Iraqi FM calls for release of 5 Iranians detained by US

news53.jpgThe Iraqi foreign minister called Sunday for the release of five Iranians detained by US forces in what he said was a legitimate mission in northern Iraq, but he stressed that foreign intervention to help insurgents would not be tolerated.

The twin-pronged statement by Hoshyar Zebari highlighted the delicate balance facing the Iraqi government as it tries to secure Baghdad with the help of American forces while maintaining ties with its neighbours, including US rivals Iran and Syria.

“Any interventions — or any harmful interventions to kill Iraqis or to provide support for insurgency or for the insurgents should be stopped by the Iraqi government and by the coalition forces,” Zebari said in an interview with CNN’s “Late Edition”. But he also stressed Iraq has to keep good relations with other countries in the region.

“You have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries,” he said. “So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighbourly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation.” The US military said the five Iranians detained last week in the Kurdish-controlled northern city of Erbil were connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq. It was the second US raid targeting Iranians in Iraq in less than a month.

The military said the Quds Force faction of the Revolutionary Guard, a hardline military force that reports directly to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is “known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilise the government of Iraq and attack coalition forces.” “Qods” is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

Iran’s government denied the five detainees had been involved in financing and arming insurgents and called for their release along with compensation for damages.

“Their job was basically consular, official and in the framework of regulations,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Sunday. “What the Americans express was incorrect and hyperbole against Iran in order to justify their acts.” The United States repeatedly has denied the office was a consulate and the State Department has said no legitimate diplomatic activity was being carried out at the site.

Bush’s National Security adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday that the US had the authority to pursue Iranians in Iraq because they “put our people at risk”. “We are going to need to deal with what Iran is doing inside Iraq,” he said.

Vice President Dick Cheney added: “Iran is fishing in troubled waters inside Iraq.” Hadley was interviewed on “This Week” on ABC while Cheney was on “Fox News Sunday.” Zebari, a Kurd, said those detained had been working in a liaison office issuing travel permits for the local population, and he reiterated that the office was in the process of being regularised into a consulate.

“Well, we have asked for their release,” he told CNN.

“They are being interrogated by the US forces. But we have established all the information that this office has been there for many years with the approval of the Kurdish regional authorities with their knowledge of the Iraqi government.” Bush accused Iran and Syria of not doing enough to block terrorists from entering Iraq over their borders in his speech last week outlining his new strategy for Iraq. The US has accused them of funnelling arms and fighters to aid the insurgency.

The Iranian foreign minister said the United States was resorting to “hostility and conflict towards neighbours of Iraq” because it did not want to acknowledge it had failed to stabilize Iraq.

A standoff already exists between the US and Iran over Tehran’s atomic programme. Iran has rejected all allegations that it is trying to make nuclear arms.

The Iraqis and the Americans, meanwhile, prepared for a new joint security operation to secure Baghdad as it faces spiralling sectarian violence.

Bush said Wednesday that additional 21,500 US troops will head to Iraq soon to try improve the security situation mainly in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar.

In violence Sunday, at least 78 people were reported killed or found dead on Sunday, including 41 bullet-riddled bodies discovered in Baghdad. The US military also said an American soldier died Saturday from wounds sustained in an explosion in northern Iraq.

Separately, the Iraqi army arrested 50 suspected insurgents and seized nearly 2,000 rockets in a raid in a predominantly Shiite area 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, defence ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Shaker said Sunday. The suspects were detained late Saturday.

The Iraqi army arrested 32 other suspected insurgents during house-to-house searches in Abu Ghraib, on the western outskirts of Baghdad, Shaker said. They also seized seven cars packed with light weapons and 40 barrels of chemicals that could be used in making explosives.

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