More than a week has passed since the US-led arrest and release
of a Turkish special-forces team in northern Iraq. But with no US
explanation yet, Ankara's still seething.
"Have Americans forgotten how they felt when they saw their
diplomats, eyes bandaged, dragged out of the [US embassy in] Tehran
during Khomeini's revolution?" asks retired diplomat and newspaper
columnist Gunduz Aktan. "Turks today feel the same thing about US
treatment of their soldiers. Like Americans, they too will not
Relations between the United States and Turkey have been tense
since Turkey snubbed a US request in March to host troops for the
war. A top Turkish general calls the latest incident the "worst
crisis of confidence" in the two countries' more than 50-year NATO
alliance. Meanwhile, Turks confidently await a full US apology.
Are they likely to get it? Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said
talks were taking place in "an atmosphere of mutual understanding,"
but added that he found US evidence concerning the detentions "not
convincing." After talks in Ankara last Thursday, a US military team
went to investigate the incident in northern Iraq.
Washington has so far offered only vague justifications for the
July 4 arrests. According to unconfirmed Iraqi Kurdish intelligence
claims, the 11 men taken into US custody were part of a plot to
assassinate the new Kurdish governor of Kirkuk.
Absolute nonsense, say officials in Ankara. Improbable, says the
Kurdish governor himself. While far-fetched, the allegations tie in
with one of the more inflammatory aspects of Turkey's foreign
policy: its support for pro-Ankara elements among Iraq's Turkish-
speaking Turkmen minority.
Turkey long feared war in Iraq could lead to an independent
Kurdish state in the north of Iraq, with incalculable effects on its
own restive Kurdish minority. For years it supported Baghdad as a
guarantee of Iraq's territorial integrity. Faced with growing US
determination to end Saddam Hussein's regime, though, it deepened
relations with the Iraqi Turkoman Front, who were also raided by the
Ankara insists its concern for the Turkmens is no different from
its support in the 1980s of Bulgarian Turks oppressed under
Communism. Patrick Clawson of The Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, doesn't buy it. "What did Turkey do for Turkoman affected by
Saddam's Arabization campaigns around Kirkuk and Mosul in the '80s
and '90s? Zip. This is purely political."
Turkmens have a strong presence in and around Kirkuk, where they
are a majority, according to hard-liners in Ankara, who reacted
angrily to news in May that the new city governor would be a Kurd. …