Exposing the Enemy
The probing eyes of the Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence serve a vital counterterrorism function
The Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence specializes in collecting information on adversaries, analyzing that information, and identifying risks and threats, in addition to monitoring information security and personal security. However, at the same time, it has played a prominent role in mitigating the crises that have affected the country in recent years, particularly those caused by terrorist control of some areas and the ramifications of that. These are among the most serious and complex crises the country has experienced, and the directorate has achieved success by completing missions with courage, patience and care.
To talk about the role of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, Unipath met with Director-General Maj. Gen. Faiz Fadil Al-Mamouri.
Unipath: How did Iraq’s intelligence system change after June 2014?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: Hybrid warfare has undoubtedly made the armies of the world change their tactics to deal with new threats. Because military intelligence is the backbone of urban warfare, much has changed in the way intelligence operates to match the types of emergent threats. Daesh’s invasion of Mosul and other areas in northern and western Iraq came as a great shock and a true test of the effectiveness of traditional intelligence operations. It convinced the world of the need to devise and update human and technical intelligence methods to fit modern warfare, in which all available means are employed to win battles, including asymmetric warfare, hybrid warfare and proxy warfare.
Intelligence has had a significant role in settling many conflicts, by combining human and technological factors to collect information about the adversary, analyze it and submit it quickly to security forces. This allows preemptive attacks to abort enemy plans or cut off its logistics and funding or isolate it from its social surroundings. In addition to security forces seizing hoards of extremely important information and terrorist files stored on smartphones, computers and hard drives during raids on terrorist dens and cells, intelligence services helped them conduct these successful missions and provided them with a database that reveals the enemy’s future intent.
As I already mentioned, tactics during the War on Terror took the global intelligence community by surprise. The speed of rumors being spread and the effectiveness of Daesh’s online propaganda army on social media channels contrasted with the slowness of traditional intelligence operations. Therefore, we began forming online surveillance teams and opened intelligence cells across the whole security apparatus, within operational command and formations.
This has increased the speed with which intelligence reaches the appropriate sectors and thwarted the criminal plans of the terrorists. The presence of intelligence specialists within the joint operations room has helped to develop robust plans to defeat the adversary. As part of the Global Coalition Against Daesh, the Directorate of Military Intelligence has become the link between global intelligence agencies and our advanced military units on the front lines.
Coalition forces were providing us with accurate information on foreign fighters and their communications. We exchanged information with them that our men in operational units had obtained. Intelligence from all these sources — from Iraqi agencies and from coalition forces — greatly helped to thwart enemy attacks and destroy their positions. Leveraging the technological advances of friendly forces in the form of drones, satellite imagery and monitoring enemy communications to serve human intelligence on the ground has given us the upper hand over the adversary, and we aborted their plans.
However, the most important basis for victory was the continuous support from the population for our security forces. They provided accurate information on enemy movements and weapons caches, which made it easier for us to identify objectives in the battles for liberation, in addition to securing liberated areas, raiding terrorist hideouts and making arrests.
We also intensified the intelligence effort in terrorist-controlled areas and recruited human sources, planting them within Daesh ranks to gain knowledge of terrorist intent and secrets, and provide units with intelligence to conduct successful operations and achieve the required goals. We knew all the internal disputes among the personnel and the groups, and we worked on sowing doubt and propagating dissension among their ranks, which enabled us to defeat them on all levels.
The General Command of the Armed Forces ordered numerous changes to the departments of the Intelligence Directorate to keep pace with changes on the ground and to be more effective in combating the terrorist threat. The most important of these changes was establishing the basis for the Deep Reconnaissance Battalion, which played an active part in collecting information on the adversary, his movements, and his physical and human capabilities.
The Directorate of Military Intelligence and its associated unit adjusted their operations to match the scope of current threats to meet intelligence and security demands. This included the formation of an intelligence and counterterrorist cell in 2020 and approval to form a drone unit equipped with modern aircraft and thermal cameras.
