Tuesday, January 7, 2014

War Watch - January 7 - 8 , 2014 - Iraq Prime Minister threatens Fallujans to kick out Al Qaeda or else ...... Syria Rebel Infighting Now Spans Four Provinces War Within a War Expanding Across Northwest ..... US continues to press Karzai to sign Bilateral Security Agreement , Karzai keeps ignoring the US and will do as he pleases.... Turkey corruption scandal keeps rolling along......



Iraq Claims 25 al-Qaeda Killed in Anbar Airstrikes

Fighting Continues on Outskirts, But al-Qaeda Retains Fallujah

by Jason Ditz, January 07, 2014
Fighting erupted today in the Anbar Province, mostly on the outskirts of Fallujah and Ramadi. The fighting was said to be fierce, but there was no word yet on the casualties.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) seized Fallujah late last week, along with parts of Ramadi. The military has threatened to retake the territory, but the fighting has so far been confined to the area outside the cities, with AQI still in firm control inside.
The Maliki government also reported a major air strike against AQI outside of Ramadi, claiming 25 AQI fighters were dead. The strike was not near the fighting, according to officials.
Maliki has vowed to regain control of the cities, but while AQI is the immediate concern, the province is also in revolt, angry with violent crackdowns on peaceful protesters late last month.

Al-Qaeda Takeover the Least of Maliki’s Anbar Problems

Overreach Has Much of Sunni Province in Revolt

by Jason Ditz, January 07, 2014
Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) took over a whole city of several hundred thousand people last week and hard as it may be to believe, that’s not even the worst news for the Maliki government.
The Sunni Arab dominated Anbar Province was already in crisis before AQI snuck in and conquered Fallujah, and while losing a city like that is a really high-profile defeat, the Anbar problem is much bigger than just Fallujah’s temporary loss.
The province is largely in revolt already, because of ill-conceived governmentpolicies that have been getting worst for years. They came to a head in December, when Maliki ordered the arrest of a Sunni MP as a “terrorist.”
Maliki has used the “terrorism” excuse to weaken Sunni political parties, and the nation’s sitting Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi is still in exile because of similar charges.
The arrest sparked protests, and Maliki, again using terrorism as an excuse, attacked the protesters, killing 17. 44 more MPs resigned that evening to protest the killings, and riots began breaking out across the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah.
It was those riots, and the efforts to crack down against them, that gave AQI the opening to take Fallujah in the first place, and if anything the loss might’ve been a temporary blessing for Maliki, since it got everyone’s attention off the full scale revolt that was brewing.
AQI is unlikely to be able to keep Fallujah in the long run, but the division in Anbar is a problem that’s been years in the making, and one which Maliki shows no ability to tackle.

White House Blasts Senate for Blocking Iraq Arms Sales

Senators Feared Maliki Would Use Arms Against Sunnis

by Jason Ditz, January 07, 2014
The White House is trying to present the recent loss of the city of Fallujah to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) as proof that the Senate was “short-sighted” in blocking attempts to sell more weapons to the Maliki government in Iraq.
The senators blocked the sale of attack helicopters over concerns that Maliki would use the helicopters to attack domestic rivals, including Sunni Arabs and the northern Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
Administration officials are now saying they are trying to “deny the Iraqi government the weapons it needs to effectively take the fight to al-Qaeda,” while glossing over the heavy-handed military crackdowns in Anbar that precipitated the AQI takeover.
Though the administration is hoping to bludgeon Congress into giving in on the sales, if anything the Fallujah situation underscores that the senators were right all along, and giving the reckless Iraqi PM more weapons not only isn’t going to solve the nation’s ills, but will set the stage for more problems in the years to come.

Clashes, Bombs, Shootings in Iraq: 96 Killed, 98 Wounded

In Iraqi City Under Siege, More Support for Militants Than Officials


Maliki Warns Fallujans: Kick Out al-Qaeda Or Else

by Jason Ditz, January 06, 2014
After weekend offensives against the city of Fallujah failed to unseat al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which captured it from the central government late last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is hoping that simply demanding someone else do the job will work.
In a statement today Maliki demanded that the citizens of Fallujah forcibly expel AQI from the city themselves, saying they faced a harsh military offensive if they refuse.
Maliki played up the “danger” that the locals would face if they didn’t expel AQI, but since the Iraqi military has so far failed to do so, it seems unlikely that the tribal leaders in a city of a couple hundred thousand people can muster a force able to do so either.
Couching the military action against AQI as a punishment against the Fallujans for failing to oust al-Qaeda also seems risky as a narrative, particularly with the Sunni cities in Anbar Province already protesting against the Maliki government for heavy handed crackdowns on them.

