A BBC poll between November 2004 and January 2005 registered 82% of Turks against US President George Bush's policies - the highest figure in the world.

At the same time, a Turkish paper accused Americans of being genetically predisposed towards killing people, while a leading businessman and former mayor of Izmir likened the US to Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the Wall Street Journal's Robert Pollock described the atmosphere in Ankara as "poisonous" and likened public debate over US policy to the propaganda produced by Nazi chief Joseph Goebbels.

Yet for all this sound and fury, Turkey and the US remain in many ways the closest of allies, with interests closely intertwined in defence, trade and political matters.

Not very deep

"I've a feeling that this anti-Americanism doesn't run very deep," says Professor Iltar Turan of Istanbul's Bilgi University international relations department.

"Yet there have been recently a number of incidents and disagreements, particularly over Iraq, and this has created a sense of frustration and unhappiness here."

"It is important to distinguish between government attitudes and public opinions. Certainly, there are signs of mounting anti-American feeling among the public, while the government's attitude is much different"

Columnist Sami Kohen

At the same time, leading columnist Sami Kohen says: "It is important to distinguish between government attitudes and public opinions.

"Certainly, there are signs of mounting anti-American feeling among the public, while the government's attitude is much different."

Many see the deterioration in relations as first breaking surface with the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The US requested the use of Turkish territory to launch a northern offensive against Iraq but the Turkish parliament rejected it.

Demonstrators also turned out to protest at that time outside the Incirlik airbase in southeastern Turkey, which is used by the US air force.

Meanwhile, others demonstrated against US military equipment when it was landed at Turkish ports.

Anti-Bush

Last summer's Nato conference in Istanbul also saw riots against both the organisation and particularly against Bush.

"[The US] says that it's anti-Americanism," says Pinar Arslan, who protested at Bush's Nato summit visit. "But it's not. It's nothing against the Americans, it's against Bush and what he has done."

It is a view confirmed by many US citizens resident in Turkey.

"In the 17 years I've lived here, only once has anyone had a go at me because I'm an American. Most Turks have no difficulty separating American people from the American government and its actions"

Istanbul resident Ken Dakin

"In the 17 years I've lived here, only once has anyone had a go at me because I'm an American," says long-time Istanbul resident Ken Dakin. "Most Turks have no difficulty separating American people from the American government and its actions."

Meanwhile though, behind many of the suspicions on both sides lie many real concerns.

Turkey's current best-selling novel, Metal Storm, tells the story of how a clash between Turkish and US troops in Northern Iraq leads to the US bombing of Istanbul - and finally to Turkish nuclear bombs in Washington.

Plausible

Yet the incident from which the book starts is not entirely imaginary.

More than a year ago, US troops arrested a group of Turkish soldiers in Northern Iraq, accusing them of assisting Turkmen groups. The incident infuriated many in Turkey, who accuse the US of favouring Northern Iraq's Kurds over the Turkmen, seen by many here as ethnic brethren.

At the same time, many Turks point to US inaction over the presence in Northern Iraq of guerrillas from the PKK-Kongra-Gel, a group of ethnic Kurds from Turkey who are fighting for independence.

"Any anti-Americanism among mainstream Turks has been provoked by Bush over Iraq, Northern Iraq, the Kurdish issue and so on," says Kohen.

"The expectations of Turkey have not been met on these issues and this has been reflected in a hostile attitude towards the US administration."

Wider shift

Many also point towards a wider shift in Turkey's alignment with the US since the end of the Cold War and the recent beginnings of Turkey's march towards European Union accession.

The US arrested Turkish troops in
Iraq for assisting Turkmen groups

"Turkey is having to change its domestic understanding of many issues, including the status of minorities and the necessity of improving relations with neighbours who have often been traditional enemies," continues Turan.

"When all these things come together, making the adjustment leads to many apprehensions. People experience a low level of confidence and stronger feelings against the outsiders."

Turkey is currently making many significant domestic reforms, often sparking concerns about the future. But it is also shifting its role on the global stage.

"Gone are the days of the Cold War," says Kohen. "When Turkish policy was more indexed to that of Nato and thus the US. Now there are areas where Turkey is acting much more independently and in its own interests.

Expectations need readjusting

"The transatlantic rift is quite obvious these days, and if the EU continues to think differently from the US, Turkey feels free to adopt whatever policy is in its best interests."

This has meant a Turkish foreign policy aimed at mending fences with neighbouring Syria and Iran - both targets for US pressure.

"There is a process of adjustment going on - on both sides... The US is still trying to treat Turkey as if the Cold War were still going on and it should do whatever the US requests. Mutual expectations need readjusting"

Professor Iltar Turan of Istanbul's Bilgi University

Turkey has also supported reform in the Arab world that comes from within, rather than being imposed from without.

"There is a process of adjustment going on - on both sides," says Turan. "The US has found that Turkey is no longer as accommodating to its requests.

"The US is still trying to treat Turkey as if the Cold War were still going on and it should do whatever the US requests. Mutual expectations need readjusting."

Softer line

Yet many important links between Ankara and Washington remain unlikely to be broken.

"Turkey is still very much interested in keeping the US defence connection," adds Turan. "Also, on the Caucasus and Central Asia, there is a very important connection. A mutuality of interest is still there."

The recent visit to Ankara by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was aimed at patching up some of the disputes, and led to a softer governmental line in Turkey.

"After the Rice talks, it was understood that both countries still have much in common," adds Kohen. "Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan also tried to minimise the differences when he later spoke to the nation."

Yet on the public level, it seems the hostility towards US policy will very likely continue.

Adds Arslan: "After Falluja, after what they have done in Iraq, how could you expect us not to be against what Bush is doing?"