Iran closed major border crossings with northeastern Iraq on Monday to protest the US detention of an Iranian trade official, a Kurdish official said. Five border gates were closed Sunday, leaving travelers and cargo stranded, officials and witnesses said.
The move threatens the economy of Iraq’s north, one of the country’s few successes, and appears aimed at driving a wedge between Iraq and the Americans at a time of friction over a deadly shooting in Baghdad involving the security firm Blackwater USA.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the intent was to protect pilgrims. “On an annual basis millions of Iranians visit Iraq and Iraq’s holy sites for pilgrimage purposes,” he said in an interview in New York.
“Recently, as a result of some clashes and the explosion of some bombs, a number of Iranian civilian casualties arose. So the government has asked Iranian citizens to avoid traveling for pilgrimage purposes until security is restored.”
The Mehr news agency reported five border points had been closed to protest the detention of the Iranian, identified as Mahmoud Farhadi. He was arrested during a raid Thursday near Baghdad.
The closure will continue until Farhadi’s unconditional release, Mehr quoted Ismail Najjar, general governor of Iranian Kurdistan province, as saying.