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Mukhabarat Comeback?

With violence spiraling, Iraqis are prepared to see the reinstatement of their hated intelligence services on condition they are reformed.
By Nasr Kadhim

For most Iraqis, the mere mention of the Mukhabarat is enough to send pulses racing, but as the handover between the US and the Governing Council is negotiated, spiralling political violence has prompted calls from some quarters for the hated intelligence security agency of the former regime to be brought back into service.


Many ordinary Iraqis, it seems, would agree to the reinstatement of these services, but only if they undergo radical reforms.


In May, US administrator Paul Bremer dissolved the Mukhabarat, along with the Iraqi army and the ministries of defence and information. Around 500,000 men were made redundant in what Bremer described as "part of a robust campaign to show the Iraqi people that Saddam's regime has gone and will never return".


With the exception of the Kurdish north, currently the safest region in the country, all intelligence gathering and internal security passed to the coalition military and civilian administration.


But since then regular car bombings, mortar attacks and small arms incidents in the centre of Baghdad have created an ongoing atmosphere of fear and instability. US forces seem incapable of gathering the kind of intelligence needed to uproot the foreign and domestic elements behind these attacks, leading many to conclude that only domestic security services can cope with the situation.


"We would have much more effective information on the ground if Iraqis were in charge," a Governing Council member told IWPR. "The Americans have no intelligence to speak of. They need Iraqis involved."


"Many Iraqis are asking if there is any other country in the world without its own intelligence services," said former intelligence officer Abdallah Mohamed Hussein. US forces, he added, are simply incapable of drawing on the same level of sources as domestic officers, "We can recruit taxi drivers, shoe polishers and everyone else to tell us what is going on."


Colonel Haitham al-Husseini, a leading strategic studies analyst, says that instead of dissolving the Mukhabarat , the US should have recruited them to provide intelligence, question suspects and control security.


US armoured patrols are not only ineffective, they have become targets for Ba'athist and foreign insurgents, with civilian bystanders often becoming victims of the attacks, many Iraqis believe.


"Once a booby-trapped car reaches the street, the damage is done," said former intelligence officer Hussein. "An American tank cannot stop them from getting to the street."


While the Iraqi public, increasingly fearful of the bomb outrages in their cities and towns, would be willing to see the return of the Iraqi security services, they definitely would not want them back in their old form.


"We need the security bodies - provided they abandon their oppressive practices," said jeweller Emad Salman of Kathimiya neighbourhood.


Media studies graduate Duraid Ibrahim echoed that note of caution, "The situation on the street is a measure of US inability to control security. So we need to bring back the old services, but only after reforming them."


Ordinary Iraqis say that an important part of this reform would be a thorough vetting of intelligence and security staff to ensure that operatives suspected of crimes were excluded.


Under the old regime, the services were divided into a number of organs, which included the Intelligence Service, the Directorate of National Security, the Special Security Apparatus and the Directorate of Military Intelligence.


The most feared agency was the Intelligence Service, which was dominated by its interrogation department, connected directly to the presidential palace and allowed extraordinary leeway in arresting and forcing confessions out of suspects.


Abd al-Zahra Abd-al-Hussein, who was close to a group of Dawa Party supporters who made an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein in 1982, said he was tortured for five months, then released without charges and told that he would be killed if told anyone about what he had seen.


Yet despite the brutality, he would like to see the return of a reformed intelligence service, "I want to see the Mukhabarat back, but without the interrogation department."


With the Ba'ath regime now gone, Iraqis say that intelligence resources would no longer be dedicated to terrorising people in order to find out who said what about the country's leadership, but rather tracking down those behind the bombings.


Despite its brutal history, former intelligence officer Hussein defends the service, whose support sections he says were staffed with well-educated officers with expertise in fields such as accounting, engineering, languages and communications.


"We worked hard in directorates such as anti-espionage and the services in charge of embassies, international relations, the security of Iraqi citizens abroad and protecting Iraq against external aggression," he said. "We did this work for the security of our country and citizens, not for Saddam."


Along with other former intelligence and security officers, he wants to begin working again for the people of Iraq. "We are waiting for a signal from the Americans to return to our work and control the security situation," he said.


But with the offer comes a threat, "If they do not call upon us to eliminate fear on the Iraqi street, we may join other groups and take a hand in the resistance."


Nasr Kadhim is an IWPR trainee.


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