In Anbar, Iraq Faces a Three-Way Fight for Control

Al-Qaeda Aside, Locals Were Already in Open Revolt

by Jason Ditz, January 06, 2014
When al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) captured the city of Fallujah last week, it was in many ways a game changer for the nation, the first major territory lost to the militant faction.
It would be a mistake to see this as a simply war between Iraq and AQI, however, as the week leading up to the Fallujah takeover saw much of the Anbar Province in open revolt over military crackdowns against peaceful protesters.
Fallujah may be the big story, but the situation is a three-way conflict between the Maliki government, AQI, and Sunni tribal leaders who aren’t particularly keen on either of them.
Prime Minister Maliki’s ultimatum, demanding the tribal leaders expel AQI or face an offensive, really underscores a fight that was already going on before AQI capitalized on it, and will continue even if AQI is removed from the situation.
Two weeks ago, Maliki ordered a Sunni MP arrested as a “terrorist,” sparking major protests in Fallujah and Ramadi. He responded to those protests with military action, killing a large number of them, and 44 MPs resigned in protest. Maliki is losing control over much of the nation, and this problem could be a more protracted difficulty than AQI taking a single city.


Syria rebels claim capture of ISIL headquarters in Aleppo

January 8, 2014 12:30PM ET
The Al-Qaeda-linked ISIL has threatened to 'crush' Western-backed rebel groups as infighting rumbles on in Syria
Syria's War


Free Syrian Army fighters are among the groups that have clashed with Al-Qaeda-linked rivals in northern Syria.
Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Syrian rebels on Wednesday seized control of a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo that was used as a base for the area by their Al-Qaeda-linked rivals, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), activists said.
The capture of the hospital was a boost for the rebels, who on Tuesday saw 20 of their fighters killed in an ISIL suicide car bombing in the northern city of Darkoush, according to the anti-Assad, British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
It also underscores the intensity of the infighting that has raged between Syrian rebels and their onetime allies in the broader context of the Syrian civil war, where at least 300 people have been killed since Friday, the Observatory said.


Click for the latest news and analysis on Syria.

But an audio statement from ISIL spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani indicated that the extremist group remains undaunted in its mission to fight rival rebel organizations, even after the homegrown Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra — ostensibly merged with ISIL but more cooperative with the mainstream rebel groups — called for a cease-fire.
"Crush them completely and kill the conspiracy in its cradle," al-Adnani said, according to a statement that was widely cited in online Islamist social networks but that could not be independently verified. "Kill them wherever you find them and without dignity."
The recording specifically mentioned the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the Western-backed political opposition that is loosely affiliated with the Western-armed Free Syrian Army.
"They launched this war against us and started it," al-Adnani continued. "Therefore anyone who is a member of this entity is a legitimate target for us wherever he may be, unless he declares his innocence from this sect in public and renounces his fight against the mujahedeen."
The SNC's already fragile legitimacy was previously eroded when the group indicated it might attend the upcoming peace talks in Geneva, which have been condemned by every other armed rebel faction.
The main rebel camps in Syria fighting against President Bashar al-Assad's troops — a disjointed array of Western-backed and Islamist brigades and Al-Qaeda-linked extremist fighters — turned their guns on each other last Friday in the most serious rebel infighting since the uprising against Assad began nearly three years ago.
Tensions, which had simmered since last summer, erupted after reports that ISIL fighters had tortured and killed a popular Syrian doctor.
Fighting has since spread from the northern province of Aleppo to nearby Idlib and the rebel-held province of Raqqa.
The clashes add another layer of complexity to the Syrian conflict, less than three weeks ahead of the planned international peace conference that aims to resolve the civil war, which has killed more than 130,000 people. No rebel faction has of yet agreed to attend.
Meanwhile, the greater war to unseat Assad rages on. In besieged Aleppo, the Observatory said a series of government airstrikes in two rebel-held suburbs late on Tuesday night killed 19 people.
In Douma, a town close to the capital, Damascus, three adults and a child were killed and several were wounded after a government airstrike targeted a house on Tuesday, activists and the Observatory reported.

34 al-Qaeda Fighters Executed by Rival Syrian Rebels

Land, Not Ideology, Driving the 'War Within a War'

by Jason Ditz, January 07, 2014
Rebel infighting that has spanned several provinces across northern Syria is growing uglier all the time, with the latest  reports that 34 members of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and its allied faction Jund al-Aqsa were captured by rival rebels and summarily executed.
According to the rebel-linked Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the 34 fighters killed were separated from other captured fighters linked to the groups, and only the foreign fighters were killed.
Rebel factions, particularly the Free Syrian Army (FSA), have played up the idea that the foreign-dominated AQI is secretly in league with the Assad government, though in reality they have been among the most aggressive factions targeting Assad territory.
Far from the ideological split its portrayed as by the FSA, the rebel “war within a war” seems much more driven by a desire to take some of AQI’s territory away from them, and reestablish their secular faction as a viable part of the rebellion at a time when many see them drifting toward irrelevance.
AQI’s treatment of locals has fueled protests in those territories, and the FSA and other blocs are using that as a justification to attack, though they have largely avoided the territories that saw the biggest protests, since they were also those with the most AQI fighters, and have focused on outlying territories in Idlib which were easy pickings and far from reinforcements.

