Monday, October 03, 2005

In Kurdistan, Mossad Gets in Washington's Way

Relaunched after the war that chased Saddam Hussein from power in Baghdad in 2003, the secret security cooperation between Israelis and Iraqi Kurds has experienced a sudden stop in recent months, under influence from Washington. After the appointment of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani to the Republic of Iraq presidency in the spring of 2005, "a conflict of interests emerged between the two allies," deems a Middle East security expert. "In order not to incur criticism from the Shiia and the Sunni," he adds, "Talabani, as the new head of state, could no longer allow relations condemned by the vast majority of Iraqis to develop. The Kurdish double game was ended." Since then, some Israeli agents have left northern Iraq. Only about a hundred remain, as well as some Israeli businessmen, who have virtually limited their activity to doing business only through Kurdish or Jordanian intermediaries.

Yet the conflict helped retighten the partnership between Mossad, the Israeli secret service, and Kurdish officials - allies for thirty years against the nationalist regime in Baghdad. For Israel, it was a question of promoting the Kurds' federal aspirations and of containing Iranian influence in Iraq. "After the hostilities, the Israelis, worried to see thousands of so-called Iranian pilgrims penetrate Iraq, tried in vain to convince Americans to close the Iran-Iraq border," Patrick Clawson, Associate Director of the American research center Washington Institute for Near East Policy, explained to Le Figaro. But the United States, anxious not to obstruct their Iraqi Shiite allies, played deaf.

The Israelis, observing that their allies were getting stuck, then decided to take things in hand. In Erbil and Suleymanieh, Israeli instructors, often disguised as businessmen, were charged with improving the training of the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia. According to French military intelligence, at the beginning of 2004, about 1,200 agents from Mossad or from Israeli military intelligence were operating in Kurdistan. Their mission: to get Kurdish commando groups on their feet that would be strong enough to counter the Shiite militias in southern Iraq, the latter more or less manipulated by Tehran, especially the militia of the hellion, Moqtada al-Sadr. Kurdish leaders returned the favor with favorable statements. On June 6th of this year, Massoud Barzani, from the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, deemed that a relationship with Israel "is not a crime from the moment most Arab countries maintain relations" with the Hebrew State.

The mountains of Kurdistan have always been a nest of spies. "The presence of lots of people in this region, autonomous since 1991, allows the Israelis to recruit agents from clienteles that will infiltrate other organizations," a former head of one European intelligence service offers by way of analysis. Today, the Kurdish priority to infiltrate the new Iraqi army, now led by one of their own, cannot but help Israeli interests. By allying itself with Iraq's Kurds, the Hebrew state has strengthened its surveillance of Iran and Syria, its two big enemies in the Middle East. But Israeli activism ended up by irritating Washington. "We've gotten strong pressure from Washington to stop our maneuvers with the Kurds," confides an Israeli sent to Erbil under academic cover. "The Americans are no longer in agreement with Israeli plans," he asserts. Washington no longer wants to tolerate a presence embarrassing for its interests.

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