New York Times: An Iranian diplomat was abducted Sunday evening when his convoy was stopped by men with official Defense Ministry identification in the Karrada neighborhood here, senior Iraqi and American officials said Monday. The New York Times
By JAMES GLANZ
Published: February 6, 2007
BAGHDAD, Tuesday, Feb. 6 An Iranian diplomat was abducted Sunday evening when his convoy was stopped by men with official Defense Ministry identification in the Karrada neighborhood here, senior Iraqi and American officials said Monday.
Iraqi security forces captured several suspects after pursuing their vehicles through the streets of Baghdad, two of the Iraqi officials said.
The vehicle with the diplomat was not caught, though.
Bombings killed at least 29 people and wounded 90 more in Baghdad as preparations for the latest attempt to secure the city were under way. Those preparations are part of the American-led troop buildup that some American and Iraqi officials view as a last-ditch effort to keep violence in the capital from degenerating into an all-out sectarian war between Shiite and Sunni Arabs.
The abduction of the Iranian took place in a largely Shiite section of the city not far from where a truck bomb killed at least 135 people on Saturday and where residents have complained that the slow pace of the increase in American troops has left them open to attacks.
The men captured in the chase by Iraqi forces on Sunday were Iraqis with Defense Ministry identification, Iraqi and American officials said, raising serious questions about whether government forces themselves were involved in the abduction.
A senior Iraqi official said that the credentials initially appeared to be genuine but that investigators later received conflicting information about whether the men had been dismissed from the ministry but somehow kept their identification.
When asked about indications that an Iranian diplomat had been abducted in Baghdad, Mohammad alHosseini, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman in Tehran, said: We need to investigate, because we have been receiving a lot of news like that these days. I cannot confirm it yet.
If the kidnappers credentials turn out to be genuine, there will be enormous pressure on the Iraqi government to recover the diplomat and capture all of those involved. The Iraqi government has been critical of recent raids by American forces in which Iranians working with diplomatic offices in Iraq have been detained.
The Americans have accused some of those Iranians of supporting illicit armed groups in Iraq, but the raids have been embarrassing to the Iraqi government, which has been encouraging foreign diplomatic missions in particular Irans to increase their presence here. Iraqi officials have distanced themselves from the American raids, while Iran has simply termed those operations kidnappings.
In fact, the American position on those raids was weakened after American forces in Baghdad first announced that they would formally present evidence on illicit Iranian activity in Iraq, then pulled back amid indications that officials in Washington were not persuaded that the case was strong enough.
Tensions between the United States and Iran have recently soared over the issues of Irans nuclear program and statements by its ambassador to Iraq that his country planned to increase its economic and military ties with Iraq substantially.
The Iranian Embassy has not publicly acknowledged the kidnapping. But in an indication of how high tensions between Iran and the United States have risen over the American raids, the embassy privately voiced suspicions that the kidnapping of its diplomat might have been done at the behest of American forces in Baghdad, an Iraqi official said.
American Embassy and military spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment that were made after midnight on Monday in Baghdad.
Beyond the unsubstantiated suspicions about the involvement of the United States in the kidnapping, there were no clear indications of whether the Iranian diplomat might have been taken by insurgents seeking to cast doubt on the stability of Iraqs government, or simply for ransom.
But in videos, Sunni insurgents claimed responsibility for a series of attacks on Arab embassies in Baghdad in 2005, when the top diplomats from Egypt and Algeria were kidnapped and killed.
Also on Monday, the United States military reported that two American soldiers had been killed the day before.
One soldier from Task Force Lightning was shot by insurgents during combat in Diyala Province. Another soldier, assigned to the 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), was killed by a roadside bomb during a patrol north of Baghdad.
A British soldier was killed Monday by a roadside bomb in Basra, the 100th British military combat death in Iraq, according to British news reports.
Another 31 members of the British military have died in Iraq from accidents or other causes.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Iraqi employees of The New York Times contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.