Spent bullet cartridges on a street around the Jihad Hotel in Kirkuk, where the IS fighters hid in late October. (photo: Anadolu Agency)
Recently a document was sent to the Tigris Operations Command, the military force tasked with ensuring security around Kirkuk in northern Iraq. It was from the Iraqi intelligence service and it warned of the possibility of an imminent extremist attack on Kirkuk city.
The document was sent by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and dated October 9, 2016. It was ignored. On October 21, extremists affiliated with the group known as the Islamic State attacked the city; the attacks saw more than 100 dead.
Clearly if somebody had paid attention to the information in the in the letter sent by the intelligence services, the attack may have been foiled.
This is not the first time information passed on by Iraq’s intelligence services has been ignored by those local forces who received it. In the past the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS, has even published the letters complete with their dates after such events, a criticism of the fact that they were ignored, and to show that, contrary to popular opinion, they were doing their job.
Even the fall of Mosul to the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group was mentioned in a document like this, sent to Iraqi security forces in October 2013 – that is, more than eight months before the IS group took control of the northern Iraqi city.
So why are these kinds of warnings – warnings that would cause major mobilization in many other countries – being ignored?
The document warning of the attack in Kirkuk.
“Because there are no resources available to prepare preventive operations,” argues Ahmad al-Sharifi, a professor of political science at Baghdad University, who also researches local security issues. “And there are no plans for any preventive measures, even if the forces do get the information well in advance of an attack. The security forces simply do not have the capacity to respond within a short time frame. Any response is slow. Which is why this information loses its significance.”
The other problem is the multiplying number of different forces gathering intelligence within Iraq. There are nine main ones at the moment. These include the aforementioned INIS, the Ministry of the Interior’s intelligence and investigation agency, two different departments for intelligence gathering under the control of the Ministry of Defence, a counter-terrorism-focused intelligence department and the intelligence services for borders and customs. There are also intelligence officers associated with the Shiite Muslim volunteer militias.
Coordination between all of these different agencies is very difficult, let alone coordination between the agencies and the executive.
One local police officer, who spoke to NIQASH on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to comment on the subject, said that many of his colleagues are well aware of the problems of getting important information from one agency or department to another.
“A lot of these warnings are neglected or ignored,” he confirmed to NIQASH. “There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes the documents are sent several times so people start to ignore them after they’ve seen them a few times. And often when security forces do receive these warnings, they do prepare themselves for an attack. But then when nothing happens – often the case – they start to doubt the warnings. So, the next time one comes, they ignore it, even if the warning is serious.”
And often, the officer added, it comes down to human nature. The police officers feel secure enough so they think there cannot possibly be any danger of a major attack by extremists. They think warning notices are exaggerated.
There is also a lack of trust between the different agencies, and even a suspicion that one agency might be trying to make another look negligent: Once again, the warnings are not taken seriously, he notes.
Another example of these kinds of warnings being ignored took place at the end of July this year when one of the agencies associated with the Ministry of the Interior sent information about an imminent attack to officials in Baghdad’s Karrada neighbourhood. The document was ignored by local police and security staff in Baghdad.
The awful and deadly bombing of a Karrada shopping mall, that killed close to 300 people and rocked Iraq and the world, followed.
Iraq’s Minister of the Interior, Mohammed Salem al-Ghabban, resigned after the tragedy, stating that part of the reason for his departure was the impossibility of coordination between different Iraqi security and intelligence forces.
Al-Ghabban told journalists that the Iraqi government had “failed in having the different array of security forces work under a unified plan in Baghdad”, and demanded that there be radical reform of this area and an end to obstructive overlaps in responsibility and intelligence gathering.
Other commentators from both within and outside the Iraqi security forces have suggested creating a sole agency that would be charge of all intelligence gathering and the issuance of security warnings. Tasks and duties should be split up between the different agencies properly, making it clear who is responsible for what.
“The problem lies in the fact that there is no central administrative centre for all of the intelligence-gathering forces,” Abdul-Karim al-Jibouri, a local major general, told NIQASH. “There is nobody to ensure that the most important information is shared and that those who need it, have it, and at the right time. I think the most important thing we can do today is to distribute the different tasks and responsibilities of each apparatus to ensure that each one complements the other.”