Bassem Mroue / Associated Press & Reuters – 2007-01-12 23:55:59
US, Kurdish Forces in Dispute over Detained Iranians
Bassem Mroue / Associated Press
BAGHDAD, Iraq (Jan. 12, 2007) — The Iraqi foreign minister said today that the five Iranians detained by US-led forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq were working in a liaison office that had government approval and was in the process of being approved as a consulate.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, also said US forces tried to seize more people at the airport in Irbil, 220 miles north of Baghdad, prompting a confrontation with Kurdish troops guarding the facility that was resolved without casualties.
A Pentagon official in Washington said that after troops detained the people in the first building, they learned another person may have escaped and fled to the airport.
An American team went to the airport, where they “surprised” Kurdish forces, who apparently had not been informed they were coming, said the Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the incident on the record.
“No shots were fired; no one was injured; it was just a tense situation,” said the official.
Local Kurdish authorities protested that they were not informed in advance about the arrests and raised fears that tensions between Iran and the United States were hurting Iraq’s interests.
“We don’t want Iraq to be a battleground for settling scores with other countries,” Zebari told CNN in an interview.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s office, meanwhile, rejected President Bush’s plans to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq as part of a new effort to curb rampant sectarian attacks.
“We reject Bush’s new strategy and we think it will fail,” said Abdul-Razzaq al-Nidawi, a senior official in al-Sadr’s office. He said Iraq’s problems were due to the presence of US troops and called for their withdrawal.
In Washington, Sen. John McCain defended Bush’s plan as difficult but necessary, parting company with lawmakers questioning the wisdom of the military build up. “I believe that together these moves will give the Iraqis and Americans the best chance of success,” said the Arizona Republican, a leading presidential contender for 2008.
McCain spoke at the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent a second day on Capitol Hill defending the president’s strategy.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced last weekend his government would implement a new security plan for Baghdad, including neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweeps by Iraqi forces backed by US troops. Similar efforts have failed in the past because of the Shiite-dominated government’s resistance to cracking down on militias such as the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to al-Sadr.
The Bush proposal calls for up to 12,000 additional Iraqi troops to secure Baghdad, which has been beset by sectarian violence, much of blamed on militias. Suspected Shiite militiamen today attacked a Sunni mosque in a religiously mixed neighborhood, prompting clashes that wounded two guards, police said.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said the Iraqi government recognized that the country was in a precarious position.
“We all have to recognize that the situation in Iraq is serious, it’s dangerous, and this dynamics of violence cannot be sustained,” he said in an interview with National Public Radio. “It must be the political will by us to do it.”
The raids in Irbil came as US officials repeated long-standing accusations that Iran is encouraging the violence in Iraq by supplying money and weapons.
The Iranians were detained Thursday as multinational forces entered the building overnight and confiscated computers and documents, two senior local Kurdish officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Six people suspected of being involved in attacks against Iraqi civilians and military forces were initially detained, the US military said in a statement. One was later released. The statement did not identify the nationalities of the suspects.
Iraqi and Iranian officials initially said the Iranian office was a diplomatic mission, raising questions about whether those detained had diplomatic immunity. But Zebari told The Associated Press that the Iranians worked at a “liaison office” that was in the process of becoming a consulate.
“This office is not new and has been there for more than 10 years,” he said. “We are now in the process of changing these offices to consulates and … we will open consulates in Iran.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the facility was an “office of relations” and that it was waiting for permission to operate as a consulate. The US Embassy also said it was assured the building was not a consulate.
The regional Kurdish government condemned the arrests of the Iranians and called for their release. Many Kurds, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have close ties to Iran. Last month, US troops detained at least two Iranians and released two others who had diplomatic immunity. Two of those detained were visiting as guests of Talabani, his spokesman said.
Zebari also said American forces went to the Irbil airport on Thursday but did not identify themselves or give advance notice to local authorities.
“No party had knowledge of this matter and that is why the force protecting the airport tried to interfere and find out who they were and what they were doing,” he said.
In Tehran, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Iraqi and Swiss ambassadors and “demanded an explanation” about the Irbil incident. Switzerland represents American interests in Iran.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday that the detained Iranians were being questioned. The US Embassy declined to give an update today.
Turk PM Asserts Right to Intervene in Iraq; Raps US
ANKARA (January 12, 2007) — Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Friday reaffirmed Turkey’s right to send troops into Iraq to crush Kurdish rebels there and chided US officials for questioning it.
“The Turkish Republic will do whatever is necessary to combat the terrorists when the time comes, but it will not announce its plans in advance,” Erdogan told a news conference after a meeting of his ruling AK Party. “We say we are ready to take concrete steps with the Iraqi government and we also say these steps must be taken now.”
In sharp language underscoring Turkish anxiety about the chaos in Iraq, Erdogan said it was wrong for Washington — “our supposed strategic ally” — to tell Turkey, with its historic and cultural ties in the region, to stay out of Iraq.
“We have a 350 km border with Iraq. We have historic relations … the United States is 10,000 km away from Iraq, and yet is it not intervening in Iraq’s internal affairs?” he said.
Turkish media say Erdogan has been irked by comments attributed to Washington’s envoy to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, warning third countries not to interfere in Iraqi affairs.
Ankara has long complained that the United States and Iraqi government have failed to crack down on Kurdish rebels, and periodically asserts its right under international law to conduct cross-border operations against the guerrillas.
With both presidential and parliamentary elections looming in 2007, analysts say Erdogan is under increased pressure to show he is tough on security issues.
More than 30,000 people have been killed since the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), branded a “terrorist organisation” by the EU and the US as well as Ankara, launched an armed struggle for an ethnic homeland in southeast Turkey in 1984.
The PKK began a unilateral ceasefire on Oct. 1 at the request of its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, but Turkey dismissed the move as a public relations ploy and clashes have continued, though at a lower intensity than before.
Up to 5,000 militants are believed to be hiding in the mountains of northern Iraq from where they have staged attacks on military and civilian targets inside Turkey.
Washington has appointed a special envoy to coordinate measures with Turkey aimed at tackling the PKK, but analysts say it will not apply military force against the group, given the scale of the problems it faces in the rest of Iraq.
“We don’t want to waste time with abstract statements, we want concrete results,” said Erdogan, who has said the Iraq situation is now a bigger foreign policy priority for Turkey even than its bid to join the European Union.
Ankara’s biggest nightmare is a violent breakup of Iraq and the emergence of a Kurdish state in the north that could in turn foment separatism among Turkey’s own Kurds.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.