PORTLAND, Ore. — An Iraqi man living in Oregon who falsely claimed to be a U.S. intelligence official in a letter to the prime minister of Iraq was sentenced Tuesday to two years on probation.
Wathiq al-Ibraheemi, 34, pleaded guilty in January to unauthorized use of an official insignia, which was on the November 2015 letter sent to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel said the three-page note suggesting the prime minister replace the country's intelligence chief with another man reached the highest levels of Iraqi government before it was turned over to the U.S. officials.
"(His) deceptive and brazen conduct in this case created confusion and a brief period of diplomatic uncertainty between the United States government and the government of Iraq," Gabriel said Tuesday.
Al-Ibraheemi was expected to get one year on probation, but Gabriel sought the extra year after it was discovered that the Oregon man — or someone he knows — altered an online news article about his guilty plea.
Al-Ibraheemi served as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq before immigrating to this country in 2009 and later earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Portland State University. His defense attorney, Colin Hunter, highlighted that service in seeking a lenient penalty from U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman.
The judge praised al-Ibraheemi's "difficult, important and dangerous" work for United States forces in Iraq.
"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."
In the letter, al-Ibraheemi represented himself as William J. Peterson, U.S. chief of the Middle East Section in the Office of the Deputy Director for Intelligence. Investigators determined the employee and the position do not exist.
The letter criticized intelligence head Zuhair al-Gharbawi and said the United States supported Dr. Mosdeq al-Janabi as his replacement during this "critical time" in the history of Iraq.
"The national security of Iraq is in the national security interest of the United States and the entire Middle East," the letter states. "We believe your government needs people like Dr. Mosdeq to be successful."
The intelligence chief was dismissed in June 2016, but Gabriel said there's no evidence the letter was a factor. He was replaced by Mustafa Kadhimi.
A few months after the letter was sent, a member of the Iraqi parliament reported receiving phone calls from a man who identified himself as "Dr. William," a U.S. government representative seeking to influence who became speaker of the parliament.
The U.S. ambassador at the time, Stuart Jones, contacted the FBI, which traced the telephone number to Beaverton, Oregon.
The FBI executed a search warrant at al-Ibraheemi's home and seized his laptop. Investigators found that he had downloaded the insignia of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence before the letter to prime minister was sent.
The question of why al-Ibraheemi tried to influence Iraq policy remains unanswered. He declined comment outside the Portland courtroom.
Friends, co-workers and members of the military vouched for the defendant's character in letters to the judge. His mother urged Mosman not to send her son back to Iraq, where she feared he would be executed "on the very day of his arrival" because of his previous work for U.S. forces.
"My future is obscured, my family has disintegrated, and my only son is facing the threat of death," she wrote in Arabic. "I wish to die every single night and, if it weren't for my fear of God's punishment, I would have put an end to my life so as not to witness my children facing this sinister end."