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    Middle East
     Dec 10, 2005
Badr's spreading web
By Mahan Abedin

The recent discovery of a supposedly secret prison allegedly run by elements in the Iraqi Interior Ministry loyal to the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), has raised fears of an escalating sectarian conflict in Iraq. Leaving aside the sensational reporting on this incident, there is nothing particularly new or even secret about this development.

Certainly the American authorities in Iraq are not only well aware of aggressive counter-insurgency tactics, but in some cases even

oversee them. The timing of the so-called secret prison's "discovery" is also interesting, coming at a time when the US is trying to diminish the influence of the Shi'ite Islamist bloc in the government.

The elections scheduled for December 15 are seen as a perfect opportunity by the Americans and their main ally in Iraq, former premier Iyad Allawi, to curtail the electoral clout of SCIRI and other Shi'ite organizations and personalities, including Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi. The "discovery" of the secret detention center and the sensational reporting that followed is part of this American-led electoral strategy.

In the security field, though, there are unlikely to be any changes to the way the Shi'ite-dominated security forces conduct the war against the Arab Sunni guerrilla movement and the Salafi-jihadi extremists. However, the events of the past month have highlighted a potentially fatal long-term flaw in the development of new Iraqi security forces, and that is the emergence of two separate security/intelligence structures: one which is entirely overseen by the Americans, and the other entirely led by Shi'ite Islamists with strong ties to Iran.

The Badr Organization
As the Interior Ministry detention center, where about 170 prisoners were being held, was allegedly controlled by elements either belonging to or strongly connected to the Badr Organization, it is worthwhile examining the emergence and evolution of this paramilitary and security organization.

The Badr Organization is the armed wing of the SCIRI, which was formed in November 1982 in Tehran. [1] Under the tutelage of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), SCIRI established a military wing in 1983, called the Badr Brigade. This force quickly grew into a full-fledged corps and joined regular IRGC forces on the front lines during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Like the SCIRI's political wing, the Badr Corps never posed a serious threat to the former Iraqi regime. The main problem was that it strove to be a conventional military organization, equipped with heavy weaponry, rather than a guerrilla force capable of easily infiltrating Iraq and operating clandestinely. While its conventional forces looked impressive on parade, their ineffectiveness was highlighted during the 1991 Shi'ite uprising in Iraq - Badr forces managed to cross the border, but were easily crushed by the Iraqi Army.

The relationship between the Badr and the IRGC has been the subject of much disinformation, exaggeration and misreporting. While there is no doubt that the Badr was partly created by the IRGC and sustained by it in the early years, the relationship was downgraded after the formal ending of the Iran-Iraq War in August 1988. One myth that has been sustained throughout these years, mainly by the former Ba'ath regime and its loyalists, is that the Badr was completely subordinate to the IRGC command structure.

It is alleged that the organization's real name was the "9th Badr Corps", indicating that it belonged to a chain of specialized IRGC units. These include the "2nd Qods [Jerusalem] Corps", the IRGC'S ultra-clandestine and highly effective special operations and foreign intelligence unit.

For their part, the SCIRI and the Badr vehemently deny strong association with the IRGC. This is, at best, a half-truth. While the Badr was never subordinate to the IRGC in a formal organizational sense, it was heavily reliant on the latter for funding, arms, training and even infiltration into Iraq.

Moreover, virtually every facility used by the SCIRI and the Badr in Iran from 1982-2003 was either wholly owned by the IRGC or in some ways connected to it. In terms of funding there is reliable evidence that the salaries of some full-time Badr personnel were paid by the IRGC's central accounting department.

According to a reliable military journalist in Tehran, the pay slips would be issued in nine-digit formats, complying with the IRGC's accounting and encryption system for those employees and agents whose identities needed to remain concealed, even to the IRGC's internal auditors. The funds would either be deposited in Iranian banks, or in some cases Badr personnel would be paid in US dollars. Fake charities were set up to launder the funds. These would be deposited in the Swiss subsidiary of Mebco, a small bank owned by Chalabi. Mebco had its banking license withdrawn by the Swiss federal banking commission in April 1989. Funds would also be deposited in Chalabi-owned banks and other financial institutions in Beirut.

The relationship between the IRGC and the Badr underwent further changes in 1992. Several front organizations were created to put further administrative and operational distance between the two and ultimately enable Badr's fighting forces to gain full independence.

This worked, as by early 2003 the operational links between Badr fighting forces and the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guards) had become tenuous. But a parallel development ensured that Badr maintained its links with the IRGC. The changes in 1992 were, in part, prompted by Badr's dismal performance in the March-April 1991 Safar intifada against Saddam Hussein's regime.

