Turkish spy chief headed for Erbil, whisper KRG officials


Amberin Zaman September 11, 2017  –  AL MONITOR – Rumor has it that the head of Turkish intelligence is planning a trip to Erbil, where he would face an uphill struggle to free Turkish operatives allegedly held there and perhaps discourage the upcoming referendum on independence. Turkey’s spy chief, Hakan Fidan, is planning to travel to the Iraqi Kurdish capital Erbil this week, part of a mission to push for the release of Turkish operatives who are being held by Kurdish militants and presumably also to seek to delay a referendum on Iraqi Kurdish independence, local officials speaking on strict condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor. They declined to elaborate, and a spokesman for Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) did not return Al-Monitor’s calls for comment.

If the reports are accurate, Fidan faces an uphill struggle on both counts. Officials from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have assured Turkey that the two operatives, both Turkish nationals who were reportedly captured by rebels with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), would be released this month.

Mustafa Karasu, a veteran PKK commander, claimed last week in a radio interview that his organization had not just two “high-ranking” Turkish intelligence agents in its custody, but 18 other Turkish officials as well. He offered no clues as to if and when they might be freed. Karasu earlier claimed that the Turkish nationals carried diplomatic passports and were responsible for running a network of spies keeping tabs on the PKK.

The PUK governs Sulaimaniyah province, where the sting operation, described in groundbreaking detail by Al-Monitor’s Fazel Hawramy, allegedly took place. The Turks were said to have traveled from Ankara and were nabbed as they were meeting with their contacts within the PKK. The PUK has come under heavy fire from Ankara for its lax attitude toward the PKK. Bahroz Galali, the PUK’s veteran representative in Ankara, was sent packing on Aug. 23 over his failure to secure the operatives’ release. The Turkish government still has not commented on the affair.

The only person with the clout to arrange for the operatives’ freedom is the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan. But he has remained incommunicado since April 2015, when the latest round of peace talks with the government collapsed. One of his main interlocutors was Fidan, who is also counted among Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s most loyal lieutenants.Barring the rare family member, Ocalan has not been permitted visitors since. It’s conceivable that Fidan has sought Ocalan’s intervention to rescue his men, but it’s impossible to know.
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