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Iraqi national who illegally used US government insignia gets probation

DONNA L. BURNETT/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MAXINE BERNSTEIN | The Oregonian (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 11, 2018

An Iraqi man who pleaded guilty to impersonating a U.S. intelligence officer in a letter to the prime minister of Iraq was set to face a year of federal probation.

But the negotiated agreement fell apart after Wathiq Al-Ibraheemi continued his deceit by mailing a copy of a doctored newspaper article about his guilty plea to his family, falsely suggesting that they were also somehow implicated in his crime, according to a prosecutor.

"He's a fraudster, a manipulator and a liar,'' Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel told U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman.

So Tuesday, Al-Ibraheemi's sentence was increased to two years of probation.

Al-Ibraheemi, 34, in January pleaded guilty to unlawfully using the official insignia of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, a misdemeanor.

According to prosecutors, Al-Ibraheemi misrepresented himself as a U.S. intelligence officer in a letter to the prime minister of Iraq and in a phone call to an Iraqi member of parliament.

The Nov. 8, 2015, letter, written on a fraudulent letterhead from the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, urged Iraq's leader to appoint a certain man as director of Iraq's intelligence service, pledging U.S. support for the candidate. It was signed, "William J. Peterson.''

The writer said he cared deeply about Iraq after spending a career trying to shape a stable, Democratic Iraqi government. He was critical of Gen. Zuhair al-Gharbawi, director of Iraq's intelligence service at the time, and said the United States supported appointing Dr. Mosdeq Al-Janabi in his place.

The letter instead was forwarded to the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. A short time later, the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community verified the letter was phony.

In a phone call to a member of the Iraqi parliament during spring 2016, a man who identified himself as "Dr. William'' from the U.S. government said he was interested in getting the member appointed as speaker of the Iraqi parliament.

Iraqi officials alerted the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, who contacted the FBI, concerned about interference with U.S. political initiatives in Iraq, according to Gabriel.

The prosecutor argued that Al-Ibraheemi's brazen deception caused "brief diplomatic uncertainty'' between the United States and Iraqi governments before the FBI traced the phone call to Al-Ibraheemi, now living in Beaverton.

He served as an interpreter for U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq about 10 to 12 years ago. In 2009, he immigrated to the United States, sponsored by an Army officer with whom he had worked in Iraq, under a U.S. program that allows the Homeland Security secretary to temporarily admit foreign nationals for urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

Al-Ibraheemi's lawyer Colin Hunter said his client's plea was much narrower than the government described it.

"Mr. Al-Ibraheemi pleaded to the misdemeanor offense of possessing a copy of a U.S. government insignia, and that is all,'' Hunter said.

His lawyer added that the case is "simply not what the government has made it out to be.''

Hunter urged the judge to consider his client's long service to the United States during the Iraq War, which put his family at great personal risk. "That Al-Ibraheemi survived a brutal, violent upbringing in a country besieged by war and poverty – only to put himself in further danger by serving the U.S. government and its mission – underscores how deeply deserving he is of the utmost leniency in this matter,'' Hunter wrote to the judge.

Al-Ibraheemi said he hoped the United States would help bring democracy to his country. He said this case has clouded his reputation and he pledged to "never make them (his family) go through this again." He didn't explain the motive for his offense, and both he and Hunter declined further comment after court.

Former U.S. Army colleagues and friends submitted letters to the court on Al-Ibraheemi's behalf. His mother also wrote that she was frightened her son would be sent back to Iraq, where he'd likely be killed as a "traitor.''

The judge said he couldn't ignore the "difficult, important and dangerous work'' Al-Ibraheemi did for the United States.

"You could have gone the rest of your life walking proudly down the streets of this country as someone to whom this country owed a debt of gratitude," Mosman said. "Now it's deeply unfortunate that that debt of gratitude is stained, if not erased."

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