Little known outside of the highest levels of Iraqi and allied intelligence agencies, the Falcons have placed a handful of spies inside the ranks of the Islamic State. Its intelligence helped oust the extremists from their last urban strongholds last year and it now aids the hunt for the group’s leaders, like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Recently, an Iraqi-American sting based on Iraqi intelligence led to the arrest of five senior Islamic State members who had been hiding in Turkey and Syria. Iraqi officials say the Falcons have foiled hundreds of attacks on Baghdad, making the capital the safest it has been in 15 years.
American military officials consider the agency as good as they get among non-Western spy services.
“It has proved to be an extremely valuable unit,” said Col. Sean J. Ryan, a spokesman for the American-led military coalition in Baghdad. The Falcons, he said, have diminished the threat of the Islamic State by infiltrating its cells, killing its leaders and terrorists, and destroying its weapons.
.. “A drone can tell you who has entered a building but it can’t tell you what is being said in the room where the men have gathered,” he said. “We can, because our people are inside those rooms.”
.. When he was young, the Sudani family had lived in Ramadi, in Iraq’s Sunni Muslim heartland.
.. Captain Sudani’s ability to adopt the Ramadi accent would help his credibility with the group.
But as a Shiite, he was unfamiliar with Sunni rituals and prayer. So he pored over the Quran, memorizing verses favored by jihadists and learning the chants they used for praying and killing.
.. His first days with the Islamic State were filled with training on religion and explosives.
A few weeks later, a senior Islamic State official in Mosul called. He assigned Captain Sudani a key part in the logistics chain for suicide bomb missions in Baghdad. Believing him to be a Baghdad native, the group considered him crucial to get bombers past checkpoints on the outskirts of the capital and inside the city.
.. Then the Falcons would stage fake explosions and issue fake news releases, sometimes claiming large casualties — part of the effort to keep Capt. Sudani’s cover intact.