Leaked Documents Reveal Extent of Iran’s Grip on Iraq

A trove of leaked Iranian intelligence reports and cables obtained by The Intercept and shared with The New York Times exposes Iran’s vast influence in Iraq

Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force (Photo: AP)

Some 700 pages of leaked Iranian documents, sent anonymously to The Intercept, reveal the depth of Iranian influence in Iraq.

“The archive is made up of hundreds of reports and cables written mainly in 2014 and 2015 by officers of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS, who were serving in the field in Iraq,” The Intercept wrote in their joint report with The New York Times.

According to the report, the documents show “how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs,” and highlights the unique role of Qassem Suleimani, head of Iran’s Quds Force, in these efforts.

One of the leaked cables reveals that Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who in exile worked closely with Iran while Saddam Hussein was in power in Iraq, had a “special relationship with the IRI” – the Islamic Republic of Iran – when he was Iraq’s oil minister in 2014. 

“Tehran’s efforts to prop up Abdul-Mahdi are part of its long campaign to maintain Iraq as a pliable client state,” the report stated.

Many of the cables, the report says, describe espionage routine: “Meetings are arranged in dark alleyways and shopping malls or under the cover of a hunting excursion or a birthday party. Informants lurk at the Baghdad airport, snapping pictures of American soldiers and keeping tabs on coalition military flights. Agents drive meandering routes to meetings to evade surveillance. Sources are plied with gifts of pistachios, cologne, and saffron. Iraqi officials, if necessary, are offered bribes. The archive even contains expense reports from intelligence ministry officers in Iraq, including one totaling 87.5 euros spent on gifts for a Kurdish commander.”

“The leaked cables […] detail the extent to which Iraq has fallen under Iranian influence since the American invasion in 2003, which transformed Iraq into a gateway for Iranian power. According to the documents, many of Iraq’s foremost political, military, and security officials have had secret relationships with Tehran.”

“According to the reports, after the American troop withdrawal in 2011, Iran moved quickly to add former CIA informants to its payroll. One undated section of an intelligence ministry cable shows that Iran began the process of recruiting a spy inside the State Department.” According to The Intercept, “It is unclear what came of the recruitment effort, but according to the files, Iran had started meeting with the source, and offered to reward the potential asset with a salary, gold coins, and other gifts.”

The documents reveal that “The CIA had tossed many of its longtime secret agents out on the street, leaving them jobless and destitute.”

In November 2014, one such agent turned to Iran for protection, saying that “everything he knew about American intelligence gathering in Iraq was for sale: the locations of CIA safe houses; the names of hotels where CIA operatives met with agents; details of his weapons and surveillance training; the names of other Iraqis working as spies for the Americans.”