Documents detailing stunning evidence of Iranian espionage, bribery payments and efforts to expand influence inside Iraq were leaked to the US-based media organisation The Intercept in collaboration with The New York Times (NYT).
The November 18th report cites Tehran's relentless efforts to subjugate Iraq to its influence following the US invasion and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The documents include years of experience gained by Iranian spies to ensure obedience and cooperation of the country's leaders, pay the salaries of Iraqi agents to switch sides with US intelligence, and gain a strong foothold in Iraqi life.
A prominent example of Iran's bribery of public officials occurred in mid-October as street demonstrators in Iraq were protesting against Iranian influence. Around this time, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Major-General Qasem Soleimani visited Iraq to influence an ally in parliament.
"The visitor was there to restore order, but his presence highlighted the protesters' biggest grievance: he was Major-General Qasem Soleimani, 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 onto his job," NYT reported.
The report reveals how Abdul Mahdi started working closely with Iran in 2014 while he was Iraq's oil minister, and how his "special relationship" was linked to former prime minister Haider al-Abadi, who also worked in support of Iran.
The documents extend the scope of spying evidence to the entire region, where the IRGC under Soleimani stationed ambassadors in Syria and Lebanon to gather information, report back to their headquarters in Tehran, and deliver findings to be presented to Iran's Supreme Council of National Security.
The leaks also showed how, after the withdrawal of US forces in 2011 and the resulting power vacuum, Iran acted quickly to recruit former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) informants in the country.
It was noted in one undated document how Iran plotted to plant a spy inside the US State Department with a promise that "the subject's incentive in collaborating will be financial." The outcome of this effort remains unclear.
Still, the focus on US actions and plans inside Iraq has been vital for Iran, especially for the purpose of staying ahead in the struggle to influence the country.
The documents also indicate that an Iraqi spy for the CIA, abandoned by the US withdrawal, told an Iranian counterpart that "I will turn over to you all the documents and videos that I have from my training course… And pictures and identifying features of my fellow trainees and my subordinates."
A major factor in the expanded influence of Iranian espionage inside Iraq detailed in the report is the sectarian divide between Sunnis and Shiites. According to Middle East Monitor, this was exacerbated in the aftermath of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent exclusion of every member of the Baath Party, in which large sections of society and the workforce participated.
It was through this gap that Iran sought to move and organise, and often prevented Sunni militias from forming by supporting pro-Shiite militias a tool of influence.
The vast number of leaked documents, numbering more than 700, confirm many previous suspicions about the close relationship between Iraq and Iran. These revelations are important given the escalating tensions between Iran and allies of the United States, particularly the ongoing popular protests throughout Iraq.