Zebari: Turkey Was Behind Ocalan’s 1998 Expulsion from Syria

By RUDAW 5 18 – 11 – 2013 – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region –Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari revealed that Turkey was behind Syria’s 1998 expulsion of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. The information came to light in Zebari’s interview with the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper last week, in which he shared new details of the tensions between Turkey and then Syrian President Hafez Assad over Ocalan.

Zebari recalled a conversation with former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the events of 1998, saying, “Mubarak told me that in 1998 he had delivered a letter about Turkey’s threats to Hafez Assad about sheltering PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and Assad agreed to expel Ocalan and not risk military confrontation with Turkey.”

For many years Ocalan and many of his fighters maintained bases inside Syria, until he was told by Damascus to leave the country under pressure from Turkey, which threatened military invasion. Ocalan was captured in 1999 in Kenya and is currently serving a life sentence on Imrali Island in Turkey on terrorism charges. Zebari, a Kurd who has served as Iraq’s foreign minister since 2005, also said that Mubarak was unhappy about Syria’s close ties with Iran and its interference in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.

“Mubarak was also doubtful about the Americans and believed they sold their friends too easily,” Zebari recalled. He said that Mubarak had trained as a pilot at the al-Habaniyah base in Iraq’s Anbar province in the 1950s and was passionate about Iraq. However, he was unhappy about its Kurd, Arab, Shiite and Sunni division. “In Egypt there is only one national feeling,” he recalled Mubarak as saying.

According to Zebari, Mubarak had once tried to marry into Saddam Hussein’s family, though he had considered the dictator a crazy man, said Zebari. In the serialized interview with Al-Hayat, Zebari said that former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri had helped the Kurds of Iraq with US$200,000 following their uprising against Iraq’s central government in 1991. After Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and Saddam Hussein’s threats to attack neighboring Saudi Arabia, relations between Riyadh and Baghdad deteriorated and according to Zebari later efforts to mend them had failed. “Saudi Arabia was also worried about the partition of Iraq and Kurdish separation,” Zebari disclosed.

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