IN MID-OCTOBER, with unrest swirling in Baghdad, a familiar visitor slipped quietly into the Iraqi capital. The city had been under siege for weeks, as protesters marched in the streets, demanding an end to corruption and calling for the ouster of the prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. In particular, they denounced the outsize influence of their neighbor Iran in Iraqi politics, burning Iranian flags and attacking an Iranian consulate.
The visitor was there to restore order, but his presence highlighted the protesters’ biggest grievance: He was Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, head of Iran’s powerful Quds Force, and he had come to persuade an ally in the Iraqi Parliament to help the prime minister hold on to his job.
It was not the first time Suleimani had been dispatched to Baghdad to do damage control. Tehran’s efforts to prop up Abdul-Mahdi are part of its long campaign to maintain Iraq as a pliable client state.
Now leaked Iranian documents offer a detailed portrait of just how aggressively Tehran has worked to embed itself into Iraqi affairs, and of the unique role of Suleimani. The documents are contained in an archive of secret Iranian intelligence cables obtained by The Intercept and shared with the New York Times for this article, which is being published simultaneously by both news organizations.
The unprecedented leak exposes Tehran’s vast influence in Iraq, detailing years of painstaking work by Iranian spies to co-opt the country’s leaders, pay Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides, and infiltrate every aspect of Iraq’s political, economic, and religious life.
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