Turkey, US holds talk to resolve tensions over Iraq
ANKARA: US and Turkish officials were holding a second round of closed-door talks on Thursday to resolve an unprecedented crisis over the arrest of Turkish soldiers in Kurdish-held northern Iraq, a Turkish diplomat said.
The talks, at the Turkish army headquarters in Ankara, started Wednesday with the participation of senior generals and diplomats from the two long-standing NATO allies, increasingly at odds since the US-led war in Iraq.
The sides are probing the circumstances under which 11 Turkish soldiers were arrested by US forces in the northern Iraqi town of Sulaymaniyah last week. They also want to improve coordination between the two armed forces in the region.
Several members of the US delegation were scheduled to travel to northern Iraq later Thursday to consult with US military officials in the area, after which they were expected to return to Ankara for further talks, a US diplomat said.
US forces Friday raided a building used by Turkish Special Forces in Sulaymaniyah, arresting 11 soldiers and seizing equipment and documents. The commandos were released late Sunday after intense diplomatic activity, but the row infuriated Turkey.
Washington has said the soldiers were arrested on “reports of disturbing activities that they might have been involved in,” a claim that Ankara denies.
Turkish soldiers have been based in northern Iraq since 1997 to hunt for rebels from the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which uses the mountainous area as a springboard for attacks on Turkey. Speculation, however, has been rife that the soldiers’ activities could have gone beyond their official mission.
Some reports said the commandos were plotting to assassinate the Kurdish governor of oil-rich Kirkuk, while others claimed they were providing military training to the Turkmens, a local community of Turkish origin, despite the disapproval of the United States. A large amount of explosives were allegedly found in the building used by the soldiers.
“Our soldiers are in northern Iraq to struggle against the PKK. Were they supposed to take deck-chairs along?” an unnamed senior military official was quoted as saying in the mass-circulation daily Hurriyet Thursday.
Ankara is also uneasy with the close cooperation between the US and the Iraqi Kurds, whom it suspects of plotting to break away from Baghdad — a prospect that may encourage Kurdish separatism in Turkey. —AFP