United Kurdish Party intelligence chief Kosart Rasul had made a name for his loyalty to two parties, his leader Jalal Talabani and the US Central Intelligence Agency. Rasul led the Americans to Saddam Hussein’s hidey hole in December 2003, on top of many other services. He has therefore been selected, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, as the new Director of Operations of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, to serve as deputy of its new chief, Maj.-Gen Mohammad Abdullah Mohammad al-Shehwani, who has just been restored to Iraq after long hiding in exile under CIA protection.
The choice of Rasul as his deputy is designed to achieve five goals:
To strengthen Shehwani’s back in his new job with a mainstay trusted by Washington so that he need not turn for support to fellow Iraqi Sunnis.
To provide Shehwani with a seasoned operational arm, Rasul’s special operations units.
Posting a powerful Kurdish intelligence figure in the heart of a body controlling the Sunni Triangle and Baghdad will provide Kurdish leader Talabani with a strong foothold in the future government in Baghdad. The Bush administration values Talabani as one of its most prized assets in Iraq.
Rasul’s intelligence outfit is the most effective organ to have penetrated bastions of the Sunni establishment including the local tribes.
His presence at the side of al-Shehwani will alleviate the suspicion common to many Kurds in northern Iraq that the Americans intended reviving the Sunni Baath army’s grip on power. This suspicion was fed this week when the US administration began recalling large numbers of former officers and men from Saddam’s armed forces. Until now, this did not happen. However, members of the new Iraqi army, police and security forces performed disappointingly in the current round of fighting, some turning tail rather than join US troops in combat, and a decision was therefore taken to bring back Saddam’s veteran combat troops.
Like most of Iraq’s ethnic and religious groups, the Kurdish community is riven by internal feuding. Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani, each at the head of his own fiefdom (see debkafile Special Map), are quarreling again as they have many times before they were reconciled by US peacemakers ahead of the Iraq War. Barzani argues that the evolving emergence of new Shiite and Sunni enclaves makes it incumbent on the Kurds to quietly draw their two regions together into full union. He also wants the two Kurdish governments to merge into a single administration. The two steps would bring the Kurds that much closer to a united Kurdish state in northern Iraq.
Talabani, for his part, is not fundamentally opposed to full statehood, but he wants first to give a chance to a federal government in Baghdad under which self-governing entities will be allowed to exist. Talabani knows Barzani suspects him of clinging to the federal formula because he is assured of a powerful personal position in the central federal administration. To reassure Barzani, Talabani made him an offer. After the June 30 transfer of sovereignty, Iraq will be ruled by three rotating presidents. He offered the Kurdish position to Barzani on a permanent basis.
The offer was refused. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Kurdish sources, Barzani is afraid to leave his Arbil power base and the extensive business empire he has established in northern Iraq unsupervised.
The Kurdish enclave Barzani rules (See map) extends to the Turkish border. His men control the border crossings, especially the one at al Habur, and collect for him a toll on every car and all merchandize entering Iraq from Turkey, including goods transported by the US army. Barzani’s revenues from this traffic are colossal, running into millions of dollars per month. He has spent the money creating a vast machine made up of tens of thousands of Kurdish tribesmen linked to him by family, religious or business ties, which controls not only his own enclave but the strong offshoots he has planted across the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
Talabani’s rival and partner has therefore lost all interest in the power plays of Baghdad, Fallujah or Najef. All he cares about is that nothing in those flashpoints of trouble will present a political or military threat to his vast holdings.
He also maintains a suspicious watch on Talabani to make sure he does not move in on the sources of his affluence.
The result is that the two Kurdish enclaves are inching towards unification and are within a hair’s breadth of complete independence. At the same time, a reverse process is underway whereby each of the two enclaves strives to build up its own strength.
These countervailing trends are not lost on the Kurds’ Turkeman neighbors to the south.