U.S., Iraqi Intelligence Discovered Treasure Trove of Intel Days Before Mosul Attack
The current strife in Iraq, at least the most recent violence, has been seen as a huge loss for embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. However, right before this loss, his forces secured a very big “win” against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Earlier in May, the New Iraqi Army had recently captured a high-level courier for ISIS named Abu Hajjar. They interrogated him for two weeks, and he finally gave up the name of the head of the militant group’s military council, Abdulrahman al-Bilawi. According to an intelligence official speaking to The Guardian, the courier told his interrogators, “you don’t realize what you have done” and “Mosul will be an inferno this week.”
While certainly ISIS’s activities since January 2013 have pointed to a larger strategy of grabbing both land and wealth, the spark for the recent intensification of violence may have been al-Bilawi’s death, only “hours” after Abu Hajjar gave him up.
Yet, if the death of al-Bilawi sparked this latest action, it is most likely not out of ISIS forces’ fierce loyalty to their slain commander. Instead, it was because Iraqi and American intelligence officials recovered a “treasure trove” of information about the group much of which was until then unknown.
The data were located on “more than 160 computer flash sticks,” giving insight into the group’s hierarchy, finances, and even the initials of sources inside the Iraqi government. ISIS forces have been bolstered by jihadists from Europe who were being tracked by intelligence agencies, yet were lost when they began operating under noms de guerre.
Not only were these alias listed in the files, but also notations from ISIS command denoting individual actors as “valuable,” “lazy,” or “needs monitoring,” among others. It revealed that this group was organized, strategic, and also incredibly wealthy.
Some suspected that ISIS was backed by a clandestine foreign state, but those suspicions were allayed when intelligence officials examined their finances. At the time of al-Bilawi’s death, the group had around $875 million. After the sieges on Mosul and Tikrit, that number may have skyrocketed to $1.5 billion. The group looted almost half a million dollars from a Mosul bank alone.
With this information in the hands of both the Maliki government and the United States, ISIS may have felt their advantage slipping and decided to make their move.
Photo: Mosul in 2009, by Joel Bombardier via Flickr Creative Commons