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Release of soldiers ends latest U.S.-Turkey crisis

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Monday, July 7, 2003

ANKARA The United States has headed off a military crisis with Turkey that sparked telephone exchanges involving U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The U.S. military has released 11 Turkish special forces detained in northern Iraq, ending a two-day standoff between Ankara and Washington.

The crisis erupted on Friday during a U.S. military operation in Suleimaniya. Officials said 24 people were detained when a force of 100 U.S. soldiers raided a Turkish military office in the town, Middle East Newsline reported.

The group detained by the United States included 11 members of Turkey's special forces. The soldiers were said to have been accused of planning to assassinate the newly-elected Kurdish governor of Kirkuk, Abdul Rahman Mustafa. Turkey has been warning that the new mayor of Kirkuk was endangering the interests of ethnic Turks in the northern Iraqi city.

Officials said the soldiers were released in Baghdad on late Sunday flown by helicopter to northern Iraq on Monday.


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The U.S. military operation over the weekend sparked a crisis with Ankara. At one point in the 48-hour standoff, officials said, Turkey threatened to review military relations with the United States.

On Monday, Turkey and the United States announced that the Suleimaniya episode would be investigated. The two countries said the probe would be conducted by both military and civilian authorities.

Officials said the Turkish officers had been held in a U.S. military base in Baghdad. A Turkish government delegation was sent to Iraq over the weekend to meet with senior U.S. military commanders in Iraq.

On Sunday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan discussed the detainment of the Turkish military personnel with U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney. At the same time, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul held a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"I told Mr. Powell that if solution of the event took a long time, it would harm our relations," Gul said. "I also noted that such an event between the two allied countries was incomprehensible."

Officials said Chief of Staff Gen. Hilmi Ozkok and the Foreign Ministry were also involved in talks with the United States. They said the Erdogan government was under pressure from parliamentarians and constitutents to retaliate for the arrest and send additional troops to Iraq.

The Ankara-based Hurriyet daily reported on Sunday that the U.S. force was commanded by Col. Bill Mayville. The newspaper said Mayville, commander of the 173rd, was also in charge when the unit captured a dozen Turkish soldiers in civilian dress who followed a U.S. convoy in northern Iraq in April.

Last month, Ankara agreed to allow the United States to use Turkey as a logistics base for the military presence in Iraq. Officials said parliamentarians had pressed for the cancellation of that agreement as well as the expulsion of U.S. officers from the Incerlike air base.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to purchase crude oil from Iran in a deal that is expected to anger the United States.

Officials said Turkey will buy six million tons of crude from Teheran over a 13-month period. They said the agreement will be implemented next month.

The United States has urged its allies, including Turkey, to avoid major economic deals so as not to bolster the Islamic regime in Teheran.

The deal was concluded as Turkey has protested the price of energy in a deal with Russia. Officials said the Iranian oil is required to meet Turkey's needs.

Iran will supply light and heavy crude to Turkey, officials said. The supply will begin from August 2003 until July 2004.

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