Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

Jomaili to Asharq Al-Awsat: Poison Ring from Baghdad to London Kills Target, Handler

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.



Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.