Officials in Baghdad told Middle East Eye that the changes unveiled on Wednesday were aimed at consolidating Sudani’s grip on power and excluding a number of officials and employees suspected of involvement in corruption under the previous government.
One of the main, and most prominent, beneficiaries of the reorganization is Abdul Karim Abd Fadhil, also known as Abu Ali al-Basri, who was appointed by Sudani to head the Iraqi National Security Service (INSS).
Basri replaces Hamid al-Shatri, who was appointed by Sudani’s predecessor as prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi.
Basri is the former head of Falcon Cell, an elite secret intelligence unit, and has been dubbed “the spymaster” by his former colleagues.
He was sacked from that position in January 2021 by Kadhimi on charges of “dealing with foreign intelligence”.
Basri denied those charges in comments to MEE at the time. Sources in the National Security Ministerial Council told MEE that Kadhimi had excluded him due to his closeness to the leaders of the Iranian-backed armed factions.
In a statement announcing the new appointments, Major General Yahya Rasool, a spokesman for Sudani, said: “This step (was taken) after an extensive study to improve security and stability in various regions of the country and by the requirements of the interest public”.
The reorganization “intends to inject new blood and give the opportunity to other leaders to manage the security file to increase the efficiency of the performance of security institutions,” Rasool added.
But Basri’s return and other high-level appointments suggest additional factors are also at play, according to MEE’s sources.
In addition to Basri, changes within the INSS included the appointment of new administrative and security directors, and new directors general of the Baghdad security department and the governorates security department.
In another notable appointment, Sudani appointed Waqqas Muhammad Hussein al-Hadithi as deputy head of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service (INIS). Hadithi is considered to be an associate of parliament speaker Muhammad al-Halbousi, sources told MEE.
Another senior appointee, Ali Shamran Khazal, the new director general of the INSS Governorate Security Department, is seen as an ally of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, the sources said.
Both appointments appear to be in line with the requirements of Iraq’s power-sharing political system, in which posts in state departments, ministries and independent bodies are shared between parties based on the number of parliamentary seats they hold, unless who choose to go over to the opposition.
Security officials told MEE that most of the appointees were chosen on the basis of “partisan quotas.”
“Some of the assignees are qualified and have been promoted. This cannot be denied, but the selection of all was subject to political quotas,” a senior INSS official told MEE, adding: “Most of the appointees are close to Maliki, Halbousi or the prime minister. No one in Iraq is appointed to these positions solely because of their competence or to advance their career.”
On the other hand, one of the most prominent figures removed from office is Majid Ali Hussein, the former deputy director of the intelligence service who was transferred to the National Security Council, a body that advises the National Security Ministerial Council and coordinates security policies.
Hussein, like Shatri and a few others removed from their posts, had been appointed under Kadhimi.
The radical restructuring of security and intelligence was preceded by administrative changes that affected several high-ranking officials in independent public bodies.
On Tuesday, Sudani issued an order to remove Rafel Yassin as head of the Federal Board of Supreme Audit (FBSA), Iraq’s public spending watchdog. Yassin was replaced by Ammar Subhi al-Mashhadani.
No reason was given for Yassin’s firing.
Last year, the FBSA came under scrutiny for the so-called “robbery of the century” plot, in which billions of dollars in tax escrow funds were stolen via dozens of forged checks cashed by a state bank.
According to an Iraqi Finance Ministry report seen by MEE, the thefts occurred after the FBSA was removed from a key role in auditing tax refund claims.
Sources familiar with the investigations told MEE that Yassin is suspected of being involved in that robbery.
Yassin has not commented on the matter. MEE contacted the FBSA after details of the plot were exposed, but sources told MEE that no one would comment while investigations were ongoing.
Yassin’s replacement with Mashhadani fits the pattern of appointments according to political quotas, because Yassin is associated with Maliki while Mashhadani is in league with Halbousi.
One of Sudani’s advisers confirmed to MEE that most of the changes are politically motivated, but said some are punitive.
“Some of the changes are aimed at achieving political balance, and they are part of the political agreements that the current government produced,” said the adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity,” the aide said, adding: “Some have a punitive motivation . As long as we can’t hold some of the top officials accountable because of their political affiliations, we will at least get rid of them.”
Sudani’s allies and critics agree that he is in the process of building his own government power base.
For his supporters, he has worked cunningly and discreetly, seizing the circumstances and opportunities that present themselves to strengthen his control over various ministries and departments without arousing the ire of his partners or opponents.
“The biggest challenge facing Sudani is how to dismantle the deep state. We have thousands of high officials and officials associated with political parties. This is a serious problem that we have been handling calmly,” said the adviser.
“Hundreds of directors, deputy ministers and heads of security have to be replaced or dismissed, either due to their incompetence or their involvement in corruption cases,” the adviser continued, adding: “(There are) those who are well protected by their politics and associations of armed factions, and this is what we call the deep state. This state has to be undermined. This is what Sudani has been doing for a while and it will last for a while longer.”