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THE US, Turkey and Kurdustan

In the past Turkey was a key player in US military calculations, but now Turkey has joined the coalition of the unwilling. Turkey's military bitterly condemned the US army for seizing commandos in Iraq in an incident that showed the extent of the NATO allies' estrangement. The arrest of 11 Turkish soldiers in Sulaimaniyah on Friday also highlighted deep Turkish military concerns about its role in northern Iraq and its influence at home. Powerful Armed Forces Chief of General Staff Hilmi Ozkok said the incident was a "major crisis of trust" between Washington and Ankara. "We attach great importance to Turkish-American diplomatic and armed forces' relations," Ozkok said. "But there's something as important as these relations. That is our national honor and the honor of the Turkish armed forces." The Turkish soldiers were returned to the north on Monday. The release came after US Vice President Dick Cheney spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan by telephone on Sunday to resolve the disagreement. The NATO allies fell out over the US attack on Iraq in March, when Ankara refused to allow US troops to invade northern Iraq from Turkish bases. Outrage over the detentions spilled onto the streets in Turkey . A group of nationalists protested at the US consulate in Istanbul, and there were scuffles with the police. Diplomats said one of the detained commandos was a Turkish colonel whom US or British forces had expelled from Iraq twice previously for "suspicious activities". They said that there was evidence the soldiers were involved in a plot to kill the interim governor of Kirkuk (Reuters, 7/8/03). RH: Turkey controlled Iraq until World War I, and Turks still feel it is part of their sphere of influence. I would still like to control the oilfields near Kirkuk, and it does not want Iraqi Kurdistan to become the core of a Kurdish state.

Ronald Hilton - 7/12/03