The head of Iran’s Supreme Security Council Ali Larijani flew into Ankara Monday, March 8, for high-powered talks at the invitation of the Turkish National Security Council (MGK) Secretary, General Yigit Alpogan.
He came to take advantage of the new community of interests that had sprung up between Turkey and Iran over Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) incursions into Turkey and Iran from its sanctuaries in northern Iraqi Kurdistan.
On his arrival in Ankara from Brussels, where he handed a letter from his president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an American official for delivery to President George W. Bush, the Iranian visitor went into a closed conference with prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and foreign minister Abdullah Gul.
Both Ankara and Tehran accuse American intelligence officers in Iraq of arming, training and funding the Kurdish underground group’s raids into northwestern Iran, for attacks on government and military targets. Monday, the day Larijani arrived in Ankara, explosive devices went off at a government building in the Iranian Kurdish town of Kermanshah, causing casualties and damage.
Unlike the Iranians, the Turks do not accuse the Americans of orchestrating incursions into their territory. They do charge Washington with failing to restrain the PKK in northern Iraq. Kurdish rebel leaders are therefore able to quietly divert some of the men receiving aid and training in northern Iraq, to Turkey, instead of sending them all on sabotage operations into Iran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Iraq, who confirm the allegation, report the subject was heatedly discussed between the Turkish premier and foreign minister and US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice when she visited Ankara in late April.
She warned the Turks against massing troops on their border with Iraq or mounting a large-scale military thrust against the PKK sanctuaries in northern Iraq. Iraqi leaders retorted that the only way to ward off such action was to stop American intelligence officers training PKK operatives, and making sure the Kurdish rebels were prevented from making raids into Turkey.
Turkish and Iranian forces are already inside Iraq
Both Turkish leaders and the American secretary of state were perfectly aware that the each side knew Turkish forces were already operating on the Iraqi side of the border, but they found it convenient to speak of it in hypothetical terms.
Since the Rice visit, our sources disclose, Ankara has piled more troops on the Iraqi border, building the strength poised there up to four or five armored divisions. Armored reconnaissance and intelligence units cross into northern Iraq, driving in as far as Zakho in western Kurdistan, Dahkk and Aqrah in the center and Birkim in the northeast, close to the Iranian frontier. Their assignments are to intercept and liquidate PKK contingents on their way to attacks in Turkey, gather intelligence and mark out routes and targets should Ankara decide to push the entire force across the border into Iraqi Kurdistan.
Iranian tactics are different and are carried forward on two levels.
For the past two weeks, they have been shelling Iraqi Kurdish areas across the border to make the routes used by PKK fighters for infiltrating Iran impassable. Iranian artillery makes no particular effort to avoid local villages or flocks at pasture. Houses ravaged by direct shell hits are therefore to be seen in many eastern Kurdish villages, who report civilians killed and injured by the bombardments from Iran.
This is Tehran’s way of signaling the two Iraqi Kurdish leaders, president Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani, that aiding the PKK has a price.
The second Iranian tactic is to send armed troops into Iraqi Kurdistan.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources report that a brigade of Revolutionary Guards special forces has forced its way 8-10 km. into Iraq, fetching up north of Suleimaniya.
Like the Turkish invasion force, the Iranian brigade’s mission is to keep the border region under surveillance and cut off the PKK groups from access to the Iranian border.
At the same time, Iran is also building up its border strength, drawing on military units based around Kermanshah, Mahabad, Bijan and Samandaj.
From now on, Turkey and Iran, will be working together in the common interest.
Larijani’s talks with Turkish officials this week yielded a pact for the two governments to coordinate military steps and pool intelligence on PKK havens in northern Iraq.
Turkey and Iran to swap intelligence on US agents in Iraqi Kurdistan
This intelligence-sharing arrangement applies also to American ties with the rebel group.
It is the first time two regional powers bordering Iraq have got together for joint military and intelligence action in a strategic region of their neighbor, under an accord that also targets regional US military intelligence operations.
The deal marks an unparalleled low in relations between Ankara and Washington.
That the government of one of America’s erstwhile key Middle East allies is climbing in bed with the Islamic Republic, at a most sensitive stage of the Bush administration’s campaign against Iran’s nuclear program, illustrates the weakness of Washington’s position on the Iran issue and its critical situation in Iraq.
Two further developments this week – one covert – offer further insight into the widening rift between Ankara and Washington:
1. The visiting Iranian official asked Erdogan if he was aware of a Washington-assisted movement afoot in the top echelon of Turkey’s armed forces to oust his government.
According to our sources in Ankara, the Turkish premier was not surprised by the question, only asking if it was based on concrete intelligence, or the rumors going around diplomatic circles in the Turkish capital for some time about the cracks between government and the top brass. Larijani replied that if Iranian intelligence does come across concrete data, Tehran will make sure to give Erdogan timely warning.
2. The Iranian visitor did produce hard intelligence which he claimed attested to the links between the Americans and the PKK. He asked to release before leaving Ankara. The prime minister’s permission to publish the story, he said, would be treated as a token of the Turkish government’s trust in their mutual collaboration pact.
Erdogan gave his consent.
Before flying out of Turkey, therefore, Larijani face the media with the charge of a meeting between American officials and Kurdistan Workers’ Party members in Mosul and Kirkuk, in which they were asked to lay down arms. He described the meeting as taking place on October 4, 2005, between US officials and the PKK/Kongra-Gel military wing responsible to Cemil Bayik in Iraq.
The US officials were designated “the American group” and their identities not disclosed.
The US embassy in Ankara issued a counter-statement denying Larijani’s allegation about the American-PKK meeting, saying the United States does not negotiate with terrorists. Such a meeting absolutely did not take place, said the embassy.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that the next Ankara-Tehran release will claim to demonstrate that US intelligence officers are training PKK terrorists through Kurdish instructors, members of President Talabani’s PUK.