Relying on the help of an Iraqi political party, the United States has moved to resurrect parts of
Ahmad Chalabi, ex-exile and leader of the Iraqi National Congress
BAGHDAD, Iraq, July 21 — Relying on the help of an Iraqi political party, the United States has moved to resurrect parts of the Iraqi intelligence service, with the branch that monitors Iran among the top priorities, former Iraqi agents and politicians say.
The Iraqi National Congress, which is led by Ahmad Chalabi, the longtime exile who is now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, says its senior officials have met with senior members of the so-called Iran and Turkey branch of the Mukhabarat, or Iraqi intelligence, over the last several weeks. The party has received documents from the intelligence officers and recruited them into a reconstituted version of the unit, said Abdulaziz Kubaisi, the Iraqi National Congress official responsible for the recruiting effort.
American officials, he said, are fully informed about what the party is doing. Iraqi intelligence officers who have been asked to rejoin the branch contend that the United States is orchestrating the effort.
"As far as what we do, we are sending back information to the Pentagon, to people who are responsible," Mr. Kubaisi said. "They know the nature of what we're doing. There is coordination. We have representatives of Rumsfeld at the I.N.C."
But some Middle East experts said trying to revive the branch before a sovereign government was in place and working through a political party could backfire.
"This sets a bad precedent because you don't have a government in place, and because Chalabi's party is a minority and doesn't represent the majority of Iraqis," said Edward S. Walker Jr., former ambassador to Egypt and Israel under the first President Bush and now president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington research group. "I think it will be highly controversial to rebuild the intelligence arm when there are so many unresolved questions about Iraqi intelligence from before."
The effort to reach out to former Iraqi intelligence officials also appears hard to harmonize with the American drive to "de-Baathify" Iraqi society, given the prominence of the Baath Party of Saddam Hussein in his government.
A senior American official said concern about Iran was driving some of the discussion about moving quickly to re-establish an intelligence service. The official said the United States recognized that Iraq had a good intelligence apparatus focused on Iran because activities in the neighboring country might affect Iraqi security at home.
People close to the Iran branch said the Americans had also expressed interest in reviving the intelligence service's Syria branch.
Mr. Kubaisi also said the possibility that Iran might try to interfere in Iraq's affairs made the revival of the Mukhabarat's Iran branch a top priority. "There are political parties — not the main seven ones — who have alliances with Iran, who are flirting with it," he said. "I think the Iranians are interfering in Iraq's affairs. They've been meddling here for years."
American officials in Washington and Baghdad maintained that reviving the Iran branch was only being discussed now. Senior United States government officials in Washington said the question of when and how to re-establish Iraq's intelligence service was under active consideration at the highest levels of the government. They said that it was discussed recently by the Deputies Committee, which represents the second-ranking official at national security agencies, and that the C.I.A. had been designated the lead agency in the process.
"There's been a lot of discussion, but I haven't seen anything that has developed into concrete thinking," one official said. Asked whether the Defense Department was working through the Iraqi National Congress to recruit former Iraqi intelligence officers, the official declined to comment.
But people close to the Iraqi members of the Iran branch say recruitment efforts began two months ago, when the crisis over Iran's nuclear program flared, and continue now. Sabi al-Hamed, a former Iran branch member in Zubayr, in southern Iraq, said two of his former colleagues made contact with him two week ago and told him that they had been working with Americans.
Mr. Hamed, a Mukhabarat officer since 1976, said he refused to join the revived unit when former co-workers told him that it would be cooperating with the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian opposition group that is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Mr. Hamed said he had worked with the group during the Iran-Iraq war and called them butchers, adding that he had seen bodies of people they had executed.
The People's Mujahedeen, which seeks the overthrow of the government in Tehran, found refuge in Iraq under Mr. Hussein, playing an important role during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's and later in 1991, in crushing the uprisings of the Shiites in the south and the Kurds in northern Iraq. In April, the United States signed a cease-fire with the group's troops in Iraq and in early May began to disarm them. A sizable contingent of senior members of Congress now advocate removal of the group from the terrorist list, arguing that its members' knowledge should be mined for use against Iran.
A person close to the Iran branch members says the currently coalescing intelligence service has been in touch not only with former Iran branch officers in Iraq, but also with those in Iran and with former People's Mujahedeen members.
Mr. Kubaisi denied that a future intelligence arm in Iraq would work with the People's Mujahedeen, and a spokesman in Paris for the group did not return e-mail messages seeking comment.
Mr. Kubaisi said the Iran unit would begin working once the Governing Council settled in and the ministries were fully functioning. But the former Iraqi agents who had discussions with the Iraqi National Congress and with members of the Iran branch say the unit is already working in a building in central Baghdad.
Mr. Kubaisi said Iran branch members were being vetted before being signed up. He and others close to the branch said none of the officers had been paid yet.
"These are people we should attract and make use of," he said. "But they shouldn't be bad people. They should not have a criminal past, and they shouldn't be stained with people's blood."
The officials said it was unclear to whom a new Iraqi intelligence service would report. But they said the C.I.A. now had a sizable operation in Iraq, with at least several dozen officers on the ground
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