Alleged billion dollar thief Hazem Shaalan
isn't Ayad Allawi's only infamous friend. Allawi is also a close ally of the head of Iraq's largest intelligence service -- a man who takes his billions from Washington, not Baghdad.
On the ground in Baghdad is a sprawling intelligence operation called the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS. Only INIS isn't really "National" at all. To the great chagrin of the Maliki government, it's financed and controlled by the CIA. And its boss is a longtime Allawi friend and CIA asset, Muhammed Shahwani.
Who's Muhammed Shahwani? He's a former Iraqi military officer who, along with Allawi, helped plot a botched coup against Saddam Hussein in 1996. Despite the failure, the CIA considered him a valuable asset, largely on the strength of his considerable knowledge of Saddam's military apparatus. In his memoir, ex-CIA Director George Tenet writes that when Shahwani returned to Iraq as part of "the Agency-sponsored Iraqi paramilitary group known as 'the Scorpions'" he became "key to developing a strong network inside Iraq for the Agency."
As a result, Shahwani, a member of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord party, was an obvious choice to lead the CIA-created INIS. Throughout the Coalition Provisional Authority era and the Allawi regime that followed it, Shahwani was a reliable fixture -- so much so that when the 2005 election saw Allawi's government replaced by a Shiite coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance, the agency decided that INIS was too valuable to hand over to the less-reliable UIA. (Concerns about sovereignty have their exceptions.) INIS had control over extensive files on Iraqis tied to the insurgency -- and many others not suspected of crimes -- and the UIA bristled when unable to get access to what it considered the rightful spoils of its electoral victory. "I prefer to call it the American Intelligence of Iraq, not the Iraqi Intelligence Service," a Shiite parliamentarian and militia commander told
reporters Hannah Allam and Warren Strobel.
INIS's estrangement from the Shiite-led government deepened under Nouri al-Maliki's administration. Maliki's attempts to control INIS led Shahwani to tell the CIA that Maliki was way too close to the Iranians, which lead the agency to increase its investment in its longtime ally. Ned Parker of The Los Angeles Times quoted an anonymous U.S. military official who said "U.S. funding for the INIS amounts to $3 billion over a three-year period that started in 2004." With money independent from Baghdad, Maliki has no power to remove Shahwani, so he did the next best thing: he started an alternative, primarily Shiite intelligence service, run by a functionary named Sherwan al-Waili. As a result, Iraq now has two competing intelligence services, with INIS intimating that al-Waili's outfit is a hive of Iranian infiltration.
It's unknown how large the INIS is, or what its capabilities truly are. But INIS provides Shahwani with an enviable platform, and he apparently remains dominant over Waili in the fractious Iraqi national-security apparatus. Just this week, he was part of an official delegation that visited Amman to discuss deepening Iraqi-Jordanian counterterrorism ties.
Shahwani's U.S.-funded independence from the Iraqi government helps contextualize the recent push for Allawi. Unlike most alternatives to Maliki, Allawi has at least something resembling a security apparatus that he can call upon. Of course, whether it can actually take control of fractious, chaotic Iraq is a dubious proposition -- and Allawi has never called for an outright coup. But when Maliki opens his newspaper and reads about Allawi's push in Washington to become premier again, he has reason to look to INIS and see a threat to his administration.