US arrest of soldiers infuriates Turkey
Explosives find suggests Ankara wants to destabilize Kurdish Iraq
Michael Howard in Sulaimaniya and Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
July 8, 2003
The Turkish army chief of staff, General Hilmi Ozkok, frustrated by the waning
Turkish influence in northern Iraq, vented his fury at the US yesterday,
declaring a "crisis of confidence" between the two countries.
His outburst in Ankara came after 11 Turkish commandos were arrested by US
soldiers during a weekend raid.
Newspaper headlines in Turkey condemned the US forces as "Rambos" and "ugly
Gen Ozkok added: "We attach great importance to Turkish-American diplomatic and
armed forces' relations."
The commandos were returned to Turkey yesterday after a half-hour telephone
conversation between the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and
Vice-President Dick Cheney.
A Kurdish intelligence official claimed that the Turkish soldiers had been
linked to a plot to assassinate the newly elected governor of Kirkuk to
destabilise the region so that Turkish forces would be needed to restore order.
American soldiers seized 15kg of explosives, sniper rifles, grenades and maps of
Kirkuk, with circles drawn around positions near the governor's building when
they raided Turkish offices in Sulaimaniya.
The episode has stirred old Washington resentment at Turkey's refusal to support
the war and roused new concern about its designs on Kurdish- dominated northern
Although Turkey has had troops in northern Iraq since the 1990s to pursue
Turkish Kurdish separatists, its anti-war stand has denied it a place in
America's calculations for post-war Iraq. This irks the Turkish army, which
would like to create a 12-mile buffer zone inside Iraq and have free rein to
operate against Turkish Kurdish separatists in the area.
Since the war Turkish forces have infiltrated northern Iraq on three previous
"The Turks are showing that they have an interest up there, and one way or
another they are going to maintain a watch," said Judith Yaphe, an Iraq expert
at the National Defence University in Washington DC.
Postwar Kirkuk has been a relative success story. The governor, Abdulrahman
Mustafa, a Kurd, was elected head of a multi-ethnic governing council two months
"Ankara has repeatedly sought to exploit what it calls abuse of Turkomens by
Arabs and Kurds in the city," the Kurdish official said.
Feridun Abdul Qadir, the interior minister in the Kurdish regional government in
Sulaimaniya, said: "The Kurds and Turkomens of Kirkuk enjoy good relations. They
don't need outside forces coming in and stirring things up."
In April US soldiers in Kirkuk intercepted a Turkish special forces unit trying
to smuggle arms into the city.
Colonel William Mayville, the commander of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which
controls Kirkuk, said he had been working with local communities to ease
Paul Bremer, the civilian administrator in Iraq, said last week that he was
concerned about external interference in Iraqi affairs.