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Iraq: Officials Say U.S. Was Wrong To Dissolve Army, Intelligence Apparatus

  • Peyman Pejman

Coalition officials in Iraq say there are now an average of some 30 attacks on foreign soldiers every day. Yesterday's devastating bombing in Al-Nasiriyah -- which killed at least 19 Italian troops as well as nine Iraqi civilians -- once again raises the question of whether the U.S.-led coalition is failing to get the intelligence it needs to prevent such attacks. Many Iraqis say the coalition may have been too hasty in dissolving Iraq's army and intelligence apparatus, and is now suffering the consequences.

Baghdad, 13 November 2003 (RFE/RL) � During Saddam Hussein's rule, Iraq's security organizations employed about 500,000 people. Many of these people have since been stripped of their posts in the de-Baathification drive that followed Hussein's ouster.

Now, with deadly attacks on foreign forces being mounted on a nearly daily basis, many Iraqis are questioning whether the U.S.-led coalition did itself a disservice by decimating the ranks of the intelligence structures.

General Muhammad Abdullah al-Shahwani fled Iraq in 1990 and has spent the past 12 years helping U.S. intelligence officials draft plans to topple Hussein. He says even Iraqis like himself who feel no loyalty toward Hussein are unhappy with the U.S. decision to purge so many military and security officials.

"We had a good Iraqi intelligence network. They knew everybody," he said. "They knew all the criminals. They knew the areas. [Now they have gone] home. Nobody can do it anymore. If you want to start from [scratch], you need time. I think the [coalition forces] have to call back all the police, except the special intelligence [groups] like the Mukhabarat [secret police]."

Al-Shahwani says the U.S. decision to dissolve the security apparatus has left Iraq vulnerable to a massive influx of foreign terrorists across its underguarded borders.

Even more dangerous, he says, is the risk that military and security officials disenfranchised by the coalition may now join forces with such terrorists in search of income or simply out of a desire for revenge.

The combination of terrorist aims and Iraqi know-how, says al-Shahwani, could prove even more deadly for coalition troops already coming under regular attack.

"They came to the army to make a living. They had a contract with the Iraqi government. Somebody came and canceled the contract. How are they going to live? Most of them, maybe, if they have an opportunity, will join any of these terrorist organizations."

Some Iraqis say they can forgive the coalition for shutting down Hussein's army and intelligence organs at the start of the U.S.-led war. But now, with casualty figures mounting daily, they say they cannot understand why American officials are continuing to refuse offers of assistance from Iraqi security agents -- even those who fled the country during the Hussein regime.

Hani Idriss is deputy head of the Iraqi National Accord (INA), a group consisting mainly of military and security defectors from the 1990s. He says a number of Iraqi political groups like the INA have offered to help civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer and the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) with security issues -- but have repeatedly been rebuffed: "Yes, yes, we offered the Americans help, especially Bremer. We said we would like to offer our expertise to maintain security. But the coalition forces have not granted any security role to these [political] groups because they think of these parties as militias and they are afraid of civil war."

Idriss and other Iraqi officials say the CPA has so far refrained to going to former intelligence groups for assistance because it is concentrating on building up its own security mechanisms in the country. But such efforts, they say, have largely failed.

Entifadh Qanbar is the spokesman for the Iraqi National Congress, another former exile group led by Ahmad Chalabi. Qanbar says he is aware of several attempts by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to recruit local informers, but with no practical results.

"I heard there was a massive effort to recruit heads of tribes in the south," he said. "There are efforts here and there, many places in Iraq. [U.S. intelligence officials] don't know Iraqi society. They don't know the complications of Iraqi society."

Qanbar says he has heard numerous anecdotes that appear to illustrate the problems the U.S. faces in attempting to build up a local intelligence network: "I hear many, many terrible stories about interpreters who are selling out favors to people, using American units to benefit [their own] people, getting bribes -- because they were not vetted through a certain Iraqi system. [They] have to be vetted. [U.S. agents] pick someone from the street. They pick someone out this way, it's not going to work."

Coalition officials say they will not comment on intelligence issues. But as attacks like yesterday's deadly blast in Al-Nasiriyah suggest, a shortage of information is costing the coalition dearly.