding with Washington. "Intelligence officers are being killed by other intelligence officers," he said. "Those being targeted are seen as working for Iran. They are political appointees put in by the parties."

Many of the pro-Washington agents had served under Saddam Hussein's secret police networks, Mr al Bassam claimed, and were vehemently anti-Iranian. Government officials loyal to Shiite parties, such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, are often accused of being under Iranian control by their opponents.