Psychological Warfare

Psychological Warfare

An interview with Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq, head of the Iraqi Directorate of Military Intelligence


Unipath: What was the role of the Directorate of Military Intelligence in the defeat of Daesh?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: After the events of June 10, 2014, and the control of terrorist gangs of large areas of Iraq, our directorate began to collect intelligence and recruit a large number of sources and collaborators who provided us with important information. The directorate managed to infiltrate the terrorist organization and locate the enemy’s command and control and weapons caches, and accurate airstrikes led to the loss of a large part of its combat capabilities. We uncovered the organizational structure with which terrorists ran their so-called state, which expanded the collection of information about the enemy. In addition, officers of the Directorate of Military Intelligence conducted aerial intelligence gathering and cross-checked the information available in the collection section of our directorate. We discovered the command and control headquarters of the enemy. With aerial imagery, we mapped and studied the terrain. We created intelligence cells at the operational headquarters to supply leadership with immediate intelligence.

We coordinated with the Air Force and through the joint operations command to determine air targets and made technical efforts through unmanned aerial vehicles and cameras to provide the leaders in the field with in information. And finally, we created teams to conduct security checks for internally displaced people.

Unipath: What intelligence operations did you conduct in the cities controlled by Daesh?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: The Directorate of Military Intelligence plays a prominent role in the intelligence operations inside the cities that were controlled by terrorist gangs: 

Recruiting sources and taking advantage of collaborators within cities under the control of gangs that support the terrorist.

Identifying the main locations and command positions of gangs supporting the terrorists and directing focused strikes on them.

Implementing precision airstrikes in coordination with the Air Force and Army Air Wing on key Daesh sites, which led to breaking the morale of the enemy and the killing of many prominent leaders in the organization.

Gathering information about those who work with Daesh and those who harbor the terrorist elements, which led to the arrest of many wanted persons during liberation operations.

Breaching the enemy through the departmental reconnaissance detachments, entering cities and scouting information about the distribution of the enemy and its headquarters. Some of the photography was published in the media and on social networking sites as part of psychological operations.

Unipath: What are the statistics of terrorist networks dismantled by the Directorate of Military Intelligence?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: The directorate dismantled several terrorist networks operating within the ranks of Daesh, which had a significant impact stability and security. Most of these networks have been dismantled and are a fraction of what they were:

In 2015, nine terrorist networks were dismantled, four of which were within the southern state, four within Baghdad’s jurisdiction and one operating within the state of Falluja.

In 2016, four terrorist networks were dismantled, three of which operated within the Baghdad region and a network operating within the northern Baghdad governorate.

In 2017, five terrorist networks were dismantled, two networks operating within the northern state of Baghdad, a terrorist network operating within the state of Diyala, another in Nineveh province, and another within Anbar.

There is continuous follow-up by the Intelligence Cell and the Anti-Terror Directorate of Military Intelligence of several terrorist networks to be dismantled.

Unipath: How can Iraq prevent the emergence of terrorist organizations in the future?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: By maintaining international borders, especially with Syria, and strengthening them with modern monitoring systems as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. And to control the means of social communication through electronic access gates and to limit social media to a couple of approved sites as some other developed countries do. We need to prohibit the sale of SIM cards for mobile phones by the unlicensed and adopt the use of authorized agents that go through security clearances through intensification of efforts in the Directorate of Security of Communications. The spread of extreme takfiri thought must be fought and implemented through awareness campaigns for different age groups, especially youth. We must rehabilitate terrorists in prisons to abandon extremist ideology and attempt to reform their ideas by developing a prison work program. We should update our doctrine to adopt an asymmetric approach instead of conventional war planning as well as redistribute our forces and control vital points based on the intelligence collection. Iraq should intensify intelligence efforts to find storage places of explosive materials, missiles and weapons and destroy them to prevent their use by terrorist organizations. We need to expose the lies of the hostile and suspicious media through monitoring and following up on their programs, especially the channels that disseminate hatred and spread false and inaccurate news, which lead to instability and diminishing trust between citizens and security forces.

We must activate the principle of regional security between regional and neighboring countries and strengthen trust between the citizens and security professionals because building trust between the citizen and the security men is half the battle. We have to conduct periodic evaluations of security plans and professional security elements. We must collect more human intelligence in the social sphere. We need to adopt electronic surveillance in residential and commercial areas and traffic control systems to capture the movements of suspicious vehicles. We must require strict supervision of money transfer offices and privately-owned banks. 

Unipath: What is the importance of sharing intelligence with friendly countries?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: Daesh gangs used the open borders between Syria and Iraq, which highlights the importance of cooperation and coordination with friendly countries in the field of intelligence exchange. This exchange will have a great impact on the defeat of terrorist groups, especially the exchange of intelligence between the Iraqi intelligence agencies and agencies of friendly countries that restricted illegal movement and entry to and from Iraq and exchanged information with the coalition forces that led to the success of many proactive intelligence operations. This helped us identify and strike command and control and headquarters of terrorist-supporting gangs, accurately conduct aerial reconnaissance and cut off enemy supply routes. The role of friendly countries will be important in the coming years, especially in the collection and exchange of intelligence information about the enemy and knowledge of its movements, especially in Syria where the enemy still lurks in unliberated areas, making them a threat to Iraq’s security. The role of partner states that possess modern equipment and efficiently monitor the enemy and its movements is greatly beneficial to us. Terrorists are trying to take advantage of the so-called global jihad to set up camps and build cells in Sinai, Nigeria, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere.