Syrian al-Qaeda Factions Nearing Conflict With One Another

Jabhat al-Nusra Backs Locals Against al-Qaeda in Iraq

by Jason Ditz, January 07, 2014
Further complicating the “war within a war” in northwestern Syria, the nation’s two official al-Qaeda factions are publicly criticizing one another and may be headed toward open warfare of their own.
Jabhat al-Nusra split in half about a year ago, with one faction “merging” with al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the other faction retaining the Nusra name and aiming to make it Syria’s official al-Qaeda affiliate, as opposed to just a wing of the Iraqi one. Both have enjoyed support from al-Qaeda’s parent organization in statements.
With AQI now in the midst of a growing war with other Syrian rebel factions, Jabhat al-Nusra’sleader came out conspicuously critical of AQI today, bashing their “incorrect” policies and suggesting that they agree to the establishment of a religious court system to get them back on track.
AQI controls a lot of territory in northwest Syria, but has been facing growing protests among the locals, who see their rule as particularly heavy-handed, even by al-Qaeda standards, and other rebel blocs have tried to use that as a chance to reclaim some land in the region.
Ironically this has set up Nusra as the comparative voice of reason among the rebels, arguing that the infighting threatens to derail the “revolution.” In the end, it seems more likely this will drag Nusra into the fight as well, though the real question is which side they’ll end up on.

Syrian rebel leader urges truce as infighting Al-Qaeda factions trigger bloodbath

Published time: January 07, 2014 22:47
Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra (Reuters/Molhem Barakat)
Members of Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra (Reuters/Molhem Barakat)
A leader of an Al-Qaeda affiliated rebel group in Syria has called for a ceasefire with another Al-Qaeda-inspired movement, after internecine clashes between various Islamist anti-government factions resulted in hundreds of deaths in less than a week.
"The foreigners and supporters will pay the price for losing this great jihadi fighting field. The Assad regime will revive itself after it was close to disappearing. The West and the Shiites will find a place to enter into this battle,” said a recorded message from Abu Mohammed Golani, the head of the Nusra Front, posted on the organization’s Twitter feed.
"This unfortunate situation has pushed us to launch an initiative to save the battlefields from being lost. This will be done by forming an independent legal counsel by all the rebel factions in addition to a ceasefire."

Syria begins chemical weapon removal

January 7, 2014 2:11PM ET
Move comes the same day as the U.N. says it has stopped counting deaths in the nearly three-year-old civil war
Syria's War


The OPCW's director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, at a press conference in The Hague in October 2013. For its role in helping remove chemical weapons from Syria, the OPCW was awarded last year's Nobel Peace Prize.
Bas Czerwinski/AFP/Getty Images
Syria has started moving chemical weapons materials out of the country in a crucial phase of an internationally backed disarmament program that has been delayed by war and technical problems.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday that "priority chemical materials" were transported to the port of Latakia and onto a Danish vessel that is now sailing toward international waters.
Syria promised to abandon its chemical weapons by June under a deal proposed by Russia and agreed to by the United States after an Aug. 21 sarin gas attack that Western nations blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Damascus has blamed rebels for the attack.
War, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues meant a Dec. 31 deadline passed for the removal of the most deadly toxins from Syria.
The OPCW did not disclose what percentage of Syria's toxic arsenal — which totals 1,300 metric tons — had been removed but said nine containers of the most dangerous chemical materials were on the Danish cargo vessel.
"The vessel has been accompanied by naval escorts provided by Denmark and Norway as well as the Syrian Arab Republic," a statement said. "It will remain at sea awaiting the arrival of additional priority chemical materials at the port."
Maritime security was being provided by Chinese, Danish, Norwegian and Russian ships.

Syria Rebel Infighting Now Spans Four Provinces

War Within a War Expanding Across Northwest

by Jason Ditz, January 06, 2014
The Syrian Civil War isn’t slowing down itself, and there were already more than a few “wars within the war,” but the new fighting in the rebel-held northwest looks to take this to new levels.
Amid protests by anti-al-Qaeda locals, the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamic Front both started attacking al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) holdings, chasing them from several bases in Idlib Province.
AQI recovered quickly, and has begun pumping reinforcements into the area, and now the fight is spreading across the rebel-territory, with four provinces in the area now reporting clashes.
The fighting aims to question AQI’s relative dominance over rebel-held territory. An open question, however, is whether the FSA and Islamic Front are working in tandem or are both taking opportunities to claim AQI’s less-defended possessions where they can. Either way, northwest Syria seems headed toward further balkanization.

