Turkish Premier and Top Army Brass Wrangle

The vanishing Iranian former deputy defense minister Gen. Ali Reza Asgari, 63, has touched off a major row between Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan and the top brass of his armed forces and intelligence. The general, a senior figure of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Intelligence Ministry, was first reported missing by debkafile on March 2.

Prime minister Erdogan has discovered, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Ankara, that Turkish military intelligence had a hand in spiriting the Iranian general, a former deputy defense minister and a Revolutionary Guards high-up, out of Istanbul in full knowledge of his destination: Copenhagen for a rendezvous with the CIA.

A high-placed source in the Turkish capital said: The Turkish army undoubtedly has a lot more information about the affair than the government.

Prime minister Erdogan accuses the army of an independent Iran policy diametrically opposed to his government’s position and of using the Asqari affair to make this plain to Washington and Tehran alike.

The embarrassment in Tehran over Asgari's disappearance was such that, according to our intelligence sources, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used his visit to Riyadh last Saturday, Marcy 3, to pump Saudi national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan and intelligence chief Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and ask them bluntly to use their connections with US and Turkish intelligence to find out anything that would shed light on the disappearance.

This sort of candor from a head of state on a first visit to a host with whom relations are to put it mildly extremely delicate was a mark of the desperation in Iran’s ruling circles.

Our special correspondent in Ankara reports the falling-out between the Turkish premier and his generals surfaced when Turkish chief of staff Gen. Yasar Buyukanit visited Washington in mid-February and accused Iraqi Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani and Masoud Barzani of hiding Turkish-Kurdish PKK operatives in northern Iraq.

The general said Ankara must boycott them.

Erdogan took this as a direct affront; he has been engaged in secret talks with Talabani and Barzani in the hope of a deal on the future of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The prime minister fought back in a CNN interview in which he frankly dismissed the remarks as the personal views of Buyukanit, which could “never be an institutional statement.” If it were, said Edrogan, “it would sow chaos in our democratic, secular and law-based state.

The last word, institutionally speaking, he declared, lies with the government.

The quarrel moved up another level when the military general staff responded by slaying: “The views expressed by the chief of the general staff are naturally not personal views but those of the general staff as an institution.”

The word in Ankara now is that Gen. Buyukanit, by involving the Turkish army in the Iranian general’s disappearance, is aiming to have the last word in his tussle with the prime minister.

He is saying in effect that the Turkish army not only has its own policy on the Kurdish question but on Iran too.

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