The New York Times & Agence France-Presse & – 2007-01-12 08:39:42
GI’s in Iraq Raid Iranians’ Offices
James Glanz / The New York Times
ERBIL, Iraq (January 12, 2007) — American troops backed by attack helicopters and armored vehicles raided an Iranian diplomatic office in the dead of night early Thursday and detained as many as six of the Iranians working inside. The raid was the second surprise seizure of Iranians by the American military in Iraq in recent weeks and came a day after President Bush bluntly warned Iran to quit meddling in Iraqi affairs.
There was a tense standoff later in the day between the American soldiers and about 100 Kurdish troops, who surrounded the American armored vehicles for about two hours in this northern Iraqi city.
The attack was denounced by senior Kurdish officials, who are normally America’s closest allies in Iraq but regarded the action as an affront to their sovereignty in this highly tribal swath of the country. Iran’s Foreign Ministry reacted in Tehran with a harsh denunciation that threatened to escalate tensions with the Bush administration.
The American military said that it had been “conducting routine security operations in Erbil Jan. 11 and detained six individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces. One individual was released and five remain in custody.”
American officials have long accused Iran of sending weapons and money into Iraq. In late December the American military detained a number of Iranians in Baghdad, including two diplomats and two who turned out to be senior Iranian military officials. The diplomats were released but the others were forced to leave Iraq under suspicion that they had been working with Shiite militias. The incident also comes at a time when tensions are high between the United States and Iran over its nuclear program.
The incident was a major embarrassment for the Iraqi government, which has been trying to foster initiatives with its neighbor for improving regional security and trade, as well as other issues, and it calls into question the extent of Iraqi control over its own affairs.
In Thursday’s raid, attack helicopters roared above the normally placid neighborhood here, as American troops backed by armored vehicles broke into the office at around 3:30 a.m., carrying away documents and computer equipment.
American Black Hawk helicopters also swooped over the confrontation with the Kurdish troops, and at least two landed, said an American witness. But there were no reports of shots being fired, and the incident ended peacefully.
Witnesses said the attack was directed at a building that an American official described as a liaison office that was properly accredited with Iraq as an Iranian government facility. It was unclear whether the Iranians who were arrested carried diplomatic passports and whether the office was supposed to share some of the immunities enjoyed by embassies and consulates.
Local residents said the main function of the office was to process papers for people who want to go to Iran for visits or medical treatment.
Muhammad Ahmad, who lives near the neighborhood, known as Old Korea, said that he was awakened by shooting and helicopters. “These kinds of actions are totally unacceptable and the Kurdish leadership is very angry,” said Fuad Hussein, the spokesman for the president of the semiautonomous territory, Massoud Barzani. Mr. Hussein called the raid an “abduction.”
The Iranian government said the raid violated international law and demanded the detainees’ release.
“This is a provocative action by the United States and is against all international laws and regulations,” said the Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, the state-run radio reported.
“The Americans are following two aims,” he said. “They want to continue their pressure against Iran and, secondly, to create tension among Iraq’s neighbors.”
He added: “The provocative and mischievous actions cannot damage the friendly relations with Iraq.”
A senior State Department official said that the Iranian office in Erbil was not technically a consulate, but rather a liaison office which also provided some consular services.
He said that American officials believed that the Iranians intended to turn the office into a consulate at some point, but that had not yet happened. Therefore, he said, the State Department does not consider the office to be Iranian territory.
Thursday afternoon, the Kurdish interior minister, Karim Sinjari, appeared surprised when an American reporter asked him during a meeting with American businessmen to confirm the raid on the liaison.
“Yes,” Mr. Sinjari said tightly. “It was American-led.” Asked for further details, he said: “We have no information. They did it by themselves.” He then cut off questions.
The standoff began around 11 a.m. in Einkawa, a pleasant and predominantly Christian suburb of Erbil where many Western officials live and keep offices. Possibly angered by the earlier raid, the Kurdish forces refused to let several American Humvees through a checkpoint.
“It was the Americans’ fault,” said a Kurdish guard from the checkpoint, who refused to give his name. “We asked them to stop but they did not stop. That is why we pointed our guns at each other.”
The standoff, while tense, was carefully controlled by the Kurds. The American who witnessed it said that as the lines of traffic lengthened on the blocked road, the Kurds began waving cars through and they drove directly past the stopped Humvees.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi and Swiss ambassadors in Tehran in protest, and demanded the immediate release of what it called diplomats, the state-run television reported.
