SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq, (AP) – Iran opened on Monday five border crossing points with Kurdish-run northern Iraq, closed last month by Tehran to protest the U.S. detention of an Iranian here, an Iraqi Kurdish official said.
Elsewhere, a joint U.S.-Iraqi raid in the Baghdad slum and Shiite stronghold of Sadr City ended in the deaths of two men, officials said.
Jamal Abdullah, spokesman for the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, expressed relief that the crossings reopened at 9 a.m. Monday and added that the decision to reopen them followed a visit by a Kurdish delegation to Iran three days ago.
Iran closed the border with the Kurdish northern Iraq on Sept. 24 following the arrest of Mahmoud Farhadi, who was taken into custody four days earlier by U.S. troops in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah
The U.S. military said the arrested Iranian was a member of the Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards alleged to smuggle weapons to Shiite extremists in Iraq.
The Iraqi government has asked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad to release the man, saying he was in the country on official business.
Last week, Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, complained that Iran was punishing the Kurdish region for something the Kurdish authorities were not responsible for — the Iranian’s arrest. The Kurdish region relies heavily on commerce with Iran and economic ties between the two are strong.
But U.S. officials have complained the porous boundary is a transit route for foreign fighters and weapons into Iraq.
“Reopening borders will have its good results of economical interests for both countries,” Abdullah said, adding it was up to Tehran and Baghdad to “prevent gunmen from having access to either side of border.”
Hundreds of cargo trucks had lined up on the Iraqi side of the border Sunday, when Iran’s official news agency IRNA had said the crossing would reopen.
Farhadi’s arrest has raised U.S.-Iran tensions, already taxed over Tehran’s controversial nuclear program and the January arrest by U.S. troops of five other Iranians in Irbil, northern Iraq, for alleged links to the Quds force.
Farhadi and the five Iranians remain in U.S. custody.
Meanwhile, a joint Iraqi-U.S. troops raid early on the Baghdad stronghold of the country’s largest Shiite militia killed two men and wounded four, while four others were arrested, an Iraqi police official said.
The operation in Sadr City, the capital’s sprawling Shiite slum in northeastern Baghdad and base of the Mahdi Army militia, took place before dawn with support of U.S. helicopters, the Iraqi official said, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to release the information.
The U.S. military confirmed an early Monday raid on Sadr City, but said no shots were fired and no arrests were made by American troops.
AP Television News footage from the scene in Sadr City showed the funeral procession for two men witnesses said were killed in the raid, a bloodstained roof area of a house in the area, spent bullet casings littering overturned furniture, broken glass and a shrapnel-peppered door of a house.
Sadr City is controlled by the Shiite militia loyal to the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who in August announced a “freeze” of his militia activities for up to six months to allow for its restructuring.
However, it is unclear how much control he maintains over his fighters as groups have splintered from the main movement and attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces by rogue Shiite elements, which the U.S. military says are funded by Iran, have increased.