There was a realization that Badr could never hope to pose a serious military challenge to the (former) Iraqi regime and instead needed to develop strong security and intelligence capabilities, which would enable it to operate clandestinely inside Iraq. It was at this juncture that the Badr developed a distinct security/intelligence unit that was trained by and operated under the guidelines of the IRGC's Qods Corps.

Virtually nothing is known about these activities, mainly because there is no reliable information on the ultra-secretive Qods Corps, save for sloppy disinformation and propaganda put out by Western intelligence services and exiled Iranian dissidents. These security units proved useful during the period 1999-2001 when Iran and Iraq used each other's dissident organizations to conduct a low-level urban terrorist campaign, marked mainly by the use of mortar bombs in Tehran and Baghdad.

Badr in Iraq
It is widely believed that on the eve of the invasion of Iraq the Badr Corps controlled around 10,000-15,000 fighters, 3,000 of whom were professionally trained (many of these being Iraqi Army defectors and former prisoners of war). However, the core of the Badr fighting forces was composed of about 1,500 ideologically-committed combatants who had spent nearly two decades working alongside the IRGC.

Immediately after the fall of Baghdad, the Badr Corps moved into Iraq from the central sector, independent of SCIRI personnel who entered Iraq mostly from the south. The Badr established an initial presence in Diyala province, arguably Iraq's most strategic region, given its proximity to Iran and its mixed Shi'ite and Sunni population.

The US authorities applied great pressure on the Badr Corps to disarm in the early months of the occupation. Consequently the Badr Corps was renamed the Badr Organization, but it did not fully disarm. In any case, the disarmament process was reversed after the assassination of the SCIRI's founding leader, Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, in August 2003, after which the Americans readily accepted that the SCIRI needed an armed component to protect its assets in the deteriorating security situation.

From early 2004 onwards, when coalition efforts to develop new Iraqi military and security structures started in earnest, the Badr Organization (which now claimed to be operating independently from the SCIRI) tried to place its most competent officers and fighters inside the new security organs. But these efforts were thwarted both by American officers and former Ba'athist security personnel, who saw the Badr as an extension of the IRGC in Iraq.

The Badr was sidelined during the tenure of Allawi's government (July 2004-April 2005), as the neo-Ba'athists in that administration, particularly the defense minister, Hazem Shaalan, the interior minister, Faleh al-Naquib, and the intelligence chief, Mohammad Shahwani, applied maximum pressure on the Americans to deny Badr access to government resources. The Allawi government proved to be the most serious mistake in post-war Iraq, as evidenced by the biggest fraud scandal in Iraqi history, which was allegedly masterminded by Shaalan and other senior figures in the Defense Ministry.

To their credit, the Americans, mindful of the incompetence of Allawi and his crooked ministers and advisors, refused to disarm and dissolve the Badr, as was repeatedly requested by Shaalan's office. In fact as the insurgency situation deteriorated sharply in late 2004, the Americans decided to involve the Badr in official security planning and counter-insurgency operations. This set the stage for the entry of Badr personnel and agents into the defense and interior ministries.

The situation changed dramatically after this January's elections, which resulted in a massive victory by the SCIRI and its allies, and which led to the creation of the Ibrahim Jaafari government in April. From the very early days of the Jaafari government, the Badr was given virtual control over the Interior Ministry, with Bayan Jabr (a former Badr Corps commander and SCIRI leader) being appointed the interior minister.

This enabled the Badr to capture the top positions at the ministry and exert significant influence on counter-insurgency planning and operations. The Badr set up new counter-insurgency units, which are widely regarded as the most motivated and effective components of the new Iraqi security forces.

The Badr Organization was instrumental in the creation of the elite anti-insurgency unit known as al-Liwa al-Dheeb (Wolf Brigade). The Wolf Brigade initially operated in the north of Iraq, particularly in Tal Afar and Mosul, but in recent months it has assumed a security role in Baghdad as well. The Badr also set up the Scorpion Brigade, which specializes in intelligence-led security sweeps against insurgent hideouts, bases and safe-houses in urban areas, particularly western Baghdad.

Aside from its heavy involvement in security and paramilitary operations against the insurgents, the Badr is also using its intelligence apparatus to collect information on a range of targets in Iraq. The Badr initially set up its intelligence apparatus in the city of Kut in April 2003. The intelligence network was under the control of Sayyid Abbas Fadhil, a senior SCIRI leader, who declared himself mayor of Kut after entering the town on April 10.

