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Iraq denies US policy shift brought Iranians’ release | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – Five Iranians jailed by the U.S. military in Iraq were freed this week not as the result of a U.S. policy shift on Iran but because their turn came up in a queue of prisoners awaiting release, an official said on Friday.

Deputy Interior Minister Major-General Hussein Kamal said U.S. officials transferred the men, accused by U.S. forces of arming Shi’ite Muslim militias at the height of Iraq’s sectarian war, to the Iraqi government, which then turned them over to Iranian officials in Baghdad.

“There is nothing specific about the timing of their release. The Iraqi judiciary looked into their cases and the court decided to release them,” Kamal, who oversaw the detainees’ transfer, told Reuters.

The detention of the men, some of whom were captured from an Iranian consulate in Iraq in 2007, has been a strain in U.S.-Iranian ties, already troubled by Iran’s disputed nuclear programme and U.S. charges Iran has stirred strife in Iraq.

There was speculation the release might represent part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s efforts to bring the two countries closer than they were under former President George W. Bush, or that the release was linked to a swap for other detainees.

Kamal said that Iraqi officials, according to a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that took effect in January, had been systematically looking into accusations against detainees held in vast U.S. prison camps in Iraq.

Under the pact, the United States must gradually transfer more than 10,000 detainees in its custody to the Iraqi government to be either charged in local courts or released.

“On this basis, it was their turn to have their cases examined,” he said. “The judge said the evidence (against them) was not sufficient, so accordingly they were released.”A U.S. State Department spokesman has also denied the five were freed as part of Obama’s policy of trying to engage Iran. He similarly denied any prisoner swap deal.

Iran says three of the men were diplomats detained in a U.S. raid of the Iranian consulate in 2007 in Iraq’s northern city of Arbil and the others, also diplomats, were arrested separately.

The Iranians were detained in the Arbil consulate on suspicion of being members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods force, which Washington says backs terrorists. The embassy source said the released detainees were still in Baghdad and had not yet travelled to Iran.