The Hood event (Turkish: Çuval Olayı) was an incident on July 4, 2003 following the 2003 invasion of Iraq where a group of Turkish military personnel operating in northern Iraq were captured, led away with hoods over their heads, and interrogated by the United States military. The soldiers were released after sixty hours, after Turkey protested to the United States.
Though neither side ever apologized, a US-Turkish commission set up to investigate the incident later issued a joint statement of regret. In addition, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wrote a letter to the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressing sorrow over the incident. The Hood event damaged diplomatic relations between Turkey and the United States and marked a low point in US-Turkish relations. While the incident received comparatively little coverage in the United States, it was a major event in Turkey, many of whose citizens saw it as a deliberate insult and nicknamed it "The Hood event".
Turkey had long viewed northern Iraq, with its large Kurdish population, as a possible national security threat. During the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey fought against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a separatist group operating mainly in southeastern Turkey. More than 30,000 people were killed and millions more were displaced. During the war, the PKK established bases in Iraq and Syria.
Turkish fears intensified after Iraqi Kurdistan gained autonomy after the 1991 Gulf War. In 1996, after a civil war had broken out there, Turkey deployed troops there to monitor a ceasefire between the two main Kurdish factions. In 1998, Turkey was able to use military threats to force neighboring Syria to expel PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. However, because of the United States, it was never able to move decisively against the Kurds in northern Iraq.
Under American protection, Iraqi Kurdistan had evolved into a successful semi-autonomous region. US pressure helped lead to a peace deal in 1999 between the major Iraqi Kurdish factions, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq. While both parties officially swore off independence, the Turkish government remained sufficiently concerned, and continued to keep troops in northern Iraq.
The Iraq War
By 2003, many Turks had come to see American foreign policy in the region as a threat. Matters were not helped by the election in 2002 of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). The election of the AKP led to an immediate increase in tensions with America, especially after the Parliament's decision not to send any Turkish troops to Iraq further eroded US-Turkish relations. 70% of the parliament members were Justice and Development Party members.
On April 24, 2003, only two weeks after the fall of Baghdad, a dozen Turkish special forces were arrested in Da Quq (a tribal village 45 minutes north of Kirkuk). According to Time, a weekly world news magazine, they were wearing civilian clothes and intended to infiltrate Iraq, lagging behind a humanitarian convoy, in order to destabilize the region to a level where Turkey could reasonably send its own peacekeeping force. However, they were intercepted by American forces, who claimed they had received prior knowledge of the group.
Colonel Bill Mayville, a U.S. brigade commander who was responsible for the region where this took place, accused the Turks of having links to the Iraqi Turkoman Front (ITF), an ethnic-Turkish militia. However, US forces made no effort to incarcerate the Turks, merely detaining them for a day, with food, security and comfort, and then escorting them back to the Iraqi-Turkish border. In the following months, Turkey continued its policy of sending small groups of soldiers into Iraqi Kurdistan, ostensibly to search for PKK bases. According to The Economist, Turkey also began covertly arming the ITF as a lever against the Iraqi Kurds.
Raid on Al Sulaymaniyah
On July 4, 2003, soldiers from the United States Army's 173d Airborne Brigade raided a safehouse in the Kurdish-held Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah. Seemingly acting on an intelligence tip that there were individuals in the safehouse plotting to assassinate the Iraqi-Kurdish governor of the province of Kirkuk. The safehouse instead housed members of the Iraq's Turkoman Front and Turkish Special Forces soldiers, including a colonel and two majors, whom they promptly arrested. Turkish sources refer to eleven soldiers commanded by a major. An unknown number of other individuals were also detained during the raid, although thirteen were later released. Apart from these, and the Turkish soldiers who were to be released after intense diplomatic activity, a British citizen named Michael Todd, who was by chance in town to seek his half-Iraqi daughter, was also put in custody and kept for a fortnight under trying conditions.
The Turkish military immediately threatened retaliatory measures, including closing Turkish airspace to US military flights, stopping the use of the southern Incirlik Air Base and sending more troops into northern Iraq. A delegation of Turkish military and diplomatic officials immediately left for Sulaymaniyah on Saturday to discuss the matter with the Americans, but according to the Turks most of the American commanders were off celebrating Independence Day. Following direct protests by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to US Vice President Dick Cheney, as well as by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Turkish soldiers were released after sixty hours in captivity.
The Hood event made a much greater impact in Turkey than in the West, which by and large agreed with the U.S. government's interpretation. While the story received comparatively little coverage outside of the Middle East, Turkish newspapers loudly condemned the raid, referring to U.S. forces with nicknames such as "Rambos" and "Ugly Americans". On the last day of the incident, Hilmi Özkök, Chief of the General Staff (Turkey), declared that the Hood event had caused a "crisis of confidence" between the US and Turkey.
The event periodically gets front coverage in the Turkish media, such as in the mass-circulation daily Hürriyet, in keeping with new declarations made to the press by the involved parties and new details divulged. Most recently, the key witness in the Ergenekon investigation, Tuncay Güney, alleged that the event was the U.S. response to the discovery of documents about the clandestine Ergenekon network's Iraq connection in the archives of Tariq Aziz.
The Hood event was the inspiration for the 2006 Turkish action film Valley of the Wolves Iraq. The film opens with the depiction of an almost identical incident, following afterwards a fictional story in which the Turkish protagonist seeks retaliation against the American Commander responsible for the incident.
Kirkuk deed records connection
Various municipal and government buildings were put on fire in Mosul and Kirkuk by Kurdish forces on 10 and 11 April 2003. A Turkish daily newspaper reported that the Turkish Special Forces soldiers, who were captured by US Army and Peshmerga, had already filmed the deed records and sent the digital records to Turkey before the historical records were terminated. The newspaper also reported that the US party was, in fact, in search of those records, but they were unable to find them. However, Turkish Ministry of Public Works declared that the ministry archives holds historical deed records from the Ottoman era and there were no operations involved.
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