Unipath: What are your plans for developing military intelligence personnel?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: The directorate is working on selecting and recruiting effective and competent people in accordance with specific military regulations and contexts. We care about the accuracy of selection and focus on intelligence, physical aptitude, and psychological endurance since an intelligence officer works in all terrains and conditions and may be forced to work solo behind enemy lines. He must be able to defend himself, have an intuitive feel for the job and maintain a high sense of security. After the process of selection and successful completion of basic training, personnel engage in courses specializing in domestic and foreign intelligence, such as the method of information collection, because of its impact on intelligence decision-making and the process of recruiting sources.
So that what happened in 2014 is not repeated, terrorists must be prevented from establishing hideouts and breeding grounds inside and outside the cities. Currently, it is necessary to develop and support the intelligence community, as it is among the most pressing priorities for the success and operationalization of the military-security community. The intelligence effort must be reinforced by drawing on military and security sources that provide accurate and timely information and help to combat enemy breaches.
The effectiveness of intelligence services must also be raised by developing a certification and training system that includes certified leadership cadres and training on respect for human rights. As we train and certify, we must coordinate and cooperate with allied and friendly state intelligence services and international organizations, especially in the field of counterterrorism.
The intelligence community must rely on a range of human competencies qualified to work within this field locally and globally across specializations. They must be able to employ methods and advanced techniques used by modern intelligence services around the world. Funding must be provided to sustain and support the intelligence community with credible sources, without whom it would be difficult to obtain accurate information.
We have created a database to store intelligence received from intelligence departments in the operational sectors and from intelligence and security officers in the field. The database is shaped, studied and analyzed with an eye toward identifying terrorist threats.
Unipath: What challenges have officers faced conducting work in the field?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: We previously faced a complex problem, which was tasking intelligence personnel who worked within military formations with missions that had nothing to do with their specializations. Therefore, intelligence officers and commanders from reconnaissance brigades were instructed not to give intelligence officers duties unrelated to security and intelligence, so that they had time to move about freely and track terrorist activities in their sectors of responsibility and provide details to the directorate.
Unipath: Do you maintain specialized teams to track social media platforms on which terrorists are active?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: We have a technical tracking and online surveillance team in the Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Cell. It specializes in tracking Daesh activity on social media sites, and we are developing it through support from various experts. Fourth- and fifth-generation wars are concerned with the online battlefront and the internet. Therefore, we are interested in attracting computer and network engineers to be part of the teams in the Directorate of Intelligence. We have departments specializing in electronic warfare, extracting evidence from devices we discover in terrorist hideouts and monitoring and tracking terrorist communications across chat rooms and email.
Unipath: What is the role of military intelligence in draining the sources of terror financing?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: The Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism Cell also specializes in monitoring bank transfers and money laundering. Because terrorist activities are highly dependent on funding to recruit, transport fighters, and plant explosives, it is therefore considered a priority to drain the sources of terrorist financing in all forms. We work closely with coalition partners to share intelligence related to domestic and foreign financing networks. They and friendly intelligence agencies share their findings with us after tracking suspicious activity abroad, which provides everyone with a complete picture of domestic and foreign terrorist financial networks so they can be targeted.
Unipath: Some of your operatives, called Unit 43, played a significant role during the battles for liberation by instilling panic in terrorists and communicating with the civilian population. What can you tell us about this unit?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: There is no doubt that the Psychological Operations Unit has played a significant role in sowing panic and chaos in the enemy ranks. This unit was tasked with the planning, production and distribution of all psychological operations-linked products, so that the Ministry of Defense had a unified and specialized approach in the field of psychological operations. The unit has been provided with experts and specialists from the National Security Advisory, and its personnel have passed through specialized courses run by coalition forces. The unit commander was sent to the United Kingdom and the United States to observe similar units in those two countries and returned with a range of expertise that has been applied.
In addition, the unit was supplied with modern technology used in the battles of liberation that has proven its ability to defeat terrorism. Unit 43 also succeeded in motivating the population to cooperate with the security forces and communicated with them through radio broadcasts and by dropping leaflets from the air. The leaflets dropped in Mosul confused Daesh, as we watched them from reconnaissance aircraft come running out into the streets and alleys to pick up the leaflets all day, out of fear that they would reach the population.
