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Iranians Detained After U.S. Raid In Iraq

Iraqi officials said Thursday that multinational forces detained as many as six Iranians in an overnight raid on Tehran's diplomatic mission in the northern city of Erbil.

The forces stormed the building at about 3 a.m., detaining the five staffers and confiscating computers and documents, two senior local Kurdish officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information. Erbil is a city in the Kurdish-controlled north, 220 miles from Baghdad.

"There are reports that six people were detained but now we want clarification from the American side and from the Iranian side about these people and what they were doing there and whether they were employees," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said during a news conference. He added that the foreign ministry is contacting concerned sides "and then we can take an official stance on the matter."

In Tehran, Iran's foreign ministry summoned the Iraqi and Swiss ambassadors and "demanded an explanation" about the incident. Switzerland represents American interests in Iran, where there is no U.S. Embassy.

Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told state-run radio that the raid was "against a diplomatic mission" since the "presence of Iranian staffers in Erbil was legal." Hosseini claimed the action by the U.S.-led coalition reflected "continuation of pressure" on Iran, aiming to "create tension" between Iraq and its neighbors.

A resident living near the mission said the foreign force used stun bombs in the raid and brought down an Iranian flag that was on the roof of the two-story yellow house. As the operation went on, two helicopters flew overhead, said the resident on condition of anonymity because he feared retribution.

"They took five Iranians with them and at about 7 in the morning they handed over the house to Kurdish peshmergas [fighters]," he said.

In the early afternoon, a number of Kurdish guerrillas could be seen around the building preventing people from getting close to the house and not allowing cameramen and photographers to take pictures.

In Other Developments:

  • At a moving ceremony in the East Room of the White House, President Bush on Thursday made a posthumous presentation of the nation's highest award for valor to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham. The 24-year-old lost his life two years ago in Iraq during hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent who released a hand grenade.
  • Iraq's most powerful Shiite politician, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, has issued strong support for the country's new Baghdad security plan, saying the government should "strike with an iron fist" against anyone who endangers the "safety of people." He's also urging the militia of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to disarm, saying that restoring security in Iraq would allow foreign troops to leave. Al-Sadr's militia has been blamed for much of the sectarian violence that has killed thousands.
  • Russia demanded Thursday that Iraqi authorities and U.S-led coalition forces do more to protect Russian diplomatic staff and property in Iraq, including taking "all necessary measures to strengthen the physical security of diplomatic missions," after the Russian embassy in Baghdad was sprayed with gunfire. The Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi ambassador and a U.S. Embassy official in Moscow on Thursday to complain after the Wednesday evening shooting, which the ministry said damaged the embassy building. No one was injured in the incident. Russia, a consistent critic of the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq, has no military forces in the country.
  • U.S. and Iraqi troops raided a house in the Shiite area of Baghdad's Sadr city late on Wednesday, according to local residents, who alleged the troops blew open the front door, as widespread skepticism has greeted a new security plan. Many mortar and rocket attacks have been launched from the outskirts of Sadr City, and U.S. troops have been conducting raids on homes there in recent weeks. The civilian population of Sadr City, also targeted by Sunni militants, has itself suffered almost daily carnage.
  • Suspected Sunni insurgents attacked and set fire to a large oil pipeline in northern Iraq on Thursday, about 155 miles north of Baghdad, interrupting the flow from the Kirkuk oil fields, an official of the Northern Oil Company said. The 26-inch pipe, which feeds into a line running to Turkey's Mediterranean oil terminal, was still burning late on Thursday morning, and U.S. forces had cordoned off the area.
  • British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the troop increase announced by President Bush demonstrates the U.S. and Iraqi governments' determination to deal with the deteriorating security situation. But she was also quick to distance the British government from the new U.S. move. "It is not our intention at the present time to send more troops," she told reporters at Downing Street. She said Britain was continuing to work "progressively" toward transferring security responsibility to authorities in Basra, southern Iraq, where it has about 7,000 troops.

    The U.S. military issued a statement on the raid in Erbil, saying it had taken six people into custody but made no mention of a raid on the Iranian consulate. It declined further comment on the raid.

    The motive for the raid was not known, but it came as tensions are high between Iran and the United States. The Bush administration has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons and of helping fuel violence in Iraq. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is trying to expand Iran's role in Iraq as a counter to U.S. influence in the Gulf region.

    The new strategy declared by U.S. President George. W. Bush in the past hours ignored key recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, which in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an outreach to Syria and Iran. Instead, he accused both countries of aiding terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.

    "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Mr. Bush said. "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria."

    Speaking on how bad relations between the United States, Iran and Syria affect Iraq, al-Dabbagh said "for sure any improvement (of relations) between the United States and these two countries will make us avoid many problems."

    "Some times we pay the price for the tension in relations between Iran and the United States and Syria and the United States, therefore it is in our interest as Iraqis that these relations improve but not at the expense of Iraq," he said. "For that reason, we hope, encourage and are playing a role in getting the points of view closer between" them.

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

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