A British spy among Kurds in Iraq
A British spy in communication with influential Kurds in Iraq was reported to Ankara by Turkish field agents in Iraq. The spy was observed in local Kurdish dress near Hanekin and Halabja, talking in secret to Kurdish leaders about their next move in the region.
According to an official Turkish intelligence report dated April 1, 1930, this spy in diguise was suspected to be Thomas Edward Lawrence – the famous Lawrence of Arabia. TE Lawrence’s efforts in the Arab Revolt contributed to the disintegration of the Turkish empire under the Ottoman dynasty, and were never forgotten by the rulers of the young Republic of Turkey. The 1925 Kurdish revolt resulted in Mosul being left by Turkey to Iraqi rule under a British mandate the following year, and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Ankara continued to suspect that Kurdish tribes in Iraq could still be used by the British for another rebellion.
That intelligence report - which was declassified and released by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in a booklet to mark the 90th anniversary of the agency as a 2018 “New Year present” - reflects suspicions at the time that the notorious British agent was still working against the Turks in the 1930s.
At the time Lawrence was working for the Cairo-based Arab Bureau of British military intelligence. Turkish agents were monitoring him in Cairo as well, according to another report that was declassified and released for the first time in the same booklet with title “90 Years, 90 Objects.” An intelligence report filed from Cairo to Ankara and dated June 15, 1930 stated that Lawrence was spotted in Cairo – this time in Egyptian garb - talking to influential names in Cairo society and “probably” in order to organize an uprising against the Egyptian authorities.
In 1991, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and after the moving in of U.S.-led military forces from Turkey north of Iraq’s 36th parallel, I met a British spy in the Kurdish town of Amediya in northern Iraq. He was busy trying to fix a satellite dish on the roof of a deserted house, dressed in an Oxford shirt with paratrooper cufflinks, a tie, ray ban sunglasses, and camouflage trousers. He introduced himself to me as “Stephen Crouch, in Her Majesty’s Service,” and said his mission was to try to prevent clashes between Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Kurdistan Patriotic Union (PUK).
Of course it’s not only the Brits who have plenty of spies around. After all, it was Turkish agents who reported about the presence of Lawrence both in Halabja and in Cairo back in 1930.
Recently the Syria civil war has provided a stage for agents from almost all countries – as well as illegal groups and terrorist groups - not only as a training ground but also for various intelligence operations. Now with protests taking place in towns across the country, eyes have turned to Iran.
Thanks to the not-so-smart move of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has voiced high-profile public support for the demonstrators, Iranian religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been able to accuse protesters of being “enemy agents” – the “enemies” being named as the U.S., the U.K., Saudi Arabia and Israel by the Iranian authorities.
Such accusations are certainly not fair for those who took the streets demanding more democratic and economic rights in Iran. But at the same time we should never forget that memories in this part of the world are long. Recently released official documents confirm that back in 1953 the CIA and MI6 managed to topple Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh through a coup d’etat following a well-planned conspiracy.
Indeed, many baseless conspiracy theories circulate in Turkey and elsewhere. But there are also genuine conspiracies that nobody with an interest in politics should ignore.