The State Department says there will be a joint U.S.-Turkish investigation of the detention late last week by U.S. forces in northern Iraq of 11 Turkish special forces soldiers operating in the area. The incident drew sharp Turkish protests and spurred top level contacts, including two phone conversations between Vice President Dick Cheney and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The arrest of the Turkish soldiers last Friday produced some hard feelings and some anti-American demonstrations in Turkey. But officials here are minimizing the diplomatic damage from the affair and insist that the relationship between the two NATO allies remains strong.
U-S spokesman are saying little on the record about the circumstances of the arrests. But privately, officials are confirming press accounts that the Turks were taken into custody by U-S troops out of suspicion they were plotting against U.S.-backed Iraqi Kurdish officials in the northern region.
The Turkish soldiers were released late Sunday into the custody of Turkish authorities after intense diplomacy that included two telephone conversations between Vice President Cheney and Prime Minister Erdogan, and at least three involving Secretary of State Colin Powell and Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States had information raising "serious concern" about the activities of the Turkish forces, and that there will be a joint investigation involving military and civilian officials of both sides:
"The U.S. military was acting on reports of disturbing activities that they might have been involved in. They detained some Turkish special forces and others in Sulaimaniya on the Julu 4. We have been in close touch with our ally Turkey. We're working to resolve this matter," said Mr. Boucher. "We continue to believe that close cooperation between the United States and Turkey is critical to establish security and stability in northern Iraq. And we will work closely with the Turkish government in doing that."
The incident laid bare continuing strains in the U.S.-Turkish relationship over northern Iraq, where Turkey has long had a military presence to deter autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, who have launched attacks over the years into Turkey's mainly-Kurdish southeastern region.
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Turkey sent military observers into the area who are at least nominally required to coordinate their activities with U.S. forces. However U.S. officials said the Turkish soldiers detained Friday were not in contact with coalition forces and that their activities were suspicious.
Turkish officials have denied press accounts that the special forces troops were plotting against Iraqi Kurdish officials in the region. They also complained that the soldiers and other Turkish personnel were roughly treated by U.S. forces when they raided a Turkish compound in Sulaimaniya Friday to make the arrests.
The U.S.-Turkish joint investigation of the incident is to begin Tuesday in the northern Iraqi regional capital, Kirkuk.