ANKARA (Reuters)–US military officers will head to northern Iraq on Thursday to investigate the weekend arrest of Turkish commandos by American troops which has soured relations between the two NATO allies.
The two-day detention of the 11 commandos sparked fury in Turkey–where the chief of the powerful armed forces spoke of a "crisis of trust.” Turkey says the commandos were part of a detachment of troops it keeps in northern Iraq to monitor Kurdish separatists.
"The US officers will travel to northern Iraq today to gather more information on what happened,” a US official in Ankara told Reuters.
The officers held talks with the Turkish military in Ankara on Wednesday in an effort to repair ties amid continued anti-American criticism in the Turkish media.
The state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul as saying the talks were going well.
But if the orders for the arrest were found to have come from Washington–Gul said: "The incident would take on very different proportions. No one has the right to commit a wrong against Turkey.”
The Hurriyet newspaper said the two countries were expected to issue a joint statement by Saturday on the incident and the future nature of Turkish military activities in northern Iraq.
Ankara considers northern Iraq part of its sphere of interest and has a few thousand troops there pursuing Turkish Kurdish guerrillas who waged a separatist campaign in southeastern Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s.
Diplomatic sources say one of the Turks detained last weekend was a colonel whom US or British forces had expelled from Iraq twice previously for "suspicious activities.” They say there is evidence the soldiers were involved in a plot to kill the interim governor of Kirkuk. Turkey has denied such claims.
Turkey’s traditionally close ties with Washington have come under strain since Ankara’s refusal to allow US troops to use its territory as a springboard during the Iraq war.