News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqUS, Iran in new row over Iraq arrest

US, Iran in new row over Iraq arrest

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AFP: The US military detained an Iranian in northern Iraq on suspicion of smuggling bombs on Thursday, sparking a new row with Iran which insisted the man held was part of a business delegation. BAGHDAD (AFP) — The US military detained an Iranian in northern Iraq on suspicion of smuggling bombs on Thursday, sparking a new row with Iran which insisted the man held was part of a business delegation.

The US military said their detainee was believed to be an officer of the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, and that he was suspected of involvement in smuggling sophisticated explosives.

But Iran condemned what it called the “unwarranted” arrest of an official it said was in Iraq at the invitation of the Kurdish regional government and lodged a strong protest with the authorities in Baghdad.

The pre-dawn arrest in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah was the third such action by US troops against Iranian nationals in Iraq since January.

“Contrary to recent diplomatic initiatives, this individual has been involved in transporting improvised explosive devices and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) into Iraq,” a statement from the US military said.

EFPs, which on being detonated emit a white-hot slug of molten copper that can cut through the armoured skins of US military vehicles, have been blamed for the deaths of at least 200 US service personnel since May 2004.

“Intelligence reports also indicate he was involved in the infiltration and training of foreign terrorists in Iraq,” the statement said.

But the Iranian foreign ministry said the man was the head of “cross-border commercial transactions” from the office of the governor-general of Kermanshah province in western Iran that borders northern Iraq.

It said he was part of an official delegation invited by the Sulaimaniyah authorities.

“This kind of action by the US forces is an overt violation of international conventions and an unwarranted move which aims to destroy Iran’s ties with Iraq,” said ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

Kurdish regional government spokesman Jamal Abdullah confirmed that the man detained was part of a business delegation from Kermanshah which had been visiting Sulaimaniyah for the past two days.

Kermanshah governor Abdul Majid Ghafori warned that relations with Iraqi Kurdistan would be severely hit if the man — identified as Mr Farhadi — was not swiftly released.

“Mr Farhadi is the advisor to the governor of Kermanshah and must be released in the next 24 hours,” Ghafori told the semi-official Fars news agency.

The US military is still holding five Iranians it detained in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil in January. It says the men are suspected of involvement in arming insurgents in Iraq. Iran insists they are diplomats.

Late last month, US forces briefly detained a group of Iranians, including two diplomats, from a Baghdad hotel in what the military later said was a “regrettable incident.”

The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told Congress last week there was clear evidence that Iran was training militias and giving them weapons, including rockets and improvised explosive devices.

The arrest comes amid mounting tension between the United States and Iran, with Washington also accusing Tehran of covertly developing a nuclear weapon.

Tehran denies both charges, saying the presence of US troops is the main cause of violence in Iraq and that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

US President George W. Bush said in Washington on Thursday he was saddened by the loss of life when Blackwater guards escorting US embassy officials opened fire in a Baghdad neighbourhood on Sunday, killing 10 people and wounding 13.

“Obviously to the extent innocent life was lost, I’m saddened. Our objective is to protect innocent life. I want to find out the facts about exactly what took place there,” he told a White House news conference.

Senior US commander Lieutenant General Ray Odierno told reporters in Baghdad, meanwhile, that violence across Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since before February 2006, when the bombing of a Shiite mosque sparked savage sectarian bloodletting.

“Attacks nationwide have fallen to the lowest level since before the Golden Mosque bombing,” Odierno said, referring to the attack which destroyed the revered shrine in Samarra.

“Car bombs and suicide attacks have dropped to their lowest level in a year. Attacks in Baghdad have reached the lowest level this year and the trend continues to be down.”

Odierno added, however: “There are still way too many civilian casualties inside of Baghdad and Iraq.”

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