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PKK confirms capture of two Turkish spies in Iraq

Capture of two MIT operatives led to the expulsion of Iraqi Kurdish official from Ankara on Friday
Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) fighters greet their comrades as they arrive in the northern Iraqi city of Dohuk (AFP)

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on Monday publicly confirmed the capture of two Turkish secret service officers in Iraq last week.

Diyar Xerib, a leading member of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) - a PKK-affiliated transnational body - told a local news channel in Iraq that they had captured the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) officers, but were not divulging their identities yet.

“Turkey should be glad we haven’t shown the people we captured in the media yet," he told the Rojnews channel.

"We could just parade them to the press now and publish their names.”

The incident caused a furore last week - according to reports by the NRT news channel, the two MIT officers had been staying in the city of Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan and had been planning to assassinate a senior PKK leader.

Turkey and the PKK have been engaged in a decades long guerilla war which has seen more than 40,000 killed. Throughout, the PKK have maintained headquarters in the Qandil mountains in northern Iraq, which has regularly been the target of Turkish military operations.

However, the MIT operation in Sulemaniyah appears to have been botched, with reports on Friday alleging the officials had instead been captured.

The controversy led to Turkey to expel Behroz Galali, the Ankara representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), a centre-left Iraqi Kurdish party whose stronghold is in Sulaymaniyah.

Although the PUK are seen as being somewhat closer to the PKK than Iraqi Kurdistan's ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Xerib said that there was some confusion as to why they had been implicated.

“Many people are asking why Turkey did such a thing," he said. "They question the reasons behind it...these questions need to be answered and the issue needs to be brought into light.”

He also scolded the PUK for appearing to place the blame for the controversy on the PKK and warned them against becoming an "operational force of the Turkish state."

"The PKK could put these MIT operatives who wanted to turn Sulaymaniyah into a city of chaos and the center of terror attacks against PKK administrators in front of the cameras," he warned.

"The reason the PKK hasn’t done so is that they don’t want to make the people of Sulemaniyah and the PUK look guilty."

The PUK said on Thursday that it had not been informed about the MIT operation, however, and warned that Turkey did "not have the right to conduct operations in another country."

Galali left Turkey on Thursday with his family in tow after he was informed by the Turkish government that the Ankara office of the PUK was to close.

Speaking to a news conference upon his arrival in Iraqi Kurdistan, Galali implied that the closure of the office was linked to Ankara's opposition to an upcoming referendum on Kurdish independence set for 25 September.

"Turkey is concerned over the PUK's security institutions and that caused the office to be closed [in Ankara]," Galali said.

"Turkey opposes the referendum and it is certain it won't be held on September 25."

The incident came at the same time Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was in the KRG capital of Erbil on a visit to meet, among others, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani, who is a PUK member.

Turkey and the KRG enjoy good relations and have strong international trade links.

However, tensions have risen since the announcement of the independence referendum, which Turkey fears could inflame nationalist aspirations among its own restive Kurdish minority.

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