Unipath: What are the security challenges after the defeat of Daesh?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: After a significant blow to its forces, Daesh is trying to reorganize and changed its strategy to a long-term adherence to clandestine warfare through the selection of specific targets scouted in advance for attack by explosive devices. They will use suicide attacks and sleeper cell tactics. They want to buy and accumulate various weapons and explosive materials and store them away from the eyes of the security forces, taking advantage of the areas and villages located on the border between operational divisions. They also focus on Iraqi prisons and summon lawyers to consider their cases and pay large bribes to reduce the sentences for terrorists. This indicates a significant lack of fighters and leaders in Daesh because of the killing and arrest of many of them. They exploit women to transfer mail and letters and funds, which is a major challenge to the security forces and intelligence agencies. One of the most important security challenges on Iraqi territory, which may be exploited by the enemy, is the existence of areas with weak security presence, which gives the terrorists and organized crime gangs ease of infiltration. The presence of medium and heavy weapons among the tribes causes a permanent security imbalance that may be exploited by organized crime and terrorist gangs in their operations. Another problem is delays in the reconstruction of liberated areas, provision of services to citizens and the guarantee of return of displaced persons to prevent their exploitation by terrorist gangs. We’ve noted the emergence of new armed factions with hard-line ideologies into the arena vacated by terrorist organizations such as so-called white banner groups. Terrorist organizations will try to take advantage of the so-called global jihad arena to set up camps and build cells that could later be transferred to other countries.

Unipath: What has the security service learned about the reasons people join terrorist groups? 

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: I will talk about the confessions of terrorists arrested by our men. First, in terms of ideology, there are many terrorists who said that they belonged to the former terrorist organization al-Qaida. They continued with terrorist acts and then joined the ranks of Daesh because of their criminal takfiri ideology. They listen to lectures in some mosques run by preachers of sedition and cite extremist imams who encourage violence, atonement, sectarianism, killing and pillage. Often these religious guides occupy important positions in Daesh. A second motivation is the temptation of money. Investigations show that a large proportion belongs to terrorist gangs for the financial benefits. They work to lure young people through the disbursement of monthly stipends as soon as they pledge allegiance to Daesh. The spread of unemployment in Iraq and neighboring countries is a factor in the recruitment of a large number of young people. We have seen from the confessions of some defendants that they belong to Daesh because of pressure and threats. Terrorists resort to coercion and threats, especially in areas where they have a foothold. They force young people to work with them to achieve their goals through information gathering, reconnaissance, processing of supplies and other activities. Finally, terrorists exploit social networking platforms, the most common means of recruitment, because they are easy to use and reach around the world. In addition, they exploit prisoners and feed them extremist ideology and religious intolerance and penetrate places of entertainment to attract experts in the fields of drugs, currency counterfeiting and arms trafficking for use in their logistics support networks.

Unipath: What are the cultural and academic levels of the fighters?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: It was noticed through the study and analysis of some prominent figures and leaders in Daesh that quite a large number have master’s and bachelor’s degrees in various civil and military disciplines. For example, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the terrorist organization, has a Ph.D. in Islamic law. His deputy, Abu Abdurrahman al-Baylawi, who was the “minister of war,” had a bachelor’s degree in military science, and the terrorist Haji Samir, responsible for manufacturing and development, holds a degree in military science. But Daesh’s focus is on the exploitation of people of limited education to use as tools to implement their malicious schemes inside Iraq. This category of people makes up the bulk of the organization since they’re easy to deceive and train. They rely on young people who often don’t exceed the age of 15. The best proof of that is that most suicide operations were conducted by minors. From the beginning, the leaders of the organization advocated the ideological indoctrination of children and young people. Investigations of many terrorists and suicide bombers who were arrested by the Military Intelligence Directorate found that they have no educational achievements and no knowledge of jihad and the fundamentals of religion. A terrorist’s only duty was to pledge obedience to the commands of his “emir.” The terrorists also often focused on terrorist families in which individuals have been killed and exploited them to carry out suicide attacks for revenge.

Unipath: What role did the psychological operations unit play in the defeat of Daesh?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: Despite the newness of this unit, it has contributed by destroying the morale of the enemy and spreading rumors among its ranks. It has exposed the extremist narrative of terrorist gangs and aired them to the public. It has highlighted the achievements of our military units in general and the sections of our directorate in the media, especially with regard to the arrest of terrorist elements, the dismantling of cells and the seizure of stockpiles of weapons, ammunition and car bombs. We have monitored social and media communication sites of individuals and enemy institutions, analyzing and responding to them and gathering intelligence about the enemy’s psychological state. Our unit has disseminated publications during operations to apply psychological pressure on terrorists, and raise the morale of our fighters by broadcasting patriotic songs. We helped provide psychological and military immunization of combatants from hostile military operations. We broadcast calls to the enemy and gained the friendship of the target audience and urged them to raise banners over their homes. We helped them move away from Daesh positions being targeted and guided them to safe roads. We called out with loudspeakers whose range extended 5 kilometers beyond the enemy’s lines. 

Unipath: What is the role of military intelligence in securing and protecting elections in liberated areas?

Maj. Gen. Saad Al-Alaq: The Directorate of Military Intelligence played a major role in securing and protecting the elections in the liberated areas by providing the Supreme Security Committee supervising the elections with periodic intelligence reports on the intentions of the enemy to target electoral centers and political candidates. We assessed security in liberated provinces and tracked sleeper cells to prevent the enemy from moving freely. We participated in the First Task Force of the Directorate of Military Intelligence to protect election offices and voters in the areas of northern Babylon because of fragile security there. We followed up electoral violations, especially those who carry multiple voter cards, and arrested some of them and referred their cases to the judiciary.