Covert Iraq - Russian Cooperation

by Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough

Inside The Ring, The Washington Times

January 10, 2003

U.S. intelligence agencies recently uncovered information indicating Russia's foreign intelligence service is covertly cooperating with Iraq's spy agencies. The cooperation involves unspecified intelligence sharing between the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as the SVR, and Iraq's Mukhabarat.

The discovery has raised alarms in some U.S. spy agencies. There are concerns that intelligence information shared with the United Nations on Iraq will be leaked to Saddam's agents from Russia. U.S. officials familiar with reports of the Russia-Iraq intelligence ties said the connections appear to be left over from the Soviet period, when Yevgeni Primakov was the Kremlin's top Middle East specialist and later when he was head of the KGB.

Mr. Primakov harbors hard-line anti-American views. He backed Iraq in the early 1990s and unsuccessfully attempted to avert the 1991 Persian Gulf war through last-ditch negotiations in the Middle East. Russian intelligence remains opposed to the use of force in Iraq. SVR Director Sergei Lebedev told reporters in Moscow last month that any use of military force against Baghdad "could significantly complicate the situation in the region and in the world." He said Moscow supports "political and diplomatic methods" to prevent an escalation of the crisis.

"It is crucially important now to ensure that Iraq on one hand and the U.S. and its allies on the other refrain from taking any steps that would lead to a military catastrophe," Mr. Lebedev said.