BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms kidnapped a senior Iranian diplomat in Baghdad on Sunday, Iraqi and Iranian officials said on Tuesday, and Tehran said it held U.S. forces responsible for his safety. “We are dealing with this as a kidnapping,” an Iraqi government official told Reuters.
The official said the diplomat, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, was snatched in the central Karrada district by 30 gunmen wearing the uniforms of a special Iraqi army unit that often works with U.S. military forces in Iraq.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini confirmed the kidnapping of Jalal Sharafi by a group related to Iraq’s Defence Ministry “which works under the supervision of American Forces”, the Iranian Students News Agency said.
U.S. forces in Iraq have arrested a number of Iranians, including some diplomats, in the past two months, and are still holding five Iranians. Washington accuses Tehran of funding and training militants fighting U.S. forces in Iraq.
There was no immediate comment from the U.S. embassy or U.S. military officials, but Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, blamed Washington for the kidnapping. U.S. President George W. Bush vowed in January to disrupt what he called the “flow of support” from Tehran to Iraqi militants. “It seems that this terrorist act has been committed in the framework of Bush’s order and with the goal of escalating the confrontation with Iran,” Qomi was quoted by Iranian state television as saying.
Hosseini said Sharafi was kidnapped outside a branch of Iran’s Bank Melli in the Iraqi capital. The Iraqi official said the gunmen drove in four-wheel-drive vehicles and a BMW and were wearing uniforms of the Iraqi 36th Commando Battalion, a special operations unit that works with U.S. forces.
The official said that police close to the scene opened fire on the gunmen and arrested six of them. Later, another security force came to the police station and said they were taking the six to the Serious Crimes building in Baghdad but the police discovered later that they never arrived there.
The governments of Iran and Iraq, which resumed diplomatic relations following the ouster of Saddam Hussein, have demanded that the United States release Iranians seized in previous raids.
Tehran denies U.S. charges it is backing militants in Iraq and blames U.S. troops for the violence and for inflaming tensions between Iraq’s majority Shi’ite and once dominant Sunni Arabs.