Barely three months after his appointment, Iraq’s new chief of staff, General Amer al-Hashemi was quietly dismissed along with four high-ranking officers who served in his bureau at general headquarters in Baghdad.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources reveal that “dismissed” is too polite a description for what happened Tuesday and Wednesday, July 20-21 at military HQ in Baghdad. Tuesday morning, General Hashemi walked through the door of his office to find it packed with American officers and special operations personnel manning the telephones and ransacking his files. They hustled him out to a US military command center elsewhere in the Green Zone for intense grilling on the ring of double agents just discovered working out of his bureau for al Qaeda and the Baath.
The Iraqi general’s US questioners did not come cold to the interrogation.
The night before, US officers rounded up in Baghdad several senior Iraqi staff officers suspected of collaborating with the hostile moles at addresses received from Majid Khader, an Iraqi civilian attached to the chief of staff’s bureau who was picked up a few days earlier.
Khader admitted under questioning to having passed highly sensitive information to the Baath and al Qaeda agents. When he named the Iraqi officers who fed secrets to him and his ring, he was asked if General Hashemi was among them and replied in the affirmative. But when asked if the chief of staff knew the intelligence leaking out of his office ended up with the Baath guerrilla and al Qaeda, Khader was less sure, saying only: “Most of the officers in the general’s bureau who gave me and my agents access to secret information must have guessed where it was going.”
This answer left the American investigators short of absolute proof of General Hashemi’s direct complicity in spying for the guerrilla forces. At the same time, they were hard put to explain why he and his aides were supplying Khader and his men with top secrets.
According to one hypothesis, they were after insurance for themselves and their families against the assassinations plaguing top officials of the interim regime since the transition to sovereignty at the end of June. The money motive and sympathy for the insurgency are also incentives that are bound to be probed.
As soon the as the affair surfaced, the White House and American command in Iraq acted swiftly to hush it up. The chief of staff’s dismissal was briefly reported on Saturday, July 24 in two Iraqi publications, Al-Sabah and al-Mashreq. The first paper linked it vaguely to the recent murder of the head of the contracts division in the Iraqi general staff by unidentified killers. Al Mashraq surmised that al Hashemi’s exit was followed by stringent precautions against the leakage of information on the movements of general staff personnel.
Neither snippet received much play in the Western media over the weekend except for a quote in The Washington Times.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence and counter-intelligence sources, however, the episode is being treated with extreme gravity. Khader and Iraqi officers attached to the axed chief of staff disclosed under questioning that from chief of staff’s early days on the job in May, his aides were already systematically passing to the Baath and al Qaeda moles every scrap of intelligence reaching them from US military commanders and high field officers. Fortunately, the most sensitive and secret data on the internal workings of US facilities, air bases, undercover communications and intelligence networks as well as the movements of US special operations forces, was never relayed to the Iraqi military’s top office or to any of its subdivisions for fear of the very leaks that indeed occurred.
What did flow into al Hashemi’s office on a daily basis was routine information on US troop movements, the timetables and locations of future operations and the extent of Iraqi units’ collaboration in these operations.
It now transpires that it all landed in the hands of the Baath guerrilla commanders and al Qaeda a few hours later, providing them with a priceless tool for deciding where and when to plant ambushes for American forces, mount attacks and get out of the way wherever American troops were to be deployed.
Al Qaeda was thus forewarned of coming US air strikes against their havens and bases in Falluja and West Iraq in time to set traps. A few hours’ notice to the Iraq chief of staff’s office to clear Iraqi security forces and police out of a certain venue ahead of an American air attack, served also to warn the insurgents and terrorists to remove themselves and equipment from harm’s way.
Full exposure of the nest of moles in the heart of the Green Zone would be extremely damaging to the Bush administration and the Allawi government and a feather in the caps of the Baath- al Qaeda alliance whose moles penetrated the top Iraqi army echelon. But most detrimental of all would be its negative impact on the massive recruitment drive underway for the New Iraqi Army. The cloud of suspicion would be enough to undermine morale; if the top military command cannot be trusted not to collaborate with the enemy, what can be expected from subordinate officers and rank and file troops?
Broad publicity in the United States would provide ammunition for anti-war groups and support the critics of President George W. Bush‘s Iraq policies in their claim that the handover of sovereignty to an Iraqi government solved none of the difficulties created by the American invasion.
Even though it has been kept quiet, the sacking of the chief of staff touches on the delicate tribal dimension that accompanies almost every Iraqi and Middle East issue. The al-Hashemi family, one of the biggest and most prominent in Baghdad, is the proud producer of distinguished professional soldiers. Four Iraqi chiefs of staff have borne the al-Hashemi name and a flock of high officers. The disgrace attending the firing of General Amer al-Hashemi, aggravated by an espionage charge his family will treat as unsubstantiated, cannot fail to set up one more anti-American focus of tension in the Iraqi capital.