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Saddam's Mukhabarat in West Germany: Monitoring and Silencing the Iraqi Opposition

Ali Dogan

In a follow-up to his previous post, Ali Dogan reveals a new discovery about the nature and extent of the relationship between the Iraqi and West German intelligence services during the Iran-Iraq War.

As I wrote earlier on Sources & Methods, exchanges and cooperation between the intelligence agencies of West Germany and Iraq boomed during the Iran-Iraq War.

During this period, three of the four chiefs of the West German Foreign Intelligence Agency met with their counterpart in Iraq, Fadhil Barrak, the chief of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The image featured above, released on an Iraqi Youtube Channel (Min 2:40) in June 2021, depicts one of the meetings that took place between Fadhil Barrak and Eberhard Blum, who served from 1982 until 1985 as the chief of the Bundesnachrichtendienst.

This post builds on my earlier piece by focusing on the operations of Iraqi intelligence officers in West Germany, particularly their efforts to monitor and control the activities of the Iraqi opposition living in exile. Parts of it are based on an interview with a former high-ranking Iraqi intelligence official.

During Sadam Hussein’s rule, Iraq’s foreign intelligence agency (Jihaz al-Mukhabarat al- 'Amma, or simply Mukhabarat) and its military attaches stationed abroad were the main intelligence gathering institutions of the Iraqi state in foreign countries. While the Mukhabarat was the main actor in political intelligence gathering, the Directorate of General Military Intelligence (Mudiriyyat al-Istikhabarat al-'Askariyya al-'Amma) focused on military related information, but occasionally also provided political intelligence to the Iraqi government.

For the Mukhabarat, intelligence gathering in a foreign country consisted of three operational pillars. First, there was the liaison officer of the Mukhabarat who served as the counterpart to the host country’s intelligence agency. Second, there was the so-called legal station officer, who, together with the liaison officer, was stationed at the embassy. Lastly, there was the illegal station officer who was working undercover outside the embassy.

In West Germany, the Iraqi liaison officers were in charge of exchanging information with the Bundesnachrichtendienst on different security related topics. The exchange of liaison officers began in the 1980s. While this part of my research might be the most sensitive and most difficult area to find information on, German media outlets, such as the DPA, reported in summer 1993 that Iraq received information on the Iraqi opposition living in Germany from the BND.

The Legal Station Officers were tasked with intelligence gathering on topics according to the annual plan of the Mukhabarat, a plan which included the information needed by each department on a yearly basis. While the liaison officer was officially known as the counterpart to the host country’s intelligence agency, the station officer was usually given cover as a consul working in the Iraqi embassy. The host nation did not necessarily know about their actual work as an intelligence official.

While the liaison officer and station officer in most cases knew that they worked for the same authority, both officers were not aware of each other’s work. Both completed different elements of the annual plan, and only reported the results of their work directly to their respective chiefs in Baghdad, using separate, encrypted Telex communication booklets.

Illegal stations were based at Iraqi governmental facilities outside the embassy. This included, for example, Iraqi schools, the Iraqi Airways offices at airports like Frankfurt, the chamber of commerce, or various company buildings. Like the legal stations, illegal stations also worked according to the Mukhabarat’s annual plan. In some countries, the illegal stations provided better intelligence than the liaison and station officers. Legal stations based at the embassies could be (and, in most cases, were) under constant surveillance by the host nation’s intelligence agencies and therefore were less appealing for operations against dissidents abroad.

Iraq’s interest in West Germany had many facets, such as the activities of Iraqi opposition figures living in Germany and German technology and expertise. The Iraqi Foreign Intelligence Agency used the liaison officer as well as the legal and illegal station officers to monitor and silence opposition movements abroad. From both the legal and illegal stations, Iraqi intelligence formed a vast network of informants, especially among students. Using said operational pillars, the Mukhabarat gathered intelligence on Kurdish and Shia opposition groups residing in Germany, for example. Likewise, the Military Attaché in Bonn actively gathered information on opposition meetings in West Germany.

One document from the Military Intelligence indicates that there were meetings between the Kurds and the Iranians in West Germany. The document also gives a detailed overview of the activities of the Iranians and their involvement with the “Talabani faction” and Iraq’s Shia Dawa Party. The report from March 1989 further describes biweekly meetings between all three parties in cities such as Frankfurt and Hamburg and occasionally inside the Iranian embassy in Bonn (North Iraq Dataset  0787796).

The aim of the Iraqi Mukhabarat was usually to make dissidents return to Iraq in order to monitor them better. On November 7, 1982, for example, the General Security Service (Mudiriya al-'Amn al-'Amma) reported that a Kurdish opposition figure had returned to Iraq after the announcement of general amnesty earlier that year. Iraq’s National Security Council (Majlis al-'Amn al-Qawmi) later gave an official directive on February 11, 1985, to monitor the returnees like this Kurdish opposition figure (North Iraq Dataset 0722516 & 1247070).

If dissidents and Iraqi opposition groups did not return and were seen as a threat to the regime, the Iraqi intelligence agencies took more drastic measures to silence them. According to a Stasi document from the 1980s, the Iraqi Revolutionary Command emphasized that “[Iraqi] embassies must use all means at their disposal to record, observe and, if possible, neutralize Iraqi communists, oppositional Kurds and other individuals opposing the Saddam regime.”

On August 1, 1980, the above order was implemented by two Mukhabarat officials accredited at Iraq’s embassy in East Berlin. Both officials planned to bomb the Kurdish Student Congress ASTA at Gesundbrunnen in West Berlin. Using their diplomatic immunity, they crossed the border from East Berlin to West Berlin with 500 grams of explosives and were planning to hand over the suitcase with the explosives to their informant who would be attending the congress. However, Syrian intelligence had informants in the Kurdish community in West Berlin and tipped off the Bundesnachrichtendienst, who then informed the police about the plan.

The Mukhabarat’s activities in Germany show that Iraq’s intelligence agencies were instructed to monitor and silence the opposition abroad, and even to use extreme measures to do so. As Saddam Hussein once said in a speech: “The hand of the revolution can reach out to its enemies wherever they are found.”

About the Author

Ali Dogan

Ali Dogan

Research Fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and a Doctoral Candidate at the Otto-Suhr-Institute of Political Science in Berlin.

Ali Dogan is a Research Fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient and a Doctoral Candidate at the Otto-Suhr-Institute of Political Science in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @LearnIntelZMO.

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