AFP: The US military said on Tuesday it will release nine Iranians detained in Iraq in recent months on suspicion of aiding the anti-American insurgency and helping Shiite militias. BAGHDAD (AFP) The US military said on Tuesday it will release nine Iranians detained in Iraq in recent months on suspicion of aiding the anti-American insurgency and helping Shiite militias.
US military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters that the nine would be released in the coming days as they no longer posed a threat to security in Iraq.
“It is our intention to release nine Iranians currently held captive in the near future,” Smith said. “These individuals are assessed to have no continuing value, nor do they pose a further threat to Iraqi security.”
US forces detained five Iranians in January in a raid in a building in the Kurdish city of Arbil, accusing them of aiding the deadly insurgency in Iraq, although Tehran insisted they were diplomats.
Another Iranian was seized by US forces in northern Iraq in September, suspected of being a member of the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards which is accused by US commanders of helping Shiite militias in Iraq.
Smith could not say whether he was among the nine, specifying only that two of the detainees were seized in Arbil in January and the other seven were detained at various other times.
In the heavily-fortified Green Zone, the US military on Tuesday put on display large number of weapons seized in raids that Smith charged had mainly originated from Iran.
In the past, Smith said, it had been shown that the weapons were coming across the border in operations directed by the Quds Force.
“However,” he added, “two of the most recent large cache finds do not appear to contain components that arrived after Iran’s commitment to Iraq to stop arming, funding and training terrorists.
“We hope to confirm in the coming weeks and months that Iran has been honouring its pledge through further verification that the flow of munitions has indeed stopped.”
Smith added that trilateral talks involving representatives of Iraq, Iran and the United States would be held shortly to discuss further ways to stabilise Iraq.
He did not elaborate on when the talks, the next in a series of ongoing meetings involving the three parties, would be held.
His announcements came as Iran opened two consulates in Arbil and Sulaimaniyah in a bid to improve ties with the Kurdish region, taking to four the number of consulates in Iraq, in addition to an embassy in Baghdad.
The Arbil mission was opened in a building that was targeted in the US raid in January and has been closed since then.
At the opening ceremony, Tehran’s ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, told reporters that the continued detention of the five was an “illegal act against Iraqi sovereignty.
“They are still in custody. We hope they would be released.”
Turning to ties between northern Iraq and Iran, Qomi said: “Through these two consulates, Iran can play a bigger role in the economy of Kurdistan.”
He said trade between Tehran and Baghdad was worth two billion dollars a year, while nearly a million Iraqis visited Iran annually and half a million Iranians visit Iraq, mostly pilgrims to Shiite holy sites and traders.
Qomi also urged neighbouring Arab countries to follow Tehran’s example in opening consulates in the war-ravaged country.
Nechirvan Barzani, the prime minister of Iraq’s northern Kurdish administration, vowed to support Tehran in its efforts to boost relations between the two countries.
“This is a significant step and from our side we will take all efforts for the successful working of the consulates,” he said.
Iran had closed its border with the region for two weeks in late September in protest at the detention of Mahmoud Farhadi, who the Americans said was a Quds officer.
But both Iran and the regional Kurdish government say Farhadi is a businessman who was a member of a commercial delegation invited to visit Sulaimaniyah.
Tehran reopened the frontier after Iran said it would open two consulates in Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, while it was also agreed that Tehran would allow Iraq to open two consulates in the Iranian cities of Kermanshah and Orumiyeh.
Shiite Iran already has two consulates in the Iraqi Shiite cities of Karbala and Basra.