BBC News – 2007-11-11 22:38:40
Comparing Two Hostage Takings
• On February 11, 2007, the US seized 6 Iranian citizens in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil. A total of 20 Iranians have been held hostage by US forces in Iraq. Although nine have been released, 11 remain in custody, 302 days after the first hostage was seized.
• On November 4, 1979, militant university students in Iran took over the US diplomatic mission in Tehran. They held 63 U.S. diplomats and three other US citizens hostage until January 20, 1981. Of those captured, 52 were held hostage until the conclusion of the crisis 444 days later.
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US Releases Nine Iranians in Iraq
(November 9, 2007) — The US military in Iraq has released nine of the 20 Iranian citizens it has detained there, including two held on suspicion of helping Shia militants.
The release followed a review of their cases which concluded that the men no longer posed a security risk and were “of no continued intelligence value”.
The Iranians were released to the Iraqi government, which later reportedly gave them to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Tehran has dismissed US accusations that it is aiding insurgents in Iraq.
In October, the US declared the overseas operations arm of the Iranian Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) a “supporter of terrorism”, saying it was supplying and training Shia militants in Iraq.
Two of those freed on Friday were among five Iranian officials detained by US forces in an “intelligence-driven raid” on an office in the same building as the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish city of Irbil in January.
Their detention has been the subject of intense protests by the Iranian government and lobbying by Iraqi authorities.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) also objected, saying the office and its personnel were known to them.
The other seven Iranians being freed had been picked up in different parts of the country and held for periods ranging between three months and three years.
The US military said two of the men were captured “during a raid to disrupt al-Qaeda operations”, while another was held after a raid “aimed at capturing a senior insurgent”.
“The release followed a careful review of individual records to determine if they posed a security threat to Iraq, and if their detention was of continued intelligence value,” the military said in a statement. “Based on this review, all nine individuals were determined to no longer pose a security risk and to be of no continued intelligence value.”
After the men were transferred by Iraqi authorities to the Iranian embassy, they were driven to Baghdad International Airport for a flight to Tehran, the Iranian official news agency, IRNA, reported. The BBC’s Jim Muir in Baghdad says the releases, although they leave a further 11 Iranians still in detention, might be seen as heralding something of a thaw between the US and Iran — at least in Iraq.
US military commanders have hinted they are beginning to sense a greater effort by Iran to stop weapons and explosives crossing the border, our correspondent says.
The release of the nine Iranians was welcomed by Iraq’s Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who said it was a “positive development”. He hoped it would improve the prospects for another trilateral meeting with the US and Iran this month on security and stability in Iraq.
Both Washington and Tehran have said they are willing in principle. There have been several previous meetings, held at the request of the Iraqi government.
US Admits Iranian Arrests Mistake
(August 29, 2007) — The US military has admitted to what it called a “regrettable incident” after it arrested a group of eight Iranians in Baghdad. The Iranians were held at a checkpoint and detained overnight. They were freed after the Iraqi government intervened.
Iran says the men were in the city at the invitation of Iraq’s government, and that the US action was unjustified. An aide to the top US commander in Iraq later said the US accepted that the Iranians were on official business.
Dr Saadi Othman, adviser to Gen David Petraeus, told BBC News that the incident had “nothing to do” with US President George W Bush’s speech on Tuesday, in which he strongly criticised Iran for its alleged interference in Iraq.
The Iranians were detained after they had been stopped in the company of seven Iraqis carrying unauthorised weapons on Tuesday night, the US military said.
It said an AK-47 assault rifle and two pistols were confiscated from the Iraqis. The group was then taken to the Sheraton Ishtar Hotel, where US troops searched the Iranians’ rooms, seizing a computer, mobile phones and a briefcase full of money.
The men were also taken away for questioning, with video footage showing soldiers leading them out blindfolded and in handcuffs. All the Iranians were later handed over to the Iraqi government.
It later emerged that the men were energy experts and were in the Iraqi capital to help rebuild the local electricity system. Two of them were found to have diplomatic credentials. Iran has said it is preparing a formal protest to Iraq.
The arrests followed President Bush’s speech, in which he criticised Iranian interference in Iraq.
Tensions between the US and Iran are running high, with the US accusing Iran of providing arms, money and military training to Shia militias in Iraq.
President Bush stated that he had authorised his military commanders in Iraq to confront what he called Iran’s “murderous activities” in the country. “Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. We will confront this danger before it is too late,” Mr Bush said.
The president also said the entire region would be under the shadow of a “nuclear holocaust” if Iran developed nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.
Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said US power in Iraq was on the verge of collapse and this would lead to “a huge vacuum” which Iran would be willing to fill.
In January, five Iranians – who the US said were linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and were training militants in Iraq — were captured in the northern city of Irbil. They remain in US custody.
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