A day before the Nov. 13 Paris attacks that killed 129 people, Iraq’s intelligence service warned coalition partners, France in particular, that Islamic State attacks in different countries were imminent. As reported by the Associated Press on Saturday, Baghdad’s dispatch, which was shared with the AP, did not have any specifics on timing and locations but it stated that IS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had ordered attacks, involving bombings, assassinations and hostage takings, on “all coalition countries” fighting against them in Iraq and Syria, as well as on Iran and Russia. Citing multiple anonymous Iraqi intelligence officials, the AP also reported that the Iraqis warned of an attack on France specifically involving 24 operatives, some of whom trained directly with the Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria. Most important, however, is that the dispatch said more attacks were to come.
The dismissive reaction of French authorities highlights a common problem whereby security officials tend to treat intelligence inputs as routine. Most of the time, the information is not of value but the danger of this attitude is that it leads to complacency. In this case, the French are also likely to be skeptical of information coming from Iraqi sources given that Baghdad is very close to Tehran and both have an interest in shaping Western perceptions against IS to further their interests. This is more significant in the case of France, which is an ally of Saudi Arabia and has been a lead supporter of toppling the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, which is allied with Iran and Iraq.
Good intelligence on the Islamic State is hard to come by given that Western intelligence agencies do not have much of a presence in Syria where the attackers were trained, according to the Iraqi intelligence brief. Furthermore, the Syrian government has been weakened to a point where its intelligence capability vis-a-vis the group is very limited. But if there is one entity that has the best on-the-ground intelligence on IS, it is the Iraqi intelligence service, which is of course working in concert with their Iranian allies. In addition, Iraqi intelligence has apparently warned that France is just one of a number of targets. The important thing here is not what Iraq claimed to have warned the French, but the additional warning they are delivering about IS having more targets.
It is interesting to note that senior Iranian security officials issued several statements today saying they were preparing for a potential IS attack on their soil. After striking in France, against Hezbollah in Lebanon and most likely against Russia in Egypt, Iran is a next key target for IS. Meanwhile, other European countries and the United States are likely also high on the priority list of IS. Thus, the group’s plans, shared by Iraqi intelligence, should not be taken lightly.