News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraq signals changes in protocols with Iran

Iraq signals changes in protocols with Iran


New York Times: Iraq is carrying out an extensive review of its diplomatic protocols with Iran and may place new restrictions on them, the Iraqi foreign minister said in an interview on Thursday, after Iranian military officials and diplomats were picked up in three separate American actions here. The New York Times

Published: January 19, 2007

BAGHDAD, Jan. 18 — Iraq is carrying out an extensive review of its diplomatic protocols with Iran and may place new restrictions on them, the Iraqi foreign minister said in an interview on Thursday, after Iranian military officials and diplomats were picked up in three separate American actions here.

The raids have deeply embarrassed Iraqi officials, who say that the United States did not consult with them before it detained the Iranians, who were properly accredited visitors to this country. At the same time, Iraqi officials have been put in an awkward position by their neighbor, as the Iraqis concede that at least some of the Iranians appear to have been working with Shiite militias, just as the Americans claimed.

As a result, Iraq has decided to tighten diplomatic controls on Iranian officials, insisting on detailed itineraries for their missions here, closer coordination with Baghdad and pledges that the officials will not work with armed groups outside the government, said Hoshyar Zebari, the foreign minister.

Iraq may also demand that visits by Iranian officials be personally approved by the prime minister, Mr. Zebari said. He said this category would include the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which the United States denounces as a terrorist organization but Iraqis regard as an indispensable player because it is among the most influential organizations in Iran.

Despite differences over the Guard, Iraq has signaled its intention to review its protocols with Iran in light of the American raids, even calling its ambassador to Tehran back to Baghdad to work on the changes, Mr. Zebari said.

“We informed them very clearly after the first incident that there are a number of agreements we are going to review, and you should be very careful,” Mr. Zebari said. “Yes, they have been notified.”

The first of the three episodes began on Dec. 20 near the evening curfew when American forces stopped a car carrying two Iranian diplomats and some guards. Early the next morning, American forces raided the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, and detained a number of Iraqis with two Iranians who turned out to be members of the Revolutionary Guard.

The diplomats were soon released, but the military officials, who the United States said were directly linked to attacks on Americans, were asked to leave the country by Iraq only after a nine-day diplomatic crisis involving the three countries. Finally, a week ago, the Americans raided what was described as a diplomatic liaison office in the northern city of Erbil and detained six Iranians. Mr. Zebari said Thursday that just one of them had been released.

The United States later asserted that the other five were indeed members of the Revolutionary Guard, which it described as “an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups.”

On Thursday, the United States also said that it had entered the grounds of the Sudanese Embassy in Baghdad as part of an operation “aimed at denying insurgents safe haven to carry out attacks against Iraqi security forces and Iraqi citizens.” No further details were available.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry in Tehran and the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad have generally said little, although on Thursday an Iranian Embassy office manager who often answers the phone, but refuses to give his name, said that Mr. Zebari, a Kurd, had given assurances that the Iranians detained in Erbil would soon be released.

But in the interview, Mr. Zebari said he had little information on that issue except that American forces generally release detainees in 10 days or so if there is no evidence of wrongdoing. He said that the United States had a right to investigate people suspected of attacks but added, “We, as the Iraqi government, are treading a fine line.”

“On the one hand we understand the U.S. position,” he continued. “On the other hand, I understand my geographic position as well,” he said, referring to the border with Iran. After the raids, he said, the Iranians “come to us and we are incapable of responding.”

Mr. Zebari said that as Iraq reviewed its diplomatic relationship with Iran, the standing agreement that 1,500 religious pilgrims a day can enter this country was unlikely to change. But the number of entry points could be reduced as a way of keeping closer tabs on the traffic, he said.

Visitors with diplomatic passports will be required to give a clear accounting of the nature of their mission in Iraq and the likely length of their stay, he said. Political visitors might be required to gain the permission of the prime minister, further clarifying visits that could catch the Americans’ notice, he said.

The two Revolutionary Guards captured in the Baghdad raid had duly applied for Iraqi visas under an Iranian diplomatic note in October, Mr. Zebari said. But he added that there “could have been better clarification” of what the officials were actually doing in Iraq, and he conceded that they had not been truthful about their mission here.

For the first time, Mr. Zebari disclosed the total number of Iranian diplomats operating officially in Iraq. There are 36 in the embassy in Baghdad, he said, along with 11 at the consulate in Karbala and 9 at another consulate in Basra.

The officials detained at the liaison office in Erbil did not have diplomatic status, he said. As part of its review, the Foreign Ministry plans to turn the liaison offices in Iraq into consulates, giving them official diplomatic status, he said. He added that it was unclear how many of the liaison offices there were around the country, but said that they operated openly.

“This wasn’t something hidden, secretive,” Mr. Zebari said.

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