Ground-breaking documents detailing staggering evidence of Iran’s espionage operations, bribery payments and efforts to expand influence within Iraq have been leaked to the US-based media organisation The Intercept in collaboration with the New York Times.
Together they reveal the huge extent of Iran’s grip on its neighbour.
The report released by the two organisations details the aggressive efforts with which Tehran worked to bring Iraq under its influence following the US invasion and toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The documents include the years of experience of Iranian spies to ensure the obedience and cooperation of the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents to switch sides from working with US intelligence, and gain a firm foothold in every aspect of Iraqi life.
The revelations in the report cover the bribery of Iraqi government officials. A prominent example happened in mid-October while protestors were on the streets in Iraq demonstrating against Iranian influence.
The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Major General Qasem Soleimani, visited Iraq to persuade an ally in Parliament to help Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi maintain his position.
The report reveals how Abdul-Mahdi was groomed by and begun to work closely with Iran in 2014 while he was Iraq’s oil minister, and how his “special relationship” was connected with that of former Prime Minister Haidar Al-Abadi who also worked in support of Iran.
The documents go even further by broadening out the evidence of espionage to the entire region, with the IRGC under Soleimani having appointed and stationed its own ambassadors to Syria and Lebanon to gather information, report it back to their headquarters in Tehran, and produce entire reports on the findings to be presented to Iran’s Supreme Council of National Security.
The leaks also detailed how, following the withdrawal of US troops in 2011 and the power vacuum that resulted, Iran acted swiftly to recruit former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informants in the country.
It was even written in one undated document how Iran started the process of planting a spy inside the US State Department with the promise that, “The subject’s incentive in collaborating will be financial.” The result of the endeavour remains unclear and there were no further details reported, but it described the agent as able to provide “intelligence insights into the US government’s plans in Iraq, whether it is for dealing with ISIS or any other covert operations.”
This focus on US actions and plans within Iraq was allegedly vital to Iran, particularly for the purpose of staying on top in the struggle for influence over the country.
One Iraqi man who had spied for the CIA and been abandoned by the US withdrawal was recorded to have told his Iranian handler that, “I will turn over to you all the documents and videos that I have from my training course… And pictures and identifying features of my fellow trainees and my subordinates.”
Another agent, an Iraqi military intelligence officer who met with an Iranian counterpart, stated his firm support for Iran and that “Iran is my second country and I love it.” In what was a more than three-hour meeting, he also expressed his admiration for the Iranian system of governance, which puts the clerical class in direct control of much of the government.
One major factor in the expanded influence of Iranian espionage within Iraq that is detailed in the report is the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shia.
This was particularly exacerbated following the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the consequent ousting of every member of his Baath Party, which involved major sections of society and the workforce. Moreover, many of the Baath members were Sunnis, making the de-Baathification process the catalyst for the marginalisation and unemployment of Iraq’s Sunni community, the dominance of the Shia, and the resulting feeling of resentment amongst Sunnis leading to the insurgency and sectarian tensions.
It was this divide through which Iran sought to navigate and regulate, often by preventing Sunni militias from forming while arming and funding loyal Shia militias as a famed tool for influence in the country.
The vast number of leaked documents, more than seven hundred altogether, are seen to reveal the extent of Iran’s influence over Iraq and its body politic, confirming what were previously minor reports and suspicions of the close relationship between the two countries.
The revelation is hugely significant given the escalation in tensions between Iran and the US with its allies in the region, and especially relevant in the ongoing popular protests across Iraq.