Saddam’s Security and Intelligence Network and The Iraqi Security Apparatus

September 30, 2002
Ibrahim Al-Marashi

The following summary and diagram give insight into the current status of the Iraqi Security Apparatus. It is a summary of a longer article entitled “Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis” that appeared in the September 2002 issue of The Middle East Review of International Affairs, available at It is based on open-source materials, including CNS translations, FBIS articles, Iraqi opposition publications, and human rights reports, as well as the captured Iraqi state documents of the Iraq Research and Documentation Project.

Iraq’s security apparatus is the most important instrument of state control in Saddam’s regime and has been fundamental in the preservation of his rule. It is important now to have a full understanding of the type, nature, and breadth of the Iraqi regime’s security organizations because they are instrumental in the denial and deception efforts of the state vis-à-vis its weapons programs. Additionally, these agencies have a role in directing and controlling Iraq’s weapons systems, as well as their procurement. Cleary, any debate about inspections or regime change in Iraq must take these agencies into account.

The five primary agencies that make up the Iraqi security apparatus are al-Amn al-Khas (Special Security), al-Amn al-‘Amm (General Security), al-Istikhbarat (Military Intelligence), al-Mukhabarat (General Intelligence), and al-Amn al-‘Askari (Military Security). Along with the Special Republican Guard, they form a vast, complex, and wide-ranging labyrinth of security organizations, with mutually independent intelligence and military units pervading all layers of Iraqi society, ensuring the protection of the president and his regime.

The jurisdictions of the agencies are designed to be duplicative, to maintain competition, and to ensure that no single security service will emerge too strong so as to threaten Saddam. The collective responsibilities of the agencies are to protect the president; maintain internal security by countering domestic dissention, including coups and mass insurrection; preventing external threats to the regime; and conducting foreign operations. All these agencies also play a role in the procurement and concealment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program.

Special Security (AL-AMN AL-KHAS)

Al-Amn al-Khas (Special Security), [1] created during the Iran-Iraq War to serve as a super-secret organization, has emerged as the most powerful agency in the security apparatus. It rose from within al-Amn al-‘Amm in 1982 to provide bodyguards to the president after a failed assassination attempt on Saddam.[2] Hussein Kamil, who was Saddam’s cousin, son-in-law, and minister for military industrialization, was instrumental in the creation of this agency and only selected loyal and devoted agents from the al-Amn al-‘Amm, al-Istikhbarat, and al-Mukhabarat to serve in this ultra-elite intelligence unit. The current director of al-Amn al-Khas is Saddam’s son, Qusay Hussein. He also controls the Special Republican Guard, which is subordinate to the al-Amn al-Khas Office of the Special Republican Guard.

The responsibilities of al-Amn al-Khas can be roughly classified as follows: (1) providing security for the president, at all times, especially during travel and public meetings; (2) securing all presidential facilities, such as palaces and offices; (3) supervising other security and intelligence services; (4) monitoring government ministries and the leadership of the armed forces; (5) supervising internal security operations against the Kurdish and Shi’a opposition; (6) purchasing foreign arms and technology; (7) securing Iraq’s most critical military industries; and (8) directing efforts to conceal Iraq’s WMD programs.

Unlike the other four major security organizations, al-Amn al-Khas serves as the inner most intelligence agency of the regime, functioning as the nerve center of Saddam’s security agencies. The members of this bureau enjoy a higher standard of living than the elements of the other agencies.[3] According to Iraqi defectors and exiles, this agency, more than any other, instills a sense of fear in all layers of Iraqi society.

While its primary duty is protecting the president, it manages the actions of the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard. Al-Amn al-Khas is charged with the surveillance of al-Mukhabarat, al-Istikhbarat, al-Amn al-‘Askari, and al-Amn al-‘Amm—essentially spying on Iraqi spies.

Al-Amn al-Khas watched over the activities of al-Istikhbarat and the KGB during the Iran-Iraq War. The KGB advised these agencies in techniques of concealing covert weapons production facilities.[4] It served as the central coordinating body between the Military-Industrial Commission, al-Istikhbarat and al-Mukhabarat, and the military in the covert procurement of the necessary components for Iraq’s WMD.[5] During the 1991 Gulf War, it was put in charge of concealing SCUD missiles [6] and afterwards, of moving and hiding documents from UNSCOM inspections relating to Iraq’s weapons programs. Based on these past activities, it would presumably continue these functions in the future.