Iranian officials insist that they want an actual invite to the Geneva II peace talks on Syria, and that if they’re not invited its unreasonable of the US to expect them to contribute “from the sidelines.”
The US and France have rejected the idea of allowing Iran to attend the talks, saying they would only let them attend if they agreed to impose regime change on Syria before the talks begin.
The UN confirmed again today that Iran is “not yet invited” to the talks, though Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is said to be in favor of inviting them, and Russia has pushed hard for their inclusion.
The Geneva II talks are scheduled for January 22, and while the West has kept the “Geneva” name attached, they won’t actually be held there, because a luxury watch fair was planned first and got all the good hotels. Rather, the talks will be held in Montreaux, Switzerland.


Afghans Defy US, Will Free 88 ‘Dangerous’ Prisoners

Review Board: Still No Evidence to Warrant Detentions

by Jason Ditz, January 06, 2014
The Afghan Review Board backed off for a few days on releasing the 88 detainees from Bagram that the US insisted were particularly dangerous, but now say that theystill don’t have any evidence warranting keeping them, and that they must be let go.
The Pentagon has angrily been pushing against their release, saying the review board was never meant to have the power to let anyone go, and was supposed to choose between sending detainees for prosecution or ordering further investigations to look for evidence against them.
Since the handover of Bagram, the Afghan government has been reviewing the evidence against detainees, and has released some 85% of those reviewed so far, 650 people, saying none of them had any real evidence against them.
The 88 detainees were said to be “particularly dangerous” by the US, but the Review Board appears to have only the military’s word for it, since neither the US nor the Karzai government has produced anything amounting to evidence against any of them.

US: Afghans Should Sign Troop Deal in ‘Weeks, Not Months’

After 'Deadline' Missed the US Keeps Pressing Karzai

by Jason Ditz, January 06, 2014
The December 31 “ultimatum” set by the US for the Karzai government to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) has come and gone, and with no deal in place the US keeps pressing for quick action.
Now, US officials say they want Karzai to sign the deal in “weeks, not months.” They continue to threaten military withdrawal if the BSA is not signed, though there is no specific deadline anymore since the December one was ignored.
The BSA would government US occupation of Afghanistan “through 2024 and beyond.” Karzai has insisted he won’t sign until after the April election, ending his term in office.
The US has insisted they won’t wait that long, but the Pentagon has also insisted they haven’t really considered ending the occupation, so it seems that they will keep railing against the situation until April, but won’t get what they want.


Graft probe prosecutor claims he was ‘threatened’ by Turkish gov’t


‘Two people were sent to me by Erdoğan,’ Zekeriya Öz says. AA photo 
‘Two people were sent to me by Erdoğan,’ Zekeriya Öz says. AA photo
A prosecutor who has supervised a recent corruption probe claimed Jan. 8 he was “threatened” by two people sent by Prime MinisterRecep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop the investigation.

“Two people who were former members of the high judiciary were sent to me by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan,” Zekeriya Öz, who was removed from his post as deputy Istanbul chief prosecutor following a graft investigation that included the sons of three former Cabinet members, told reporters Jan. 8.

“Those two people I met at a hotel in Bursa told me that the prime minister was angry with me, I should write a letter of apology and stop the probe immediately, or I would be harmed.”

PM denies claims as 'slander'

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is currently on a visit to Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, denied the claims in a written statement as “slander.”

“The statements made by Zekeriya Öz are lies and slander. It is out of the question that I sent him members of the high judiciary,” the statement said.

Öz, who was assigned by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) as the deputy chief prosecutor of Istanbul’s Bakırköy district, said he told the men that “the worst thing that can happen to me is death and I would welcome it since I would be a martyr.”

The former powerful prosecutor, who was also the lead prosecutor at the beginning of the Ergenekon coup plot probe, also denied recent media reports that a visit he made to Dubai in November was paid for by a construction company.

“I paid for the hotel and plane tickets myself, and the reports that I have travelled abroad 22 times are lies, those who cannot prove these accusations should resign,” he said in a closed reference to Prime Minister Erdoğan, who questioned the prosecutor’s reported trips abroad in recent remarks.

Turkish government moves for more control on judiciary


Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has moved to block an initiative of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to examine certain prosecutors and the Istanbul police chief. AA photo 
Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ has moved to block an initiative of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) to examine certain prosecutors and the Istanbul police chief. AA photo
The ongoing battle between the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Hizmet movement of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen is continuing within the judicial theater as the government has submitted a draft law to increase its control over justice at the cost of EU ire.

The move to reshape the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) came only three years after the AKP government reformed the body in line with the EU’s advice.

Signed by AKP lawmakers, the draft law proposes amendments to the structure of the 22-member HSYK, the key judicial body responsible for appointments and other personnel-related issues in the judiciary. It restructures three chambers of the HSYK, while making the justice minister the sole authority able to appoint a new board and set the council’s agenda.

