IRAQ’S SECURITY SERVICES UNDER SADDAM HUSSEIN
December 30, 2016 it was the tenth anniversary of the death of
Saddam Hussein. The former Iraqi ruler was caught by the US in
Tikrit on December 13, 2003, put on trial by a special tribunal,
convicted for crimes against humanity and killed by hanging.
Saddam had ruled over Iraq from 1979 until 2003. He was a US ally
during the war with Iran in the 1980s, then turned arch-foe after
the invasion of Kuwait in January 1991.
The first Gulf War led by US President George H. W. Bush failed to oust the Iraqi dictator when it stopped short of invading Baghdad. A decade later, his son, George W. Bush, would accomplish what his father had failed to do. Only for the wrong reasons: a non-existent program of WMDs and an unrealistic support to Islamic terrorism. And while, until then, Iraq had been a secular beacon in a region torn by sectarian violence, the US invasion brought that chaos, terrorism and civil strife Saddam Hussein and his regime had been able to rein in.
The security apparatus
The Iraqi dictator counted on a heavy security apparatus to control and rid Iraq of any form of internal or external opposition. Furthermore, Saddam was at the helm of a Sunni minority ruling over a Shia majority, at war with Iran to the east and facing recurrent Kurdish uprisings in the north of Iraq. Many enemies, much security.
Saddam Hussein was both ruthless and cautious. He delegated overlapping tasks to different security agencies, putting them in competition with one another and making sure they would keep an eye on each other’s doings. None could prevail over the other and every structure reported to him only. In most cases the responsibility over the security services was assigned to people Saddam could trust, either because they were family or belonged to his tribe. But this didn’t make Saddam Hussein any less suspicious.
The emblem of the Jihaz al Mukhabarat al Amma
Directorate of Intelligence (Jihaz al Mukhabarat al Amma)
It was the main intelligence agency in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and one of the most efficient intelligence agencies in the Middle East at the time. It was tasked with several different functions:
- The control of political opponents at home and abroad;
- The collection of information on enemy countries, traditional ones like the US, Israel and the UK and local neighbors such as Iran, Syria and the Gulf countries;
- The monitoring and repression of both the Kurds and the Shia;
- The infiltration of the Baath party to prevent enemies emerging from among the so-called friends.
The GDI was also the link with all the foreign groups that were either supported or financed by the regime. This was the case for the PKK that fought against Turkey, the Mujaheddin al Khalq that opposed Iran, the Palestinian Liberation Front led by Abu Abbas that allowed the Iraqis to play a role in the Palestinian struggle and against Israel.
The Directorate was organized through a number of offices, all named with the letter M, from Maktab or Midiriyat or office. They were structured in branches and sections. Some of them had specific technical or logistical roles: M2, the administration; M3, archives and records office; M9, technical and scientific support including photo labs, IT, chemistry and equipment; M15 tasked with the training of the personnel.
Other offices had more operational tasks, as many as the potential targets, and all reported to M1, the Special Office, a sort of Chiefs of Staff that coordinated and controlled all the branches of the Directorate. It was based in Baghdad and had four regional offices. M4 focused on operations abroad; M5 on counterespionage and had men infiltrated in political parties and airlines, while a specific section was dedicated solely to the Kurds; M6 on industrial security and especially on defense industries; M7 was tasked with “investigations”, including the interrogation of prisoners. They were allowed to use torture and dedicated staffers were trained by a specific branch called “Special Psychology”.
M8 was dedicated to carrying out special ops, including the elimination or kidnapping of opponents. The members of this office were unknown to other staffers withing the Directorate. The secrecy surrounding M8 made it a Secret Service on its own. They were trained in a camp in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad. They also managed the relations with the PLO, Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas and the Irish IRA.
This office was similar to another secret office in the Directorate: the M10. It was tasked with surveilling the staffers of the Directorate. And nobody knew where it was based and who worked for it.
Directorate of General Military Intelligence (Mudiriyyat al Istikhabarat)
It operated within the Armed Forces and was dedicated to: acquiring technologies to use in the military industry; military counterespionage (through a branch know as “Al Amn Askari”); the control of the members of the Republican Guard – Iraq’s elite unit that protected both the dictator and the other dignitaries of the regime. Although they were the regime’s pretorians, the Republican Guard was overseen by a dedicated structure called “Indhibat”.
The Directorate was organized in three departments: Military intelligence tasked with obtaining informations abroad on a country basis – i.e. Turkey, Iran, Gulf countries etc.; Military Security entrusted with counterespionage; Technical/Logistics charged with supplies, maintenance and training schools. The Directorate thus operated both at home and abroad.
Loyal to the formula of overlapping competences, the DGMI’s counterespionage went beyond the military and included political parties, retired military officials and could rely on a network of secret prisons, archives and torture rooms.
Special Security Apparatus (Jihaz al Amn al Khas)
This organization was responsible for the security of the dictator and his family. Its members either came from Tikrit, where Saddam was born, or were members of his tribe. They were first trained by the Republican Guard and then moved into the Special Security Apparatus. It was led by Saddam’s son Qusai. Its reach also extended to the killing of opponents abroad and for the acquisition of technology. There were different branches within the agency: research, communications, surveillance, security etc.
former Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi
of General Security (al Amn al Amm)
This was the secret police tasked with counter-subversive activities and counterespionage. It was under the Ministry of Interior. A similar organization was created after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2004 by then Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and with the support of the CIA.
National Security Service (Mudiriyyat al Amn al Kawni)
The organization reported to the Revolutionary Command Council, the ultimate decision making body headed by Saddam Hussein. It was thus led from the top. Its functions included the security of the president, in competition with the Special Security Apparatus.
Department of Industry and Industrial Production
It wasn’t exactly and intelligence agency, but it still carried out operations abroad and research to acquire technology, equipment and materials. The Iraqi program of Weapons of Mass Destruction (nuclear, biological or chemical) was led by this department. And it reported the Ministry of Industry.
Just like any other totalitarian regime, repression in Iraq played a key role in guaranteeing the security and survival of the regime. No democracy, no votes, only imposition, coercion and violence. Death penalty, torture, extra-judicial killings were the rule. Aggravated by the ruthlessness of the tyrants.
We should hence pose ourselves a question: now that Saddam Hussein has been deposed and his security apparatus dismantled and replaced by new intelligence agencies funded by the West, have human rights improved in Iraq? Have the tortures, killings and indiscriminate arrests ended? Unfortunately the answer is no.