General Security Service (AL-AMN AL-‘AMM)

Al-Amn al-‘Amm (General Security), [7] the oldest security agency in the country, dates back to 1921, when it was created during the British Mandate era.[8] Al-Amn al-‘Amm is essentially a political security police force. Its activities are: (1) detecting dissent among the Iraqi general public; (2) reacting to political criminal behavior; and (3) preventing economic criminal activity. The current head is Rafi Abd al-Latif Talfah. Al-Amn al-‘Amm monitors the day-to-day lives of the population, creating a pervasive local presence.[9] The headquarters of al-Amn al-‘Amm is located in Baghdad, from which it guides the work of the al-Amn branches in each Iraqi governate. Saddam provided it with a paramilitary wing known as Quwat al-Tawari‘ (Emergency Forces) [10] after the 1991 Gulf War to reinforce law and order.[11] Al-Quwat al-Tawari’ units were responsible for hiding Iraqi ballistic missile components.[12]

Military Intelligence (AL-ISTIKHBARAT AL-‘ASKARIYYA)

Mudiriyyat al-Istikhabarat al-‘Askariyya al-‘Amma (General Military Intelligence Directorate) was created in 1932, during the time of Iraq’s independence.[13]

Its responsibilities include: (1) performing tactical and strategic reconnaissance of regimes hostile to Iraq; (2) assessing threats of a military nature to Iraq; (3) monitoring the Iraqi military and ensuring the loyalty of the officer corps; (4) maintaining a network of informants in Iraq and abroad, including foreign personnel and military human intelligence; and (5) protecting military and military-industrial facilities.

The primary functions of Military Intelligence are ensuring the loyalty of the military and gathering military intelligence, but it is also involved in foreign operations, including assassinations of opponents to the regime.[14] Military Intelligence is responsible for maintaining a network of informants, including operatives in Jordan, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, the Gulf states, Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen, as well as managing a large human intelligence network in Iran.

After the 1981 Israeli raid on Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear research facility, al-Istikhbarat turned to the Soviet KGB for assistance. From 1982 to 1985, the KGB aided al-Istikhbarat in concealment and protection techniques of its military program and facilities, as well as strategic reconnaissance deception methods.

Iraqi Intelligence Service (AL-MUKHABARAT)

While al-Amn al-‘Amm and al-Istikhbarat were created during the period of Iraq’s monarchy, al-Mukhabarat (Iraqi Intelligence Service) [15] emerged from within the Iraqi Arab Socialist Ba’th Party. The current director of al-Mukhabarat is Tahir Abd al-Jalil al-Habbush.

Al-Mukhabarat is roughly divided into two departments, responsible for internal and international operations, respectively. Its internal activities are coordinated through provincial offices, while its international operations are conducted from various Iraqi embassies. Its internal activities include: (1) monitoring the Ba’th Party, as well as other political parties; (2) monitoring other grass roots organizations, including youth, women, and union groups; (3) suppressing Shi’a, Kurdish, and other opposition; (4) conducting counter-espionage; (5) targeting threatening individuals and groups inside of Iraq; (6) monitoring foreign embassies in Iraq; (6) monitoring foreigners in Iraq; and (7) maintaining an internal network of informants. Its external activities include: (8) monitoring Iraqi embassies abroad; (9) collecting overseas intelligence; (10) aiding opposition groups to hostile regimes; (11) conducting sabotage, subversion, and terrorist operations against hostile neighboring countries such as Syria and Iran; (12) murdering opposition elements outside of Iraq; (13) infiltrating Iraqi opposition groups abroad; (14) providing disinformation and attempts to exploit or use Arab and other media; and (15) maintaining an international network of informants, using popular organizations as well, such as the Union of Iraqi Students.[16]

Military Security (AL-AMN AL-‘ASKARI)

Initially constituted as part of the Special Bureau of the Istikhabarat, in 1992 Saddam established al-Amn al-‘Askari as an independent entity reporting directly to the Presidential Palace rather than military command or the Ministry of Defense. This unit was created after Saddam detected disturbances in the military. The head of Al-Amn al-Askari is Thabet Khalil al-Tikriti.

