WASHINGTON – U.S. and Turkish military officials were working Wednesday to streamline procedures for any future attacks against rebels in northern Iraq after top American officials in Baghdad were angered about how Sunday's Turkish bombing unfolded.
Americans have been providing Turkey with intelligence to go after the Kurdish rebels, and a "coordination center" has been set up in Ankara so Turks, Iraqis and Americans can share information, officials have said.
But State Department and Defense Department officials in Washington and Baghdad said top U.S. commanders in Iraq didn't know about the incursion plan until the first of two waves of Turkish planes were already on their way — either crossing the border or already over it.
The Turkish military did not inform the American military as quickly as had been agreed. That meant the U.S. had to rush to clear air space for the incursion, two defense officials and a State Department official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
One Washington official said the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, was angered by the development. Another said American diplomats complained to the Turks about it.
The Turks replied they were chasing rebels and there had not been time for notification earlier, according to a senior State Department official. Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment.
"They said it was hot pursuit," the U.S. official said.
"There are supposed to be coordinating mechanisms for this kind of thing with us and the Iraqis, and whatever happens in the heat of the moment, they have to tell us in a reasonable and timely manner," the official added. "We have told them it would be extremely helpful if they were more forthcoming on the notification."
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman Wednesday disputed there was a problem, saying "the right people knew at the time." He declined to elaborate.
None of the officials gave details about precisely what procedures had been agreed to. But one noted that the process is complex because it involves Turkey, Iraq, the U.S. and potentially neighboring governments such as Tehran because some rebel camps are near the Iranian border.
For the U.S. alone, the issue cuts across two military commands — the European Command that takes in Turkey and the Central Command, which is managing the war in Iraq.
"It starts in Ankara (with the Turkish military informing the U.S. military) ... then goes up the chain, then the air space is de-conflicted," or cleared, one Washington official said. "It was the Turks who on the first go-around did not give the desired lead time."
It was unclear what the Turkish procedure is for informing Iraq when it plans to move into Iraqi territory. But in Sunday's case, the American military in Baghdad ended up notifying the Iraqi government that planes had already been sent to strike targets of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK.
Iraqi officials complained bitterly.
The Iraqi parliament on Monday had condemned the bombing, calling it an "outrageous" violation of Iraq's sovereignty that killed innocent civilians.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his government thought Turkey would coordinate with it before striking the rebels inside Iraq.
Dozens of planes reportedly were involved, which would be the largest aerial attack in years against the outlawed rebel separatist group. Other reports put the number of planes at a much smaller number.
In a visit to Iraq on Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it clear the United States supports efforts to quash any rebel movement, but she said it was a "Turkish decision" to act.
The Turkish army also sent soldiers about 1.5 miles into northern Iraq in an overnight operation on Tuesday, Kurdish officials said. Kurdish officials said the Turkish troops left Iraq about 15 hours later.
Turkey recently had attacked the area with ground-based artillery and helicopters and there have been unconfirmed reports of airstrikes by warplanes.
Sunday's attack came a month after the U.S. promised to share intelligence with Turkey to help combat the PKK.
Turkey has massed tens of thousands of troops along its border with Iraq. In October, the Turkish parliament voted in favor of authorizing the government to order a cross-border operation against the group.
The United States and Iraq have, however, called on Turkey to avoid a major operation, fearing such an offensive could disrupt one of the most tranquil regions in Iraq.