Likewise, it also resets criteria for being selected as a member of the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Justice Academy as part of a government attempt to wrest full control over key judicial bodies. The government-initiated draft law will be discussed at a parliamentary subcommission tomorrow before being sent to the General Assembly.

Responding to criticisms that the draft law violated the constitutional principle of judicial independence, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ argued the bill was in line with Article 159 of the Constitution that underlines the structure and duties of the HSYK.

“We can work together with the opposition to make the HSYK function better, including an option for the Parliament to select its members,” he told reporters yesterday.

The government moved to increase control over the HSYK after the board said it found a governmental decree changing law enforcement procedures unconstitutional. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan harshly slammed the council, saying the statement amounted to intervention in an ongoing case, as the decree had already been taken to the Council of State. The suspension of the execution of the decree by the Council of State further fueled the government’s anger.

But the government’s draft drew strong reactions from opposition parties, EU officials and judicial bodies, which all criticized the move as a step to curb judicial independence.

EU expresses concerns

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, said the proposals to curb the HSYK’s powers represented a serious setback for the independence of the judiciary in Turkey via Twitter.

But the EU’s reaction was not limited to the move against the HSYK’s independence, as the EU’s executive also expressed concern yesterday about developments in Turkey, where the government is embroiled in a massive graft scandal that has triggered a purge of the police. Asked to respond to events in Turkey, a spokesman for the European Commission said “recent developments” in the country were “a cause of concern.”

“We urge Turkey, as a candidate country committed to the political criteria of accession, including the application of the rule of law, to take all the necessary measures to ensure that allegations of wrongdoing are addressed without discrimination or preference in a transparent and impartial manner,” said a commission statement. “Any action which undermines the effectiveness of investigations into these allegations should be avoided.”

Opposition is furious against the move

The AKP aspires to turn the state into “a party state,” and the judiciary into a “party judiciary,” Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Deputy Parliamentary Group Chair Oktay Vural said, maintaining that the bill introduced by the AKP lawmakers was a de facto “coup attempt.”

Vural, speaking at a press conference in Parliament yesterday, inquired about the reason for drafting such a bill. “Why was such an arrangement not made yesterday, but today? Because there are operations and investigations being conducted about bribery and corruption. The police and the judiciary are being fettered. This is a de facto coup attempt; it is obvious that it is against the Constitution,” Vural said.

According to the MHP lawmaker, the government has floated the debate on a “parallel state” in order to cover up bribery and corruption. Yet, the government itself is actually establishing a new parallel state within state which will prevent the prosecution of illegal affairs and actions.

Haluk Koç, deputy leader and the spokesperson of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said such moves are only in dictatorships and underlined they will not allow the AKP to turn this country into a undemocratic place. “They are trying to violate the constitution through legal amendments. This is purely a violation of the constitution. We will take this law to the Constitutional Court, if passed,” he stressed at a press conference yesterday.

Fight over graft probe deepens as 16 

police chiefs dismissed overnight


Ankara Police Chief Kadir Ay was relocated only a day after 350 officer under his command were dismissed.
Ankara Police Chief Kadir Ay was relocated only a day after 350 officer under his command were dismissed.
The massive purge of Turkey’s police department has reached the highest echelons as police chiefs of 15 provinces across Turkey, including Ankara and İzmir, and the deputy head of the national police department were dismissed overnight by the Interior Ministry.

The dismissal of the Ankara police chief, Kadir Ay, comes only a day after 350 officers working in key operational units were relocated in one sweep.

The head of the İzmir forces, Ali Bilkay, has also been relocated. Fresh graft raids were conducted in İzmir on Jan. 7 as part of fraud investigations launched by the city’s prosecutor, leading to the detention of senior officials at the harbor operated by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD).

Along with the dismissal of former Istanbul police chief Hüseyin Çapkın a few days after the graft probe raids started on Dec. 17, the latest wave of purges means that the police chiefs of Turkey’s three biggest cities have now been replaced.

Police chiefs have also been removed in the provinces of Adana, Antalya, Bursa, Diyarbakır, Erzurum, Gaziantep, Hatay, Kocaeli, Malatya, Mersin, Sakarya, Samsun, and Trabzon. All are among the most populous and economically more significant provinces of the country. Police Department Deputy Head Muammer Buçak has also been replaced.

The latest raids and subsequent police purges come as the government is engulfed in a vast scandal, with the sons of two ex-ministers and the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank still being held in custody.

Graft probe spills over with harbor raid 

amid new police purge

İZMİR - Doğan News Agency

High-ranking managers and officials from the İzmir Port have been detained as part of a graft operation.  AA Photo
High-ranking managers and officials from the İzmir Port have been detained as part of a graft operation. AA Photo
Turkey’s government has lowered the boom on its biggest response yet to the corruption probe that has reached the upper echelons of the administration, relocating 600 police officers in a massive purge.

Some 350 officers were removed from their posts at the AnkaraPolice Department, while 250 others were brought in from elsewhere to the branch.