Al-Amn al-‘Askari is responsible for: (1) detecting and countering dissent in the Iraqi armed forces; (2) investigating corruption and embezzlement within the armed services; and (3) monitoring all formations and units in the armed forces.

The Special Republican Guard (AL-HARIS AL-JAMHURI AL-KHAS)

Al-Haris al-Jamhuri al-Khas (Special Republican Guard) is also referred to as the Republican Guard Special Protection Forces. As the Republican Guard expanded rapidly during the Iran-Iraq War, the Special Republican Guard was created to serve as a praetorian guard after the 1991 Gulf War. Qusay Hussein heads this unit, which provides protection for all presidential sites, including offices and personal residences, as well as escorting Saddam when he is traveling within Iraq. The Special Republican Guard usually has around 15,000 men, but some estimates state that it has as many as 13 battalions with 26,000 men.[17] The Special Republican Guard is organized into four brigades, with three brigades guarding the northern, southern, and western routes into Baghdad. Additionally, it has an artillery and air defense command. Al-Amn al-Khas exercises operational control over the Special Republican Guard.[18]

The SRG played a role in securing WMD warheads, as well as maintaining control of a few launchers. According to an Iraqi defector, the SRG had hidden two missile launchers from UN weapons inspectors.[19]

Diagram: The Iraqi Security Apparatus

Compiled Anjali Bhattacharjee

View the diagram as a PDF

Adapted from: Ibrahim Al-Marashi, “Iraq’s Security and Intel Network”, MERIA, Sept. 2002


[1] Al-Amn al-Khas (Special Security) is also known as Mudiriyyat al-Amn al-Khas (The Special Security Directorate) or Jihaz al-Amn al-Khas (The Special Security Apparatus, The Special Security Organization or The Special Security Service). It is also referred to as Jihaz Mukhabarat al-Ra’isa (The Presidential Intelligence Apparatus, The Presidential Affairs Department or The Presidential Intelligence Bureau). In some publications, it is abbreviated by the acronym, SS, SSS, or SSO.
[2] Dilip Hiro, Neighbors, Not Friends, Iraq and Iran After the Gulf Wars (London and New York: Routledge, 2001), p. 55.
[3] Unattributed article, “The Secret War Between the CIA and Iraqi Intelligence,” in al-Hawadith (London, in Arabic), February 2, 2001, p. 21. Translated by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS).
[4] Scott Ritter, Endgame: Solving the Iraq Problem Once and For All (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999), p. 75.
[5] Sean Boyne, “Inside Iraq’s Security Network, Part One,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, Vol. 9, No. 7 (July 1997), p. 314.
[6] Ritter, p. 102.
[7] It is also known as Mudiriyyat al-Amn al-‘Amm (General Security Directorate or General Security Service) and also referred to as the Secret Police, and is sometimes referred to by the acronyms GS or GSS.
[8] Hiro, p. 54.
[9] Kanan Makiya, Republic of Fear: The Politics of Modern Iraq (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), p. 12.
[10] According to the Human Rights Watch publications, there also existed Emergency Forces prior to the 1991 Gulf War, under the control of the Ba’th Party.
[11] Ritter, p. 122.
[12] Ritter, p. 122.
[13] Hiro, p. 56.
[14] Makiya, p. 14.
[15] It is also known as al-Mukhabarat al-Amma (General Intelligence), and is also referred to as Da’irat al-Mukhbarat al-‘Amma (The General Intelligence Directorate, The General Intelligence Department, The General Intelligence Service or The Iraqi Intelligence Service). It is sometimes referred to by the acronyms IIS, GID, or GIS.
[16] Hiro, p. 56.
[17] Boyne, July 1997, p. 313.
[18] Michael Eisenstadt, Like A Phoenix From the Ashes: The Future of Iraqi Mlilitary Power (Washington DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1993), p. 10.
[19] Timothy V. McCarthy and Jonathan B. Tucker, “Saddam’s Toxic Arsenal,” in Peter R. Lavoy, Scott D. Sagan, and James J. Wirtz, Planning the Unthinkable: How New Powers Will Use Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons, (Ithaca NY: Cornell UP, 2000). p. 75.

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