U.S. Releases Turkish Troops Detained in Iraq

The United States has released 11 Turkish special forces (search) detained in northern Iraq, ending a standoff between the NATO (search) allies, a Turkish news agency said.

The soldiers -- and 13 Iraqi staff and security guards who were also held -- were returned to their office in the northern city of Sulaymaniyah (search) by helicopter Monday, the Anatolia news agency said.

U.S. troops from the 173rd Airborne (search) took the Turkish forces in custody Friday in Sulaymaniyah over an alleged plot to harm Iraqi Kurdish civilian officials in the north. Turkey has denied any such plot.

The detentions outraged Turkey, deepened the Turkish public's mistrust of the United States, and strained efforts to repair relations soured over the Iraq war.

The Turkish forces were released in Baghdad on Sunday and spent the night at guesthouse there before being flown to the north.

The releases came after telephone calls, between Turkish and U.S. officials including a half-hour talk between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vice President Dick Cheney.

In their conversation, Erdogan told Cheney that Washington was "about to lose a very valuable ally," the daily Hurriyet reported.

"There is serious resentment among the Turkish people. If the detained soldiers are not released we won't be able to contain the resentment," the paper quoted Erdogan.

Turkey has long maintained troops in parts of northern Iraq to fight autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels who have launched attacks on Turkish targets from bases in northern Iraq.

Turkey also sent military observers to Iraq, following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Turkey fears that increasing Kurdish power in northern Iraq could encourage Kurdish rebels to revive fighting in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast.

Ties between the United States and Turkey have been strained since March when Turkey's parliament refused a U.S. request to station some 60,000 troops on Turkish soil for an invasion of Iraq from the north.

Turkey had been trying to repair ties when the detentions came. It eased the flow of humanitarian aid across its territory, offered to send peacekeepers to Iraq and opened its bases to the U.S.-led coalition for logistical support.

Emel Begler, a Turkish cook who was among the detained together with her 15-year-old son, told reporters the U.S. troops broke down the doors, placed sacks over their heads and handcuffed their hands behind their backs.

Begler was among a small group that was released Saturday.

"I tried to prevent them. I scuffled with the American soldiers. They hit me with the butt of their weapons," she said.