The United States is facing mounting problems in Iraq as Turkey reacted with fury to the detention of its soldiers by US forces and security fears were heightened by the death of seven US-trained Iraqi police in a bomb attack on their graduation ceremony.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was to hold telephone talks Sunday with US Vice President Dick Cheney about the soldiers detained in northern Iraq, a Turkish government spokesman said.
The United States meanwhile blamed Saddam Hussein's loyalists for the bomb attack that killed the newly recruited police in a city west of the Iraqi capital. A British journalist was also shot dead in Baghdad in a new sign of the worsening security climate.
The Turkish prime minister held a crisis meeting of military and government officials on Saturday night in Ankara amid angry protests over the detention of the soldiers.
But there was much uncertainty over how many Turkish troops were involved and why they were detained. The United States did not immediately confirm the detentions.
Erdogan said some had been released but Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul later contradicted this.
Earlier, Erdogan said that it was unclear whether the Turkish troops had been detained by US forces or local Kurdish militias.
Turkish media reports said the soldiers were detained Friday on suspicion of planning an attack on a Kurdish governor in the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, the government spokesman, said Erdogan would talk with Cheney. "We hope that there will be no more unacceptable events like this," he declared, adding that Turkey had informed the US authorities of the "sensitivity" of the affair on Turkish public opinion.
The Hurriyet newspaper said three officers and eight non-commissioned officers were arrested on Friday in Sulaymaniyah, fiefdom of the Iraqi Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
The arrests were carried out on the grounds that "certain Turks were planning to commit an attack on the governor of Kirkuk", Hurriyet said.
About 100 US soldiers stormed the offices of Turkish special forces after cutting the telephone lines. The soldiers and six employees were taken to the nearby city of Kirkuk, the daily said.
Other news reports said Turkey was considering some form of retaliation.
The US civilian leader in Iraq, Paul Bremer, condemned the latest attack on symbols of US authority in the country after the blast in Ramadi, 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of Baghdad.
"Today they have killed innocent Iraqis with the same disdain for their own citizens they showed for 35 years," Bremer told reporters in Baghdad, referring to Saddam's Ba'ath party.
Ramadi police chief Jadam al-Awani said the young recruits were finishing their third day of training when the blast struck.
He put the number of dead at seven, with 45 people wounded. The US military put the number of wounded at 13.
"The newly trained city police recruits were attending their graduation ceremony when the explosion occurred," US Central Command said in a statement, adding that the bomb was believed to have been a remote controlled device.
Late Saturday, a British spokesman in Baghdad said a British freelance cameraman had been shot dead by unknown assailants in the Aazamiyah district in northwest Baghdad. The journalist's identity was not immediately released.
It was the first death a journalist in Iraq since US President George W. Bush declared the end of major combat on May 1. Since then, at least 26 US soldiers and six from Britain have been slain in guerrilla attacks.
Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair remain under pressure for the Iraq war.
Bush hit back at skeptics of US policy in Iraq, however.
"The Iraqi people are going to benefit mightily from the actions of the United States and a lot of other nations, because they'll be free," Bush told CNN television in an interview when asked about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
"We've been there for about 90 days, and the world says that, you know, we expect democracy to have occurred yesterday.
"It's going to take a while for a free, democratic Iraq to evolve, but it's going to happen. And history will show you, or the skeptics, that we were absolutely correct in our assessment of Mr Saddam Hussein."
Blair meanwhile accused the BBC of attacking his integrity by reporting that he and his staff embellished a report on the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the war.
Speaking to the Observer weekly on the eve of a House of Commons foreign affairs committee report on the way the government took Britain to war, Blair said: "If people make a claim and it turns out to be wrong, they should accept it is wrong."
BBC radio reported in May that a September dossier on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was "sexed up" despite reservations by intelligence chiefs.
Blair added: "I take it as about as serious an attack on my integrity as there could possibly be. The charge is untrue and I hope that they will accept that."
© 2003 AFP