Several senior Iraqi officials named in a New York Times report based on leaked Iranian intelligence cables denied on Monday that they were close to Iran or that they had given sensitive information to its government.
The report, based on about 700 pages of secret Iranian intelligence cables obtained by The Intercept and shared with The Times, was published online early Monday and shed light on the extent of Tehran's reach inside Iraq's power circles.
The cables record years of effort by the Iranians to cultivate senior Iraqi politicians, some of whom were said to have passed on information and to have committed to helping the Islamic Republic. The leaked documents describe in detail Iran's efforts to obtain informants and to persuade Iraqi agents working for the Americans to switch sides.
The cables date from 2014 and 2015, when Iraq was under siege by militants from the Islamic State group and Iran's help was critical to its survival.
In the Times article, the cables' descriptions of the connections to Iran of several senior Iraqi officials, including the current prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, and a former prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, are detailed at length. They include direct quotes attributed to the Iraqis in reports filed to Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS.
Some of those officials on Monday expressed private dismay, public outrage or both, at being mentioned in the article. Among them were al-Abadi, the former prime minister, and Lt. Gen. Hatem al-Maksusi, who at the time he was mentioned in the cables was commander of military intelligence in Iraq's Defense Ministry.
Al-Abadi denied that he had attended a private meeting with an Iranian agent who went by the name Boroujerdi, as recounted in the cables. In a statement on Facebook, he said, "We categorically deny that such a meeting took place."
Al-Abadi said: "There was no such meeting on his schedule and it is unreasonable that a figure like the prime minister would meet and coordinate with a person with an obscure and unknown rank. It is a stupid and suspicious claim."
Another Iraqi cited in the article, Bayan Jabr, a former transportation minister, criticized The Times report for not fully quoting his response to the description in the cables of his relationship with the Iranians.
The cables said Jabr had agreed to a request from Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran's Quds Force, to fly planeloads of weapons and others supplies through Iraqi airspace to Syria to help the regime of President Bashar Assad against U.S.-backed rebels.
According to the cables, Jabr granted the request.
Jabr was quoted in the Times article as saying that the flights were carrying humanitarian supplies and religious pilgrims. His office restated that on Monday, and said the article should have noted that at the time, Jabr had not yet officially taken up the position of minister, and that the planes were "subject to periodic searches by the Americans."
Another figure mentioned in the cables and in the Times report, Salim al-Jabouri, the speaker of Iraq's Parliament in 2014 and 2015, questioned the timing of the article and said it might have been published "to incite the street" against the government. Popular opinion in Iraq is already running heavily against the government, with protests underway throughout the country.
Al-Maksusi played down the significance of the Times report. He was depicted in the cables as putting all of Iraq's military intelligence at the service of Iran. In comments published in the Times article, he denied working for Iran but praised the country for helping Iraq fight the Islamic State. He said he had also worked closely with the United States.
On Monday, a statement put out by al-Maksusi's office said that "military intelligence worked closely" with a committee made up of representatives of four countries after 2014 - Russia, Iran, Syria and Iraq - "in the fight against ISIS."
"The details mentioned in the report did not come up with something new," the statement said. "It's natural that intelligence information would be exchanged when there is an agreement on intelligence sharing."
The leaked reports were sent anonymously to The Intercept, which translated them from the Persian and shared them with The Times. The Intercept and The Times verified the authenticity of the documents but do not know who leaked them. The Intercept communicated over encrypted channels with the source, who declined to meet with a reporter. In these anonymous messages, the source said that they wanted to "let the world know what Iran is doing in my country Iraq."