Many see the probes and counter-purges as part of a covert battle between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the followers of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) launched an investigation yesterday into newly appointed Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok, who replaced Hüseyin Çapkın after the latter was reassigned as part of the probe.

Elsewhere, three senior İzmir officers were dismissed after launching fraud investigations into transactions at commercial harbors operated by the Turkish State Railways (TCDD) in which 25 people were detained.

The suspects, including eight TCDD officials, were taken into custody on charges of bribery, corruption, conspiring to rig tenders and leaking information about tenders as part of a fraud investigation launched by the İzmir Public Prosecutor.

They included senior officials such as the director of the İzmir port and his two deputies, while reports also claimed that an arrest warrant had been issued for the brother-in-law of former Transport and Urban Planning Minister Binali Yıldırım, who works in the company of a CEO taken into custody during the raids.

The tit-for-tat response came a few hours after the raids as a deputy police chief and two department chiefs at the İzmir Police Department, who were in charge of the harbor investigations, were dismissed.

Deputy Police Chief Mehmet Ali Şefik, the deputy chief of the organized crime unit, Taner Aydın, and chief of narcotics department, Behzat Tuzcu, were all dismissed upon a decision that came in the afternoon hours of Jan. 7.

As the deputy chief of Izmir’s police force, Şevik was also in charge of the financial crimes unit.

'Timing is meaningful,' implicated ex-minister says

Meanwhile, Yıldırım said he had no idea about the planned detention of his brother-in-law in his first remarks following the raids.

Yıldırım was replaced in the big recent Cabinet reshuffle after he announced that he would run as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) İzmir mayoral candidate in the upcoming local elections, along with four other ministers implicated in the corruption scandal.

The former minister, who was visiting members of chambers of trade as part of his campaign for İzmir Mayoralty, claimed that the investigation had been launched three years ago, although most reports in the Turkish media said it started a year ago with surveillance operations that lasted six months.

“According to the information that we have been able gather, the operation was launched following a complaint filed at the beginning of 2011 on the cargo handling workers. If raids are carried out three years after an investigation was launched, the timing is meaningful,” Yıldırım said, suggesting that it aimed to affect his own mayoralty bid.

“At the very least, this is aimed at sabotaging the election process and creating misperceptions. But we are clean in everything we have done,” he added.

The new raids and ensuing police purges come as the government is engulfed in a vast scandal with the sons of two ex-ministers and the chief executive of state-owned Halkbank still being held in custody.

The fighting via probes and dismissals highlights the deepening conflict between the AKP and the Gülen movement, the followers of which are said to hold key positions inside the secret services, the police and the judiciary, and who are believed to be behind the investigation.

They also come after a letter sent by Gülen to Turkish President Abdullah Gül was made public. In the letter, the influential scholar specifically deplored the dismissal of “public workers who had no ties to the recent corruption.” He also denied claims that he had influenced state activities or given directives to civil servants, in an apparent response to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s claims about the existence of a “parallel state.”

Turkish PM has lost his mental health: 

Furious MHP leader


The MHP head slammed Erdoğan for constantly repeating the same scenario about a plot against his government by international and national powers for the last three weeks.  CİHAN photo
The MHP head slammed Erdoğan for constantly repeating the same scenario about a plot against his government by international and national powers for the last three weeks. CİHAN photo
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has lost his mental health as he is possessed by virtual fear and artificial threats imposed by gangs and illegal organizations that have seized the state, according to opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, who added that the government was seeking to distract public attention from the corruption probe.

“If we listen to the prime minister, we see a plot, a trap and a dirty alliance of those who are jealous with the success of the AKP government. Those who are offended at [Turkey’s plans to develop] high-speed trains, at Istanbul’s third airport and bridge [over the Bosphorus], at its economic boom and at its peace process have targeted the AKP,” Bahçeli said in his address to his parliamentary group on Tuesday.

The MHP head slammed Erdoğan for constantly repeating the same scenario about a plot against his government by international and national powers for the last three weeks.

“In short, corruption is a lie and bribery is just a story. The allegations are baseless and the claims are fabricated. But for us, Erdoğan is in an irrational fear, stuck to lies, and has lost his mental health,” Bahçeli said.

The prime minister is “trying to deceive the people” and distract their attention away from the corruption and graft claims, he added, particularly lashing out at Erdoğan over his efforts to stop the investigation and prosecution of corruption claims, which extend to senior government members. He stressed that such claims could only be seen “in clans or in undemocratic Middle Eastern countries.”

“Prime Minister Erdoğan has abused his authority. Tolerant and gentle toward bribers, Erdoğan is, however, merciless toward the police and judiciary. It can be understood that these corruption allegations extend to him and his own family. That’s the concern of the prime minister,” Bahçeli said.

The MHP leader also criticized Erdoğan for claiming that plotters were targeting him through his son.

