U.S. raid on Iranian consulate angers Kurds

(source: CNN)
Friday, January 12, 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The U.S. military operation Thursday in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil that resulted in the arrests of six Iranians has drawn a sharp denunciation from Iraq's Kurdish regional government.

A spokesman for the autonomous regional government and its presidency expressed their "alarm" and condemned the Thursday morning operation.

They characterized it as a raid on the Iranian consulate in Irbil, "which opened in the provincial capital in an agreement between the Iraqi government and the Iranian government."

The Kurdish regional government is based in Irbil.

The Kurdish statement, which includes a call for the immediate release of the detainees, says the consulate is entitled to immunity in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963.

The statement also says the Kurdish government, which covers the provinces of Irbil, Sulaimaniya and Duhuk, needs to be informed when such actions are taken.

In Washington, a U.S. official confirmed that six Iranian officials were detained for questioning. But he disputed accounts that troops broke open a consulate gate and conducted a raid.

"No shots were fired. No altercation ensued," said the official. "It was a knock on the door and, 'Please come out.' "

The official also explained that the Iranians in question were not inside an officially designated diplomatic consulate or embassy-like building.

The official would not identify the six Iranian officials or say why they were being questioned. (Watch Iraqis express skepticism about President Bush's new plan for the war Video)

The U.S. military earlier issued a statement about six detentions during "routine security operations in northern Iraq," but didn't specify where the incident took place.

The military, in a statement, said it "took six individuals into custody suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces."

"This operation was part of an ongoing effort by coalition forces targeting individuals involved in activities aimed at the killing of Iraqi citizens and coalition forces. The suspects surrendered without incident."

Iran's government-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported five people were detained and said U.S. forces disarmed guards, broke open the consulate gate and confiscated computers and documents.

IRNA reported that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad "has sent a letter of protest to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry for the illegal move" and "called on the Iraqi government to help obtain the immediate release of its five detained staff."

One Kurdish lawmaker said computer files, documents and other equipment were confiscated in the raid, adding the nationality of those arrested could not be immediately confirmed. According to the lawmaker, the operation was conducted near the Kurdish Parliament compound in Irbil.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh confirmed the six detentions and said the government is awaiting more information from the United States and Iran before it issues an official position on the incident.

He said the government wants to know who the detained people are.

Iraq's state-run television network, Al-Iraqiya, said the forces raided an "Iranian consulate," but the Iraqi Foreign Ministry described the building as a "diplomatic representation."

Other news reports in Iran are referring to the incident as a kidnapping that coincided with President Bush's announcement of his new military strategy in Iraq.

Last month, the U.S. military arrested at least four Iranians in raids in Iraq, including two diplomats, prompting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to express dismay. A U.S. official said those Iranians were suspected of involvement in attacks against U.S. forces.

Thursday's developments came as President Bush announced a U.S. troop increase of more than 20,000 in Iraq and denounced Iran and Syria for fomenting violence in war-torn country. (Watch how risky -- or feasible -- Bush's plan for Iraq is Video)

In an address Wednesday night, Bush vowed that U.S. troops "will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria" to insurgents inside Iraq. (Full story)

Both Tehran and Damascus denounced his plans Thursday and said an increase of U.S. troops in Iraq will only increase bloodshed, The Associated Press reported.

( filed under: | | | )