Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, has estimated the number of gunmen in all parts of Iraq who are carrying out the attacks and bombings at between 20,000 and 30,000. He said they have the sympathy of around 200,000 persons without this meaning that the latter are giving the gunmen any material or logistical support "but are turning a blind eye to the gunmen and do not report them if they have information about them."
In a telephone interview with "Asharq Al-Awsat" conducted with him in his office in Baghdad yesterday, he said former Iraqi Vice President Izzat al-Duri, former Regional Command member Muhammad Yunis, and Saddam”s half brother Sab”awi Ibrahim al-Hasan are supervising the implementation of qualitative operations because of their huge financial influence. He pointed out that these leaders "are in Syria and move easily the to Iraqi territories." He also reported that the Ba”th Party has split into three wings and that Na”im Haddad and Tayih Abd-al-Karim are now operating inside the Iraqi territories.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is your estimate of the number of gunmen in Iraq?
Al-Shahwani: We call them officially terrorists because they carry out terrorist actions against the citizens and are outlaws. Their number in all parts of Iraq is between 20,000 and 30,000 and they are mostly in the Sunni areas where the population there, almost 200,000, is sympathetic to them. But they do not provide them with any material or logistical help. For example, they do not report their activities if they have the information.
Asharq Al-Awsat: This means that these 200,000 persons do not fight the gunmen?
Al-Shahwani: It is impossible for the number of gunmen to be 200,000. These people live in the areas where the terrorists are active. Take for example the right side of the city of Mosul. From the security point of view, it is out control. The terrorists are active in this side and the inhabitants there do not report them and very often shelter them.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Do the gunmen belong to one party or several ones?
Al-Shahwani: They are the Ba”thist remnants, hard-line extremists, and others.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Statements by Iraqi officials and the US administration blamed Jordanian extremist Abu-Mus”ab al-Zarqawi for the terrorist operations. The accusations were recently turned toward the Ba”thists and their leaders. Has the situation changed or are there new facts?
Al-Shahwani: The situation has not changed. The B”ath Party was organized many years ago and all that happened is that it re-established its organizations, which receive good financial help from their leaders in Syria. Their operations are relatively sophisticated because of their large numbers, their expertise, and their financial resources.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What is your estimate of the number of Ba”thists who are involved in the armed operations at present?
Al-Shahwani: I cannot specify their number now but we estimate the number of the Ba”th Party members in the past at 2 million. If 20 percent have remained, then their number is large and all of them are members of organizations and have weapons. A large number of people are working with the Ba”thists to earn a livelihood after finding themselves without jobs, especially those who were in the former Iraqi army.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Who is leading these organizations at present?
Al-Shahwani: According to our information, there were splits in the Iraqi Ba”th Party and there are today three wings. The strongest one is the former regime”s people who have huge financial resources.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Are there certain names among these leaders?
Al-Shahwani: There are Izzat al-Duri, Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmad who moves between Syria and Iraq, Sab”awi al-Hasan, and others from the old Ba”thist leaders who live in Syria.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Do you believe that there are Arab or foreign parties supporting them?
Al-Shahwani: These do not need any financial backing. As it is known, the Ba”th Party is the richest in the world. It used to deduct 5 percent of the oil revenues (the Gulbenkian share) since 1970 for the party”s budget.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Has not the Iraqi Government demanded their extradition from the Syrian Government?
Al-Shahwani: There are such attempts but they have not borne fruit so far.
Asharq Al-Awsat: But the Syrian authorities deny they are in their territories?
Al-Shahwani: No. We are certain that they are in Syria and moving easily between Syrian and Iraqi territories.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Are there other Ba”thist leaders?
Al-Shahwani: There is a group that split from the Ba”thists, the regime”s group, and it is led by Tayih Abd-al-Karim and Na”im Haddad, both of whom are operating inside Iraq.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Did the military operations in Al-Fallujah help weaken or reduce the armed operations?
Al-Shahwani: The abatement is in the city of Al-Fallujah only.
Asharq Al-Awsat: And the other parts of Iraq?
Al-Shahwani: We cannot achieve results in the guerilla warfare that the terrorist groups fight like the results achieved in conventional or regular war. The aim of the operation in Al-Fallujah was to crush the terrorist gangs or arrest their members. But the results achieved in Al-Fallujah did not bring about the arrest of the terrorists or the killing of their leaders. We did not see or hear that any senior terrorist leader was arrested or killed. The terrorist gangs” leaders fled from Al-Fallujah before the start of the military operations and they began to operate in other areas or hid outside Al-Fallujah. There is in every fighting an aim and the aim of the Al-Fallujah operation was to eliminate the terrorists and their leaders. But this aim was not achieved on the ground even though the city was brought under control.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What are the sources of the armed groups?
Al-Shahwani: The Ba”th Party and the extremist fundamentalist organizations, which are the "Ansar al-Sunnah", "Monotheism and Jihad", "Ansar al-Islam", "the 1920 Revolution", and other appellations. They total around 12 groups.
Asharq Al-Awsat: All these factions you mentioned are Sunni. Is there not a Shiite one among them?
Al-Shahwani: Muqtada al-Sadr”s group was fighting like these factions. But there is not now a Shiite group that carries arms against the government.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Iraqi officials” statements pointed to Iran and Syria as two sources of support for these groups. Has anything changed in this matter?
Al-Shahwani: I personally have not felt any change in stands. Problems continue to come from these two countries because the borders are open and the support is continuing so as to achieve their interests.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What impact are the armed operations having on the elections process?
Al-Shahwani: They will most certainly have an impact on the elections. Part of the Iraqis will not be able to reach the voting centers and this will have a major negative effect on the elections.
Asharq Al-Awsat: In a democratic state, why is there a need for an intelligence service?
Al-Shahwani: There is not a country in the world that does not have an intelligence service (like ours) to protect the country and all the Iraqi people communities and hunt down the terrorist gangs and drugs gangs and all matters that concern the state”s security. We usually follow, watch, and collect the information and hand it over to the security authorities whose duty is to implement the military operations to protect the country”s security.
Asharq Al-Awsat: Do you believe that the armed operations will increase or become less?
Al-Shahwani: This depends on the elections. We have to wait for their results and see what happens. Our expectations as a security apparatus are that these operations will abate and end after one year.
Asharq Al-Awsat: From the security angle, which are the hot areas in Iraq at present?
Al-Shahwani: They wrongly called it the Sunni triangle even though there are very hot areas like Diyali where the Shiites constitute almost half the population. There is also the area north of Babil that extends to "Al-Suwayrah" and "Salman Pak." There are areas that are difficult to reach like the area between Al-Hadar and Mosul which is out of control and where the armed groups search the population in the streets. There is also the area extending from Al-Sharqat down to Biji and Samarra. The security situations in all these areas are hot. This is in addition to Al-Ramadi, Al-Fallujah, and nearby areas. As to inside Baghdad, there is the Haifa Street, Al-A”zamiyah, Al-Durah, Al-Ghazaliyah, and the airport road. All these areas are hot and dangerous. These terrorists will receive their punishment, God willing.