Tehran tightens grip on Iraq’s INIS

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The recent appointment of Moustafa al-Kazemi as the new head of the Iraqi intelligence service demonstrates the control Tehran now has over Baghdad’s security apparatus.

Iran’s political and security apparatus has scored another victory in Iraq. Moustafa al-Kazemi, one of Tehran’s strongest allies in Baghdad, was appointed director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service(INIS) earlier this month. Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Al Quds Force, the military branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or Pasdaran, is understood to have been in favour of Kazemi’s appointment.

A member of Al-Dawa, the Shi’ite party that has ruled Baghdad since 2003, Kazemi, who married the daughter of a prominent figure of the party, Mehdi al-Allaq, lived in exile in Iran in the 1980s. While there he constituted a network of moles for Iran in Saddam Hussein’s army. In 2003 he returned to Iraq alongside Iranian militia fighters. He also became close to the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and his son Masrour, the head of intelligence for the Peshmerga, who are close to Western intelligence services.

Kazemi’s intimate acquaintance with non-state Shi’ite groups in the region, including Iran’s Pasdaran and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, led to his appointment as deputy director of INIS in March 2015. He was specifically mandated to handle Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Kazemi, who has replaced the seemingly immovable Zouhair Gharbaoui, plans a major reform of the intelligence service which is practically inoperative.