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Iran Demands Release Of Iranians Arrested In Iraq

January 14, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran demands the immediate release of five Iranians held by U.S. forces in Iraq, saying they were "involved in consulate affairs."

The U.S. military earlier announced that five Iranians arrested in northern Iraq on January 11 were connected to the Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which it said provides support to Iraqi insurgents.

Iran's Foreign Ministry today demanded the immediate release of five of Iranian citizens held in the U.S military raid.

Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said at a press conference in Tehran that the five are diplomats.

"Americans should immediately release the five Iranians and pay compensation for the damages they caused to our office in Irbil," he said.

Hosseini said their activities "were legal and in the framework of the law." The U.S. military says the men are agents of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

The United States has said none of the men held diplomatic passports.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali Al Dabbagh told Radio Farda today that "we need to hear from the Americans the full details why and when [the raid took place] in order to better understand. We don't have that possibility yet, but we are waiting for the American explanation."

The Revolutionary Guard, known locally as the Pasdaran, is a parallel military force with its own land, air, and sea forces. It reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The raid came after a warning by U.S. President George W. Bush that the United States would crack down on alleged Iranian meddling in Iraq.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told "The New York Times" that a recent series of U.S. raids against Iranians in Iraq was carried out under an order from Bush that authorized a broad military offensive against Iranian operatives in Iraq.

Rice warned Iran on January 11 that the United States would not allow further destabilization in Iraq.

"If the government in Tehran wants to help stabilize the region, as it now claims, then it should end its support for violent extremists who destroy the aspirations of innocent Lebanese, Palestinians, and Iraqis," she said. "And it should end its pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Rice, who is currently touring the Middle East, repeated Washington's accusations that Iran is providing training and weapons to militias fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.

She said: "there is plenty of evidence that there is Iranian involvement with these networks that are making high-explosive [impovised-explosive devices] and that are endangering our troops, and that's going to be dealt with."

Late last month, U.S. troops elsewhere in Iraq detained at least two Iranians and released two others who had diplomatic immunity.

However, Joost Hiltermann, a political analyst with the International Crisis Group in Jordan, tells RFE/RL the main problem is that until now the U.S. has no political strategy toward Iranian influence in Iraq. He says the United States should either crack down on all Iranian groups or try to reach some kind of agreement with Iran on Iraq.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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