UNITED NATIONS, (AP) – Iraq’s foreign minister says Iran is punishing the Kurdish region for something the Kurdish authorities were not responsible for — the arrest of an Iranian official by the U.S. military on Sept. 20.
Hoshyar Zebari said late Saturday that he raised the issue of Iran’s closure of five border crossing points into the northern Kurdish region with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly’s ministerial meeting.
Zebari said he told Mottaki “this is not a wise move, this can only undermine the atmosphere of confidence, and you’re punishing the whole region for an act that they were not responsible for.”
The U.S. military said the Iranian, Mahmudi Farhadi, was a member of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards alleged to smuggle weapons to Shiite extremists.
The arrest has raised friction between U.S. and Iraqi authorities at a time when tempers were already running high over the killing Sept. 16 of 11 Iraqi civilians allegedly by security guards from Blackwater USA, which protects American diplomats in Iraq.
Blackwater insists its guards acted legally and were returning fire from armed insurgents.
Zebari said the Iraqi government has asked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for all the facts, and reiterated Iraqi calls for the U.S. to release the Iranian official. But Zebari said the Iranian remains in U.S. custody, and the border remains shut.
“I think that was a direct response to the detention of an Iranian official by the U.S. military in Sulaimaniyah, and this was a collective punishment for the region, for something that the Kurdish regional authorities were not responsible,” Zebari said.
“And I personally feel it’s unfair and unjust, and it has affected the economic life of the region. Prices have gone up,” he said. “The region is dependent in some way on fuel supplies from Iran, but the Iranians want to make a point here.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied in an Associated Press interview on Monday that Iran closed its border with Iraq over the arrest of the Iranian.
“On an annual basis, millions of Iranians visit Iraq and Iraq’s holy sites for pilgrimage purposes,” he said.
“Recently, as a result of some clashes and the explosion of some bombs, a number of Iranian civilian casualties arose. So the government has asked Iranian citizens to avoid traveling for pilgrimage purposes until security is restored. The commercial goods and freight transactions continue, and the travel across the border for those purposes continue,” Ahmadinejad said.