“There would be no reason to be concerned if the prime minister had nothing to hide or didn’t have any unlawful or illegitimate relations. However, this mentality has been terrorizing the country since Dec. 17,” he stated.

Hundreds of officers relocated after midnight sweep at Ankara Police Department


The massive purge at the police extended to the Ankara Police Department on Jan. 6 as 600 officers were relocated overnight. Hürriyet photo
The massive purge at the police extended to the Ankara Police Department on Jan. 6 as 600 officers were relocated overnight. Hürriyet photo
Some 600 police officers are being relocated following a midnight purge of 350 officers at the AnkaraPolice Department in the single biggest wave of a government response to an onging graft probe launched against it, Doğan news agency reported.

The 350 were reportedly working in units specializing in terrorism, intelligence, organized crimes, financial crimes, cybercrimes and smuggling. Around 80 of those dismissed were police chiefs while the others were officers working at lower ranks, it added. The sweep also included a deputy head of Ankara’s police forces.

Some 250 officers have reportedly replaced the relocated officers at the Ankara Police Department.

The sons of two ex-ministers and the general manager of state-owned bank Halkbank remain in custody following the corruption probe, which began Dec. 17, 2013.

In a tit-for-tat response, police officers, including Istanbul Police Chief Hüseyin Çapkın, were sacked or moved to different position on Dec. 22, 2013.

The probe highlighted the deepening conflict between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the movement of Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen, whose followers are said to hold key positions inside the secret services, police and judiciary and are believed to be behind the investigation.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and several government officials have repeatedly accused “a parallel state” within the police department and especially the judiciary of plotting the probe.

In a recent letter sent to President Abdullah Gül, Gülen deplored the dismissal of “public workers who had no ties to the recent corruption” while he denied claims that he had influenced state activities or given directives to civil servants in an apparent response to Erdoğan’s claims.

Judges board launches investigation into freshly appointed Istanbul police chief


Selami Altınok faces a HSYK investigation a few weeks after surprisingly being appionted as the new head of Istanbul's police force.  DHA photo
Selami Altınok faces a HSYK investigation a few weeks after surprisingly being appionted as the new head of Istanbul's police force. DHA photo
The Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) launched an investigation into freshly appointed Istanbul Police Chief Selami Altınok on Jan. 7 amid controversy over the government’s attempts to purge the police in response to a graft probe.

Altınok took over from Hüseyin Çapkın on Dec. 19, 2013, two days after the sons of three then-ministers were taken into custody in police raids. A civil servant and former governor of the Central Anatolian province of Aksaray, Altınok's appointment surprised many as he does not have a police background.

“I do not have further information. There is something auspicious in every event,” Altınok said in his first remarks following the HSYK’s decision. The judges and prosecutors board is entitled to open investigations into high-level police chiefs according to a law adopted in 2005. The decision to investigate Altınok was the first since the adoption of the law.

The board also decided to open investigations into a number of prosecutors affiliated with the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office, including Chief Public Prosecutor Turan Çolakkadı, Deputy Chief Zekeriya Öz, who conducted the Ergenekon probe, and Muammer Akkaş, the prosecutor of a second graft probe who was controversially removed from the case last month.

After his removal, Akkaş blasted his office, denouncing “pressures” against the judiciary.

Investigations launched by the board seek to clarify if prosecutors committed any infraction and 
can result in disciplinary sanctions, including dismissal.

MİT warned PM about relationship between Zarrab, ministers

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Reza Zerrab is being escorted by police. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
6 January 2014 /ANKARA, TODAY'S ZAMAN
The National Intelligence Organization (MİT) sent a report to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in early 2013 warning him about suspicious relationships between some Turkish ministers and Reza Zarrab, an Iranian businessman living in Turkey who is currently under arrest as part of a major investigation into alleged corruption and bribery, according to a news portal.

T24 reported on Monday that an MİT agent had sent the report to the prime minister in April of last year, eight months before the launch of an operation as part of the corruption investigation that resulted in the arrests of Zarrab and the sons of two ministers as well as several bureaucrats and businesspeople. According to the news report, the MİT agent, the name of whom the news portal did not reveal, told the prime minister that Zarrab had “close relations” with then-Ministers Muammer Güler and Zafer Çağlayan. Both ministers resigned in late December, after their sons were arrested as part of the corruption investigation. Claims have emerged that the former ministers were involved in corruption and bribery.

The MİT report also stated that Zarrab met several times with Güler and Çağlayan to ask them for help in obtaining Turkish citizenship for his brother, Mohammed Zarrab. Zarrab's brother, as well as his father and sister-in-law, were granted Turkish citizenship in an unusually short period of time.

Turkish citizenship can be acquired after an applicant has lived in Turkey for at least five years. Applicants can also acquire Turkish citizenship in exceptional circumstances if they are nominated by the Interior Ministry and it is decreed by the Cabinet.

