BAGHDAD — Some Iraqi army leaders are worried that reward money for information on enemy fighters and hidden weapons will dry up when American units leave their areas.
The worries highlight persistent problems in the Iraqi security forces that continue even as local forces prepare to take over security responsibilities from the Americans, as required by the security agreement that took effect Jan. 1.
"When the coalition forces pull out, we’re going to lose all our sources," said Capt. Mohammad Fadal, a company commander in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, a sentiment echoed by other Iraqi commanders.
The prevailing stereotypes about military intelligence in the war is that U.S. forces rely on high-tech gadgetry called signals intelligence, or "sigint," while the Iraqis have better developed groups of human sources, or "humint."
And while the technology at hand is formidable, American units have been able to cultivate extensive source networks through an old favorite: cold, hard cash. Reward money has played a large role in building those networks, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nicholas Altreche, the targeting officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division.
The money gives poverty-stricken Iraqis an extra incentive to come forward with information that can save soldiers’ and civilians’ lives. Units have even adjusted the amount of money they pay for information in response to changing rates that enemy fighters pay for attacks.
"We don’t want someone out there getting paid to emplace an EFP [explosively formed projectile, a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb] for the simple fact of profit," Altreche said. "It’s called ‘money as a weapons system,’ and that’s what we use it as. Instead of taking the chance of hurting them, I’d rather just pay them."
Since it arrived more than a year ago, 3/4 BCT has doled out more than $1 million in reward money to Adhamiyah, Istaqlal and Sadr City — the areas under its control.
Col. Ali, an Iraqi army battalion commander in Baghdad’s Adhamiyah district, said just $10 or $20 can buy good information. Sometimes sources are simply just looking for phone cards to cover the minutes they spend talking with Iraqi officers.
But like most Iraqi military leaders, Ali has almost no reward money to give away. Any rewards he does pay out must come from his own pocket.
"With anybody who helps us with information, we must pay them because it makes him work hard," Ali said. "Without paying him, he will do nothing. It’s not enough to say thank you."
The money shortage is less of a problem for Iraqi units sharing space and patrols with American forces, because U.S. forces are already paying for information in the area. But reward money is driven and directed by American leaders on the ground. The Iraqis fear what will happen when those leaders go away.
Ali has already requested intelligence money for his battalion. He’s heard rumors that the Iraqi government has granted similar requests from other units, but so far hasn’t seen any of that money.
"There’s no guarantee for this because it’s not up to me," he said.
Fadal was more pessimistic, though: "The Ministry of Defense will never give anything to those people."
Types of rewards
MICRO: (up to $500) Basic information about someone doing something in an area, such as strong-arming residents.
SMALL: ($500 to $10,000) Information about the location of a weapons cache or a wanted individual, including brigade- and division-level targets.
LARGE: ($10,000 or more) Details about the most serious crimes, such as the kidnapping of a coalition forces soldier.
SOURCE: Chief Warrant Officer 3 Nicholas Altreche, targeting officer for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division