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Iraq Transition

Pro-Iran agency may take over Iraq's intelligence

Story Highlights

• Future of U.S.-friendly spy agency in Iraq appears in jeopardy
• Plan would put all intel gathering under Iranian-friendly central government
• Sources say Iraq is CIA's largest outpost in the world
From Michael Ware
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Far from the daily warfare in the streets of the Iraqi capital, another, quieter struggle is being waged -- that for control of Iraq's intelligence agencies.

It's a battle with high stakes for the United States. The Iraqi National Intelligence Service, or INIS, is funded completely by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, according to military and intelligence sources.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, the CIA has placed more than 500 officers in Iraq, according to U.S. intelligence sources, making the station the CIA's largest in the world -- larger, even, than the CIA presence in Saigon during the Vietnam War.

The INIS head, the secretive Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, was appointed three years ago by the United States.

But now, the future of the U.S.-controlled agency appears to be in jeopardy. A document from Iraq's National Security Council lays out a blueprint for Iraq's new intelligence community. Under that plan, all intelligence gathering would be consolidated under Iraq's Iranian-friendly central government. (Watch a conflict waged in the hidden world of espionage Video)

Top Iraqi government officials claim the INIS is beyond the control of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. And Shahwani himself is under Iraqi government investigation for unspecified corruption allegations. He has not been seen in at least three months.

U.S. ally and former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Shahwani is being unfairly targeted. "I don't know if it's an attack on U.S. intelligence, but definitely it's a political attack on Shahwani," he said.

One of Shahwani's rivals is Shirwan al-Wa'eli, Iraq's minister for national security. In the past two years, al-Wa'eli's ministry has grown to some 3,000 operatives, according to U.S. intelligence. Under the new intelligence plan, it would grow even further. Al-Wa'eli applauds his relationship with Iran while distancing himself from the United States.

"The multinational forces are in Iraq, and they are supportive on the security issue and we have a good relationship with them, but we do not bargain Iraq to any side," al-Wa'eli told CNN. "The Americans give us only moral support, not logistical support."

The ministry has become an intelligence organization that the United States and its allies never meant it to be.

"It's not a ministry per se," Allawi said. "It's a ministry I created. It's a minister, not a ministry, but things have been [spun] around."

Iraqi intelligence sources say the new intelligence plan is headed for the Iraqi Parliament.

CNN's repeated requests for an on-the-record comment from the U.S. military, embassy and intelligence agencies went unanswered.

The Iraq national security agency under Shirwan al-Wa'eli -- the CIA's rival -- is set to grow under the new plan.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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