However, collecting leaflets exhausted them and sowed fear in their hearts. They could not collect the millions of leaflets dropped into Mosul every night. Unit 43 also succeeded by using loudspeakers to emit the roar of bombing, the thundering of tanks, and the clamor from the battles of liberation. Many terrorists fled in panic from villages and kasbahs without firing even a shot, and people talked about hearing fierce battles throughout the night.
Unipath: How have intelligence missions changed after the liberation of cities from Daesh occupation?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: After cities were liberated from Daesh terrorists, intelligence missions focused on arresting and hunting fugitives and hidden terrorist elements and foiling sleeper cell plans with preemptive operations based on the accurate analysis of information collected by intelligence operatives. In addition, work continued on collecting information on adversarial activity and intent, conducting aerial reconnaissance and sifting information to identify enemy hideouts.
We also prepare intelligence situational reports and movement analysis and work on penetrating enemy ranks through reconnaissance detachments. We enter cities and patrol to collect information on enemy deployments and their headquarters. We have also harnessed social media platforms to launch psychological operations against the adversary by publishing imagery and locations we obtained from aerial reconnaissance and satellites.
The directorate focuses on integrating the role of drones by procuring aircraft, cameras and technical materials to take part in surveillance operations, analysis, and tracking Daesh leaders. It focuses on forming teams and detachments for security check procedures for internally displaced people (IDP) and collecting information on dangerous fugitives who might be hiding among them.
As for psychological warfare, we have focused on disseminating rumors in areas where the enemy is located to break their morale and remind people of Daesh’s crimes, while exposing and refuting their extremist ideas and fatwas. We publicize the exploits of the Iraqi military and the intelligence directorate in the media. The Technical Tracking and Online Surveillance Division has played a prominent role in identifying, infiltrating and disrupting Daesh terrorist websites.
The specialist teams have also collected intelligence to study the psychological state of the enemy by monitoring and tracking social media sites and media outlets, whether they are personal accounts or belong to terrorist organizations.
We worked with friends in the coalition forces Joint Operations Center with a unified team spirit. We provided them with accurate intelligence during preliminary operations, as well as conducting expeditionary strikes to prevent the adversary from reinforcing, as international coalition forces conducted hundreds of airstrikes against Daesh dens and headquarters. We also supplied the Iraqi Air Force and Iraqi Army Aviation with required intelligence as part of plans to develop aerial targeting against the terrorists. That information contributed to many successful airstrikes.
Over the course of liberation operations, we effectively reinforced combat units with intelligence detachments, each consisting of an officer, other ranks and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, known as MRAPs. These detachments were equipped with technical devices and specialist drones for aerial reconnaissance.
We set up checkpoints along the axis of advance to provide units with coordinates, enemy locations and real-time information, while giving a clear picture of the nature of enemy defenses, human resources, and combat capabilities to commanders on the battlefield. We transmitted a live drone video feed to safeguard unit movements, avoid being targeted by vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and destroy enemy targets during the advance.
Unipath: How did you manage to work on two fronts at the same time: managing the battles of liberation and dealing with the internally displaced people crisis?
Maj. Gen. Al-Mamouri: The IDP crisis caused disruption to the advancing units and delayed the progress of offensive forces. That helped protect innocent people and even altered the rules of engagement, as the terrorists hid among the IDPs at times using them as human shields. After building IDP camps, in cooperation with coalition forces and the United Nations, we faced security breaches from terrorist infiltration of civilians.
Command, therefore, formed joint committees from all security agencies and tasked us with checking IDP data before their entry into the camps. Our directorate formed task forces equipped with a database of wanted individuals to compare them with the personal information of the IDPs, and through this Daesh elements and leaders were apprehended.
Our directorate was also able to seize a large collection of Daesh documents in various sectors. Committees were formed to sort and analyze these documents, as well as to organize an exhibition that was inaugurated at directorate headquarters in February 2017. The aim of the exhibition was to reveal to local and international visitors the crimes committed by the terrorist gangs against the people.
The exhibition also attracted worldwide media attention and included the most prominent documents and criminal exhibits belonging to Daesh. It included books that were printed on special local presses to publish extremist ideology, printed textbooks for the benefit of the so-called Diwan of Education, which served the Daesh Ministry of Education, as well as inflammatory posters, lists of terrorist names, communication devices and drones.