BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – Iraq’s foreign minister said he was seeking the release of five Iranians seized by U.S. troops from a representative office of the Tehran government in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil on Thursday.
“What happened … was very annoying because there has been an Iranian liaison office there for years and it provides services to the citizens,” Hoshiyar Zebari, who is himself a Kurd, told Al-Arabiya television. “We are in contact with the (U.S.) embassy and the American forces to seek their release.”
After the autonomous Kurdish regional government, one of Washington’s closest allies in Iraq, issued a strong condemnation of the raid, the U.S. military made a statement on Friday saying one of six people arrested had been released. “The detained individuals will be questioned and the documents and equipment that was removed will be examined to determine the extent of the alleged illegal or terrorist activity,” it said. “Based on the outcome of that investigation, appropriate action will be taken regarding the detainees.”
Iranian and U.S. officials say the office did not have formal diplomatic status.
Iranian and Kurdish officials have identified those arrested as Iranians working in an office that represents the interests of the Tehran government, which the United States accuses of backing Shi’ite militias and fomenting violence in Iraq.
U.S. statements have not given the nationality of those held but the latest comments echoed criticism of Iran by President George W. Bush and others. It said: “The Coalition will continue to work with the government of Iraq to prevent interference by hostile actors in Iraq’s internal security affairs.”
Bush vowed on Wednesday in a speech outlining an increase in U.S. troops for Baghdad to disrupt what he called the “flow of support” from Iran and Syria for attacks on U.S. forces.
In December, U.S. forces in Baghdad arrested a number of Iranians they said were suspected of planning attacks.