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Expect Sectarian Changeover With Iraqi Intelligence Jobs

Some sectarian turnover might be on the way for Iraq’s myriad intelligence agencies, according to a senior U.S. military adviser.

Col. Benjamin D. Lukefahr, the senior adviser for the U.S. intelligence transition team, is at work bequeathing the Iraqi ministries of interior and defense with functional intelligence and surveillance capabilities for when the United States departs in 2011. A lot of what he does involves setting up an “information infrastructure” throughout the “fifteen provinces” of Iraq — interestingly, the three Iraqi Kurdish provinces are outside the scope of those efforts, despite the heavy influence of the Kurds in the Iraqi intelligence apparatus — which he described in a conference call with bloggers as “pretty much trying to replicate as much as possible our military intelligence structure in Iraq.” He also mentors the National Information and Intelligence Agency in Iraq — Lukefahr compared it to the FBI — establish standards of professionalism and competence.

One thing Lukefahr conceded was that there’s lingering sectarian tension in the intelligence sector. Sharing information between intelligence agencies is “a hurdle that’s hard to get over,” he said, owing to persistent divisions within and among the agencies between Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. “From the investigations side, we’ve seen in the past” that certain agencies “would only arrest or capture opposite sectarians,” he explained.

I asked Lukefahr about the persistence of Mowwafaq al-Rubaie, the chairman of Iraq’s National Intelligence Council, who has remained Iraqi national security adviser despite two changeovers of Iraqi leadership. Lukefahr, going further than I expected, said frankly that “there are challenges to him sitting at the head of the table,” even though Iraq doesn’t have a single proper chief of intelligence. “I’m sure, as you would agree, it’s very politically based depending on who the Iraq prime minister is,” he said. But he predicted that we “may see less Kurds and more Shias and Sunnis” at the helm of intelligence agencies. Saying he was expressing a “personal opinion,” Lukefahr said, “They’ve been here three or four years [and] it is time for them to potentially rotate.”

Watch for this in the upcoming elections. It surprised me that Lukefahr would talk to reporters, however diplomatically, about the need for changeover in the intelligence field along sectarian lines.

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