In exchange for their help, the businessman reportedly took the two former ministers on the umrah, a visit to the Kaaba in Mecca that is similar to the hajj pilgrimage, and paid their expenses while there. Additionally, Zarrab agreed to employ Güler's son, Barış Güler, as an advisor and to pay him a monthly salary of $15,000, according to the same report.

Additionally, the MİT agent warned in his report to the prime minister that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) could have trouble if the relationships between Zarrab and the two ministers were revealed. No detail was available as to whether Prime Minister Erdoğan had responded to the report.
On Dec. 17, İstanbul and Ankara police staged dawn raids and detained more than 50 people in the corruption investigation. The sons of Güler and Çağlayan, as well as more than 20 other suspects, have since been arrested. The suspects stand accused of rigging state tenders, accepting and facilitating bribes for major urbanization projects, obtaining construction permits for protected areas in exchange for money, helping foreigners obtain Turkish citizenship with falsified documents and involvement in export fraud, forgery and gold smuggling.


Turkish PM Erdogan hit by allegations of son’s meeting with ‘0Al Qaeda financier’

January 6, 2014 Updated: January 7, 2014 14:32:00

ISTANBUL // An alleged meeting between the son of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and a Saudi businessman accused by the United States of being an Al Qaeda financier has intensified the scent of scandal and corruption enveloping the Turkish government.
According to findings by investigators leaked to Turkish media, Yasin Al Qadi is suspected of involvement in a scandal over the sale of land in an upmarket neighbourhood in Istanbul. His alleged meeting last year with Bilal Erdogan could implicate the prime minister’s family in the affair.
The allegations could not come at a worse time for Mr Erdogan, whose government is reeling from a series of corruption allegations.
Ugur Bayraktutan, a member of parliament for the opposition Republican People’s Party, last week launched an official query in parliament, asking Mr Erdogan whether his son Bilal had met with Yasin Al Qadi, 58, a Saudi national accused by the US of being an Al Qaeda supporter.
Under parliamentary rules, Mr Erdogan is obliged to answer the question within a month.
The accusations come after prosecutors last month ordered the arrests of dozens of people, including the sons of two of Mr Erdogan’s former ministers, suspected of being involved in a separate corruption scandal.
According to reports by Radikal, Milliyet and other Turkish newspapers, Mr Al Qadi was on a list of names due to be arrested in a second wave of arrests as part of investigations into several corruption cases. The reports said the arrests were cancelled after the prosecutor, Muammer Akkas, was taken off the investigations.
Bilal was included in a group of people that were to be questioned as “suspects”, said reports, quoting sources in the judiciary.
Several Turkish media have carried pictures said to show Mr Al Qadi talking with Bilal in the lobby of an Istanbul hotel in April. According to the Taraf newspaper, prosecutors suspect the Saudi businessman was involved in talks about the sale of a publicly-owned piece of land in the upscale Istanbul district of Etiler to private investors for US$460 million (Dh1.69 billion), less than half its market value.
Umut Oran, another CHP politician, in his own parliamentary query, asked Mr Erdogan whether Bilal acted as a mediator in efforts to sell the land to Mr Al Qadi and others. Istanbul’s mayor Kadir Topbas has denied that the area had been sold.
Last week Taraf claimed that Mr Al Qadi also entered Turkey illegally four times before being taken off the UN sanctions list in 2012, with the blessing of the Turkish government. He remains on a US terrorism blacklist.
Mr Bayraktutan, the MP, said Mr Al Qadi was protected by the prime minister’s security detail during those visits.
“Al Qadi was here illegally, there are pictures proving it,” Mr Bayraktutan told The National.
There has been no reaction by Mr Al Qadi to the allegations that he was involved in the land deal or that he entered Turkey illegally.
A property company in Istanbul named in news reports as being connected to Mr Al Qadi did not respond to requests for comment.
Mr Erdogan said foes of the government were trying to draw him into the corruption scandal by targeting members of his family. Bilal is one of two sons of the prime minister, who also has two daughters.
“They are aiming at my son, but it’s me they want to get,” the prime minister said on a recent visit to Pakistan.
But Ilter Turan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, said as yet there was “no satisfactory explanation of the relationship” between Bilal and Mr Al Qadi.
Mr Al Qadi is accused by US authorities of financing Al Qaeda, a charge he has in the past denied. His charitable Muwafaq foundation was identified by the US Treasury department as an Al Qaeda front and placed on a terror list in October 2001. The United Nations removed Mr Al Qadi from a separate list of people under sanctions because of Al Qaeda connections in October 2012.
The businessman has had strong commercial and political connections in Turkey for years. As early as 2006, Mr Erdogan publicly defended Mr Al Qadi against terrorism charges, telling a television interviewer that the businessman was “a charitable person who loves Turkey”.
A report by Forbes in 2008 alleged that Mr Al Qadi used his friendship with Mr Erdogan to avoid UN sanctions.