BAGHDAD — A large double suicide assault within the Iraqi capital Jan. 21 was adopted by the removing of a number of high-ranking intelligence and Interior Ministry officers.
One, specifically, stood out: the substitute of the person who had led Iraq’s super-secretive Falcon Intelligence Cell since its inception, generally known as Abu Ali al-Basri.
His actual title had, previous to the announcement of his removing, not been reported within the media for safety causes.
The Falcon Intelligence Cell, which solutions to the Interior Ministry, had lengthy been run primarily by Basri, who in earlier conferences had instructed Al-Monitor that he had been the principle individual behind the founding of the super-secretive spy unit. Among the nations the intelligence unit has collaborated with are the United States and the UK.
When requested by Al-Monitor in late January to touch upon the explanation for his removing, Basri mentioned there “had not been any major attacks in Baghdad for three years,” indicating that this confirmed the success of his work. The final suicide assault within the capital previous to the one in January had occurred in the identical sq. in 2018.
Basri had been within the place for over a decade, because the institution of the unit, and can retain a place inside the Interior Ministry. He and the unit had been extensively praised in earlier years for his or her work. He mentioned he was not licensed to remark additional.
One report claimed that the explanation for his removing was his alleged proximity to Iran-based militias, saying the Falcons Cell had been “one of the Iranian-backed factions most-prized assets in Iraq.”
But a senior Iraqi authorities official instructed this journalist Feb. 18 that Basri was believed to have been “covering” for 4 people in reference to the deaths of activists and journalists. The 4 have been arrested Feb. 15 in Basra.
A detailed affiliate of Basri’s had confused to Al-Monitor in a dialog within the Iraqi capital in January that the previous Falcon Cell chief was recognized in earlier years for being “the only one who could say no” to Nouri al-Maliki when he was prime minister and that Basri was widely respected by many sides in Iraq.
Maliki, leader of the Shiite Dawa party and prime minister from 2006-2014, has been blamed by some for inciting sectarian tensions over the years.
This journalist had interviewed Basri twice previously in Baghdad, in July 2019 and February 2020. In person, Basri came across as sharply intelligent and humble. He traveled without security guards as part of his efforts to retain a low profile, he had said at the time.
In the first interview he spoke about the unit’s operations against al-Qaeda and then the Islamic State (IS), including a joint cross-border operation with the Iraqi air force where he said IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had allegedly been injured in the city of Hejin in Syria’s eastern Deir al-Zor region.
In the July 2019 interview, Basri also discussed the training his men received from abroad and the training that they in turn provided to other nations, given the wealth of experience fighting terrorism they had gained in Iraq. Though declining to go into specifics about collaboration with foreign intelligence agencies, he said that his unit did not have any direct contact with the Syrian government but that there was a “four-member operations room” in Baghdad at the moment involving Syria, Iran, Iraq and Russia by means of which data wanted to save lots of lives was channeled.
The Falcon Cell gained international attention following a lengthy New York Times article in August 2018 by Margaret Coker on an IS infiltrator killed in the line of duty, Harith al-Sudani. The article led to the granting of benefits linked to his death to his family even though the man’s body was never found.
A e book on the Falcon Cell and its chief written by Coker is due out within the United States later this month.
During Coker’s time as the Times’ Baghdad bureau chief, the paper was sent a video of five Syrian and Iraqi IS commanders caught by the Falcon Cell in a complex operation between Turkey, Syria and Iraq. Al-Monitor also reported on the video and the identities of those arrested at that time. This journalist had met one of the Syrian commanders in 2012 prior to his joining IS.
In more recent years, Basri had spoken to more media outlets on occasion. The former Falcon Cell chief holds a European passport in addition to his Iraqi one and his family is abroad for security reasons.
Last year, Basri expressed to Al-Monitor the desire to expand the unit’s operations to include striking at the funding of terrorism through corruption. He said the Falcon Cell could be used as a model for a similar unit to focus solely on corruption or could itself be employed to crack down on it.
Basri also said he thought the unit’s experience in intelligence gathering could be useful to stop the scourge of the sexual harassment and blackmailing of “Iraq’s daughters” that had become so widespread in recent years.
In May 2020, when Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was sworn in, he pledged to try to bring all arms under state control.
More fully centralizing the vast array of intelligence agencies in the country’s various ministries and departments may be yet another attempt to work toward this goal.