US, Iran in New Row over Iraq Arrest

A02942821.jpgThe US military detained an Iranian in northern Iraq, sparking a new row with Iran which insisted the man held was part of a business delegation. The US military once again claimed that their detainee was believed to be an officer of the Quds Force, an affiliate to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and that he was suspected of involvement in smuggling sophisticated explosives. US has frequently made such allegations but it has never presented any evidence or documents to substantiate its claims.

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.

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 Seyed 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 FNA.

The US military is still holding five Iranian diplomats it detained in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil in January.

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 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 program 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 neighborhood 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.

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