BAGHDAD – While the buildup to the war on Iraq was convulsing world capitals, world opinion and the United Nations, the Mukhabarat – the feared Saddam Hussein secret service machine – was still living in its own Thousand and One Nights bubble.
This is what is revealed by a document found by Asia Times Online, among other files, in a nondescript, abandoned Mukhabarat safe house in the Qadissiya district of the capital. Iraqis who read it and translated it had no reason to doubt its authenticity. The handwritten document details a series of meetings between June 2002 and March 2003 (even when war was already raging in Iraq), probably in the same safe house, involving Mukhabarat agents and representatives of firms from many Arab countries but also from France, Russia and the Netherlands. The document should constitute additional proof that the secret services indeed operated as a parallel state in Iraq – way beyond the reach of United Nations sanctions and trade embargo. All negotiations were secret. And everything was paid in US dollars, cash.
All manner of other secrets and not-such-secrets are to be found in what remains of Baghdad. Detailed personal files by Internal Security in Mukhabarat abandoned safe houses in Karada. Compromising files at the torched and looted Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Secret graves in the al-Qarah cemetery of nearly 1,000 political prisoners tortured and mostly hanged at Abu Ghraib prison. And in the basement of another Mukhabarat safe house in Wahda, after a poor torch job, an astonishing room brimming with the latest high-tech surveillance equipment is still practically intact. Possibly much of the equipment was purchased following the meetings detailed at the document found in Qadissiya.
From the Alwaeth firm in Syria, the Mukhabarat negotiated to buy machines to conceal fax numbers. They could be delivered in three days. From an unnamed Egyptian firm, it wanted wireless communication systems for buildings, at US$55,000, and a more sophisticated system for $100,000. It also wanted wireless systems from the Iraqi firm, al-Azhal. From an unnamed corporation in Abu Dhabi, the Mukhabarat wanted an array of goods: wireless systems; wireless pinhole cameras with a maximum range of 100 meters (delivery in one month); four-channel AV receivers; pen cameras with a maximum range of 100 meters, connected to video, recording audio and operating on 12V batteries; cameras with a range of 1 kilometers, and upgraded with an outer antenna for 3 kilometers; and night vision goggles with a 1 kilometer range. The goggles could be the most explosive item in the shopping list as Washington had all but accused Syria of selling them to Iraq. According to the document, the negotiations were actually conducted with this unnamed Abu Dhabi corporation.
From the Dutch firm Haiman, and also from an unnamed Lebanese firm, the Mukhabarat wanted spray to detect fingerprints on paper and wood, and to detect separate fingerprints from different people. Mukhabarat agents questioned Haiman for any new technology and also wanted to know the prices for card-operated security systems.
From the French firm APX, the Mukhabarat wanted to buy listening devices, portable satellites and private security systems. The document states that the Mukhabarat had “direct contacts with a minister in France” who could help the negotiations. The document also states the Mukhabarat desire of trying to improve the security systems of Iraqi embassies around the world. Thus the quest for sophisticated listening devices; small microphones; telephone bugs; transmitter pens; laser systems to check camera performance; listening devices to monitor what happens inside a building from the outside; hidden espionage cameras; night cameras to identify people from a distance of 150 meters; and the smallest color cameras available on the market. From the Alsalam company – country of origin non-identified – the Mukhabarat was trying to buy video cameras inside pens and made-in-Russia long-distance cameras, with a range of 2 to 3 kilometers.
In another meeting with an unidentified French firm, the Mukhabarat wanted to purchase equipment to recognize fingertips on glass and wood; machine guns disguised as suitcases; and voice identifying systems that can be matched with databases. It also wanted a spray to identify fingerprints; laser tools to identify fingerprints; a system to identify food poisoning (a key Saddam Hussein obsession); tools to identify explosive materials and give the exact distance between the target and the explosives; and a robot to remove explosives.
From the al-Asriya firm – not identified as Iraqi or foreign – the Mukhabarat wanted to buy three different computer systems for $199,000 each (with a discount, it could come to $130,000 each). The systems are called Spread Spectrum (operating between 1,5 and 5 gigahertz). There was an explicit condition for the purchase: the manager of the firm had to send Mukhabarat agents for training out of Iraq – with specialists from Lebanon. And all spare parts should be free. On this particular negotiation, the Mukhabarat was dealing with Muhamad Halewi, a doctor and manager of the Fica firm in Baghdad. And it was also comparing prices with the Abu Dhabi office of a firm called Teltec. The Mukhabarat complains that the prices quoted by the Reeger company – country of origin non-specified – are very high. The document states that if they buy anything from Reeger, training will have to be conducted in Malaysia.
The Mukhabarat was actively comparing prices between Iraqi and Syrian firms. It was negotiating to buy Toyota Camrys at $20,500 apiece and Mercedes sedans for $55,000 apiece from the Aldahi dealership in Baghdad, imported from a firm in the United Arab Emirates. From the al-Azar firm, also in Baghdad, it wanted Mercedes vans. From the Jawrah and Hensi corporation in Syria, it received an assurance that the cars could be delivered in two months. And it could also buy on request air-conditioners, Hyundai elevators, copy machines, Panasonic videos and TVs and paper shredders.
One thing is certain: not all Mukhabarat papers were shredded as the Americans arrived at the gates of Baghdad.