The imprisonment of Salem Al-Jomaili, director of the US branch of the Iraqi intelligence agency under Saddam Hussein, alongside high-ranking officials of the Iraqi regime in Camp Cropper following the US invasion, was marked by a sense of disbelief and astonishment.
Many believed that Saddam could have resorted to a suicide belt or a last bullet and had the audacity to issue an order to his associates to kill him before being captured by American soldiers.
While initially met with skepticism, the news was eventually confirmed, and the detainees in the prison did not hesitate to acknowledge the bravery of the man who had faced danger head-on. Some even speculated that Saddam may have intended to use his appearance in court to put the invasion and its allies on trial.
Subsequently, the US military permitted leaders of Saddam’s opponents to pay a visit to him while he was incarcerated.
However, two notable opponents of the former dictator declined the offer: Masoud Barzani, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, who believed that “taking pleasure in someone else's misfortune is unbecoming of a man” and candidly admitted that it was the US forces, not the opposition, who brought about the downfall of Saddam's regime.
The other adversary was Ayad Allawi, the Prime Minister after the regime’s collapse, who still bore the wounds inflicted by Saddam's ax-wielding henchmen in London.
Allawi could not bear the thought of seeing the ex-Iraqi leader behind bars under US custody.
In the final excerpt of a five-part interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Jomaili revealed that Iran had facilitated the US invasion of Iraq.
Through Ahmed Chalabi, Iran entered into agreements with the US that would facilitate their mission in exchange for the return of Iraqi opposition members that Iran was hosting.
Tehran also released a series of misleading information through Chalabi to justify the invasion and seized part of the Iraqi archives.
Under the agreements, Iran allowed US aircraft to use the border strip and adjacent airspace of Iraq for military purposes. The US intelligence agencies were unable to deliver weapons to Jalal Talabani in Sulaymaniyah because they had to pass through the airspace of Turkey, Syria, or Iran.
Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani then personally delivered the weapons to Talabani.
During those times, Soleimani did not play a significant role, and the Revolutionary Guard's interventions were feeble, only extending to southern Lebanon and not visibly in Syria or Yemen.
According to Jomaili, Iranian influence only began to emerge after the collapse of the Iraqi regime.
“We foresaw this and communicated to the Americans in an effort to avert war. We warned them that they would be providing a gateway for Iran to infiltrate the region. However, they did not express any concern on the matter, and the outcome unfolded as we had predicted,” said Jomaili.
The Iranian Revenge
The retaliation of the Iranians against the intelligence apparatus was horrifying, with executions carried out through their agents. At least 50 officers were killed, including 14 in a single attack on their residences.
Jomaili revealed that the Iranians had also assassinated pilots and bombed targets in Iran during the Iraq-Iran war. The level of revenge even extended to exhuming the graves of officers who had been martyred in the war.
While Iranian agencies facilitated the invasion of Iraq, they also took actions in another direction.
Prior to the invasion, these agencies facilitated Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s passage through Iranian territories to Iraq after he left Afghanistan. The presence of the Al-Qaeda leadership in Iran was already known, as evidenced by Israel’s assassination of one of its members there.
When asked about Saddam’s relations with Kurdish leaders in Iraq, which were difficult and fraught with confrontations, agreements, and ceasefires, Jomaili began to recount the details of those ties.
He recalled a communication channel existing between Saddam and Talabani that was managed by an Iraqi intelligence officer with the rank of director.
When members of Al-Qaeda infiltrated Iraq from Afghanistan through Iran in 2001, Talabani was concerned about their cooperation with the Kurdish Islamist group Ansar al-Islam. The group attacked fighters from the Kurdistan National Union and killed 40 of them, so Talabani requested military and financial assistance from Baghdad, which was provided.
Talabani responded with a message to Saddam thanking him and pledging that the weapons will not be used against the people of Iraq.
Resignation Means Death
The intelligence agency is not a political party that one can belong to, learn its secrets, and then leave peacefully, reminded Jomaili.
When an officer decides to defect, they are practically signing their own death warrant, he explained, adding that the agency does not spare defectors and would hunt them down.
Men with fake names and sometimes diplomatic passports will pursue their former colleague to execute them.
As the director of the intelligence agency, Barzan al-Tikriti created a publishing and printing institution in London as a front for intelligence work. He appointed a highly skilled individual from the state agencies to oversee it.
Choosing to stay in London, the operative firmly declined to return to Baghdad when his mission ended in 1986.
A team of three, including acquaintances of the target, was sent by the intelligence agency to London to assassinate the operative, who was unsuspecting of their intentions.
The team proposed a meeting at a restaurant, where one member slipped a deadly substance, which was hidden in a ring, into the target’s drink.
The target died from the poison, and the intelligence officer who handled the fatal substance also died soon after. The fate of the second team member is unknown after the Kuwait invasion, while the third died outside Iraq in 2020.
Deadly Appointment in Stockholm
The intelligence agency had target hunters, affirmed Jomaili.
At one instance, a female proxy traveled with an intelligence officer. She was placed in the path of a targeted man who hastened to swallow the bait. She took him to an apartment where her colleague officer was present.
The man was surprised by the presence of the operations officer whom he personally knew and realized that he had fallen into a trap, saying to him, “Are you here to kill me?” The officer executed him and threw his parts into a forest at dawn, then left Stockholm with his companion safely.
Another officer was sent to a station in Turkey. He was warned against falling into the trap of beautiful women.
In 1982, the man disappeared suddenly, and it was later discovered that he had left for Germany with a Turkish lady.
The missing man later returned to Turkey, but it was later learned that he had been lured to a special place and was mysteriously eliminated.
According to Jomaili, the intelligence agency allowed these events to leak among its members as a deterrent to anyone who dared to commit a similar act or defect.