The Swiss represent American interests in Tehran. The United States has had no embassy in Iran since 1979, when radical students attacked the American Embassy in Tehran and took 44 diplomats hostage.
Mr. Hosseini told state-run television on Thursday that the consulate in Erbil was set up after coordination with Iraqi officials and that “it was involved in consulate work.”
A measured statement late in the day from Mr. Barzani’s office expressed “its sadness over these actions,” indicating that it believed the building had diplomatic immunity. “It is better to inform the Kurdistan government before taking actions against anybody,” the office said.
The American military said in a statement that “the documents and equipment that were removed will be examined to determine the extent of the alleged illegal or terrorist activity. Based on the outcome of that investigation, appropriate action will be taken regarding the detainees.”
Reporting was contributed by Yerevan Adham from Erbil, Iraq, Helene Cooper from Washington and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
US Raid on Iranian Office ‘Unacceptable’: Russia
MOSCOW (Jan 12, 2007) — A raid by US troops on an Iranian office in Iraq was “absolutely unacceptable” and violated international law, Russia’s foreign ministry has said.
The raid Thursday in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil was “absolutely unacceptable” and “the crudest possible violation of the Vienna convention on consular relations,” ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement.
The statement referred to the raid as being directed against “the Iranian consulate general” and described five Iranians arrested as “diplomats.”
Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, denied this Friday, saying that the Iranians had been working officially in Iraq but as part of a “liaison office” that was yet to be classified as a consulate with diplomatic protection.
The swoop by US troops triggered a diplomatic row, with Tehran accusing the US force of violating the building’s diplomatic status.
Kamynin also expressed scepticism over US President George W. Bush’s new Iraq strategy and troop buildup, saying the plan amounted to admitting mistakes in the campaign.
“We are talking about recognition of the need to correct the previous course, based on thinking over mistakes made in Iraq that we had previously pointed out to our American colleagues,” Kamynin said. However, Bush’s new plan, which centres on deploying an additional 21,500 soldiers to Iraq, shows the “calculation remains as it was — to resolve the Iraqi crisis through force,” Kamynin said.
Whether this will work, “time will show,” he said, adding that the only solution was to foster a “broad and real inter-Iraqi dialogue.”
Copyright AFP 2005
Iraq Backs Iranians Seized by US
BAGHDAD (January 12, 2007) — Six Iranians held in a US military raid in northern Iraq were working there with the approval of the authorities, Iraq’s foreign minister has said.
The Iranian liaison office in Irbil did not yet have full consular diplomatic status but it had been operating for years, Hoshyar Zebari said.
The US said it believed the six people seized in Thursday’s raid had targeted Iraqi and US-led coalition forces.
Russia said the raid was “unacceptable” and a violation of international law.
“It is absolutely unacceptable for troops to storm the consular offices of a foreign state on the territory of another state,” Russian foreign ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.
“It is also not clear how this fits in with American statements that Washington respects the sovereignty of Iraq,” he said.
Iraq’s foreign minister said details of the detainees had been passed to the Americans.
“We contacted the US embassy and submitted all the information available to us on the nature of their work and the place of their work,” he said. “They have been working under the approval of the government.”
One of the group, seized when US troops stormed the building, has since been released. Mr Zebari said the other five remained in US custody.
The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to local media.
AFP news agency quoted Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman as saying he did not know the nationality of the six but said they were “suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces”.
The US is adamant that the building did not have diplomatic status.
However, Tehran said the attack violated all international conventions. It has summoned ambassadors from Switzerland — representing US interests — and Iraq.
A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry described the raid as an attempt to sabotage Tehran’s relations with Iraq. One Iranian MP said it showed America’s cruelty and meanness.
The raid comes amid high Iran-US tension. In a major speech on Wednesday, President George W Bush said the US would take a tough stance towards Iran and Syria, whom he accused of destabilising Iraq.
BBC diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the raid could signal a ratcheting up of pressure on the Iranians, in line with the rhetorical thrust of his speech.
The US also accuses Iran of seeking nuclear arms. Iran denies both charges. Tehran counters that US military involvement in the Middle East endangers the whole region.
In December, US troops detained a number of Iranians in Iraq, including two with diplomatic immunity who were later released.
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