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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hussein's Spies Could Aid U.S. Against Iran

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- 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.

U.S. officials, he said, are fully informed about what the party is doing. Iraqi intelligence officers who have been asked to rejoin the branch contend the United States is orchestrating the effort.

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.

Additionally, the effort to reach out to former Iraqi intelligence officials 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 U.S. 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.

U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad said that reviving the Iran branch was only being discussed now.

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 weeks ago and told him that they had been working with Americans.

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 People's Mujahedin, an Iranian opposition group on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations.

A person close to the Iran branch members said 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 Mujahedin members.

Kubaisi denied that a future intelligence arm in Iraq would work with the People's Mujahedin, and a spokesman for the group did not return e-mail messages seeking comment.

Kubaisi said the Iran unit would begin working once the Governing Council settled in and the ministries were fully functioning. But former Iraqi agents who had discussions with the Iraqi National Congress and members of the Iran branch say the unit is already in place in a central Baghdad building.