It was not mere coincidence that Abdel Aziz al-Hakim (the current leader of the SCIRI), who was then the de-facto commander of the Badr, decided to make Kut his first port of call after long years in exile in Iran. Hakim arrived in Kut on April 16 and was greeted by Fadhil and 20,000 cheering residents.

Currently Badr's intelligence apparatus is headquartered in Najaf, but it maintains regional and local headquarters in Basra, Amara, Khanegheyn, Khalis, Balad, Kirkuk and eastern Baghdad. Badr and the SCIRI's intelligence apparatus operates completely independently from the new Iraqi intelligence service that is nominally headed by Shahwani but is in fact completely controlled by the US Central Intelligence Agency. The Americans have refused to relinquish control of the new Iraqi intelligence service (which is very small and is almost entirely made up of former Iraqi intelligence officers) for fear that it would fall under the influence of Badr - and by extension Iran.

Badr's intelligence apparatus is currently focused on gathering information on six primary objectives, in the following order of importance: 1) former regime elements (particularly committed members of the Ba'ath Party, former intelligence officers, Ba'athist academics and anybody who still actively supports Saddam); 2) insurgents (both indigenous and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi-led Salafi-jihadis); 3) the Sunni clerical establishment (the Association of Muslim Scholars being the primary target); 4) Arab Sunni-based political parties and personalities (the Iraqi Islamic Party is a major target for penetration); 5) the new Iraqi intelligence service; 6) American forces and facilities in Iraq (detailed information on American military bases, troop movements and tactics are collected on a daily basis).

The Badr intelligence apparatus has a national network of informants and is also active in Damascus (Syria), Amman (Jordan), Nicosia and Larnaka (Cyprus), cities that have large Iraqi communities and where Iraqi insurgents conduct much of their planning, networking and fundraising. It is entirely possible that the Badr intelligence apparatus is both larger and more effective than the new Iraqi intelligence service, but it is impossible to verify this.

New Iraq and security challenges
The biggest challenge in post-war Iraq is developing new security forces and structures. This would not only enable the Americans to depart Iraq but would ensure that the country had the resources to cope with the long-term destabilizing dynamics that were unleashed by the toppling of Saddam.

However, the experience of the past 33 months has not been altogether encouraging. There have been three fundamental trends, in regard to developing new security forces. The first was the creation and development of the new Iraqi Army. This has been under the tutelage of the Americans, who are slowly developing a new armed force, albeit a very small one.

There is a tacit agreement between the Americans and Iraq's neighbors that the new Iraqi Army remains limited in size and is not equipped with ultra-modern and lethal American weaponry. In other words, the new Iraqi Army will be strong enough to maintain internal order, but it will never acquire the size and weaponry to threaten even the country's weakest neighbors.

The second is the development of a new Iraqi police force, which has been largely undertaken by the British. This has been a failure through and through. While the British have tried hard to train a core of top tier police officers, the treacherous nature of policing in Iraq, coupled with the heavy penetration of the rank and file by militias (especially the Sadrists and their offshoots) have blunted any success they may have had.

The third has been the creation of a new Iraqi intelligence service, which mainly due to the political landscape of post-Saddam Iraq, has led to the emergence of two Iraqi secret states; one controlled by the Americans and the other by Iranian-backed Shi'ite Islamists.

The abuses discovered in the Interior Ministry facility are partly rooted in the fragmented nature of the new Iraqi security forces. But it is also important to remember the ferocity of the insurgency in Iraq and the fact that the country simply does not have the security and judicial resources to respond appropriately. Those who are tasked with fighting the insurgents on the ground protest that not even the most sophisticated judicial apparatus in the world would be able to prevent abuses by security forces faced with catastrophic threats and enemies who regularly resort to extreme methods.

More broadly, the complex and fragmented nature of the new Iraqi security forces is informed by the evolving political superstructure. As Iraq is steadily transformed into a weak federal state with deep sectarian and ethnic cleavages that are exacerbated by daily bombings and communal massacres, the security forces will continue to develop along fragmented, militia-based and ethnocentric lines.

[1] For a comprehensive (and at the time) original account of the emergence and development of the SCIRI, refer to the author's Dossier: The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, Volume 5, No 10, October 2003.

Mahan Abedin is the editor of Terrorism Monitor, which is published by the Jamestown Foundation, a non-profit organization specializing in research and analysis on conflict and instability in Eurasia. The views expressed here are his own.

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