Asharq al Awsat, London- Israeli firms are not training Kurds or carrying out commercial activities in northern Iraq, according to a senior Kurdish official on Thursday. The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported that private security firms had sent experts to Iraqi Kurdistan to train Kurdish security forces covertly.
In the last eighteen months, the report claimed, Israeli companies established clandestine training camps in northern Iraq as part of a million dollar project with the regional Kurdish government. Accordingly, dozens of Israeli experts were sent to train Kurdish troops “in weapons, self defense and anti-terrorism techniques.”
The Israeli defense ministry was quoted in the article as saying that it had not issued any permits for any Israeli company to work in Iraq.
Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, cast doubt on the report. “As far as I know no Israeli citizen is present in any shape or form in Kurdistan. Because Israel and Iraq are legally still at war, so it is not permitted for any Israelis to visit Iraq,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
While it did not specify the source of its report, the Israeli newspaper published pictures of men in an unspecified location where it claimed that were Israelis instructing Kurdish fighters how to use arms and were repairing a vehicle at an airport. Allegedly, the men were former members of Israel’s elite and covet forces who entered Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkey.
The report also claimed Israeli companies were involved in telecommunications and infrastructure projects such as building a new international airport in Irbil which will be called “Hawler airport.”
Kurdish authorities were allegedly keeping the collaboration secret because of fears that it might encourage attacks by al Qaeda.
Making up an estimated 20% of the population, the Kurds in Iraq have enjoyed self-rule since the Gulf war in 1991.
In a telephone conversation with Asharq al Awsat on Thursday, Dr. Fuad Hussein, an influential Kurdish leader rubbished the report as “totally untrue.”
Irbil’s airport, he said, was “open to all and with at least three airplanes landing everyday, from Baghdad and different Arab and European capitals. It is used by Iraqis, both Kurds and Arabs. If Israelis were in the airport, their presence would not have gone unnoticed.”
He emphasized that “airport employees, men and women, including the security forces, are Iraqi Kurds.”
“The Kurds do not need instructors to train them in light weapons. They have been in a state of war since 1961. Thousands know how to use all sorts of weapons, including heavy weapons.”
“If we needed military training, we would ask countries with which we have established relations, including military relations”, Hussein added. He revealed that troops from South Korea were currently present in Kurdistan as part of the multinational forces in Iraq.