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Leaked cables reveal Iran's attempts to recruit spies against the US in Iraq

Iranian intelligence are said to have preferred Iraqi informants with access to US facilities [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 February, 2021

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A report based on a 2018 Iranian intelligence cables shows Iran's attempts at recruiting informants who had access to US personnel and facilities in Iraq.
Traditional methods used by Iranian intelligence officers to meet contacts in Iraq as well as a penchant for informants with access to US personnel and facilities were central in allowing Tehran's intelligence authorities to penetrate Iraq, according to a report by The Intercept

Based on a 2019 leak of hundreds Iranian intelligence cables, the latest report sheds further light on how Iran influences neighbouring Iraq through its Ministry of Information and Security (MOIS).

One of the cables, all of which date from 2013 and 2015, describes how MIOS officers 'tested' an Iraqi man who had worked as a spy by asking him to recruit a friend who worked for the US at a Turkish air base.

Tehran's success in avoiding detection by US authorities when meeting sources was owed to their reliance on traditional methods in Iraq – such as covering their tracks by using intentionally complex routes to and from meetings – according to several cables.

"I left the base by foot an hour before holding the meeting, and after twenty minutes walking on foot and carrying out the necessary checks, took two taxis through the neighboring streets to the site of the meeting and then once more, while checking on foot for ten minutes, returned to the site and, after the meeting I again took two taxis and returned to the base," one MOIS officer wrote, referring to a meeting with an informant.

"After leaving place of residence and taking a walk, I got into the car and drove to the bazaar," wrote another MOIS officer about a meeting with a Iraqi source in Erbil, Kurdistan.

"While driving a distance, went back to the desired site Majidi Mall. I got into source's car near Fawq Market and went for a distance from the place. Meeting held in one of the city's suburbs, inside the car. We then got out of the car," the officer added.

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The report adds that since most Iraqi agents are Shia, like their Iranian recruiters, religious sites provided a good cover for spy meetings.

One cable describes an MOIS officer who arranged a meeting at a political photo exhibition with an exiled Bahraini dissident visiting Karbala - the central site of Shia pilgrims - from London.

"Now present in Karbala … [the dissident] has been contacted and told that an exhibition about martyrs of Bahrain has been set up. … On Saturday night, in the company of other brothers [MOIS officers] we made a joint visit to the photo exhibition of crimes committed by the government of Bahrain. During a short meeting, it was decided to meet with him the next day," said one MOIS report.

Iranian intelligence authorities are said to have preferred Iraqi informants who could help them gain access to US personnel and facilities, according to the report.

"Source went to the aforementioned base in Baghdad airport on the excuse of giving gifts to some of the [Iraqi] commander," including one commander who "is a corrupt bribe-taker and a CIA agent in the Iraqi army," one MOIS officer wrote.

"While giving gifts to several of the Americans present in the base, he took souvenir photographs," his report said.

The leaked intelligence cables by The New York Times and The Intercept caused a major stir when they were released, confirming what was long known by observers: Iran penetrates Iraq's state and parastate authorities to maintain influence over the country, turning it into a de facto client state.

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