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Iran envoy: Iraq to free captured Iranians

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AP: Iran’s ambassador said Thursday that Iraq’s foreign minister promised him that Iranians captured by U.S. troops in north of the country last week will be freed “within days,” adding that their detention was an insult to the Iraqi government and people. Associated Press

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA

Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – Iran’s ambassador said Thursday that Iraq’s foreign minister promised him that Iranians captured by U.S. troops in north of the country last week will be freed “within days,” adding that their detention was an insult to the Iraqi government and people.

It was the first public comment by an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad about last week’s U.S. raid on a liaison office in the northern city of Irbil and the capture of six Iranians.

One of the six was released and U.S. officials said the five still in custody were linked to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents and militias in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was not available for comment, his office said.

Tehran denied the five detained Iranians had been involved in financing and arming insurgents in Iraq.

“The capture of Iranian diplomats is an insult to the Iraqi government and people,” ambassador Hassan Kazimi Qomi said in a news conference at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Iraqi “Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told me that they will be released within days.”

Asked why he believed the Americans carried the raid, Qomi said through a translator from Farsi to Arabic that “they want to destabilize relations between Iraq and Iran.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Sunday that the Iranian representative office where the five men worked was established in Irbil in 1992 to facilitate the visit of Kurdish businessmen and medical patients from Iraq to Iran.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told reporters Thursday that the “Iraq government is exerting efforts for their release. They are not diplomats and we ask everyone to respect Iraq’s sovereignty.”

Rear Adm. Mark Fox, acting spokesman for U.S. military in Iraq, reiterated U.S. claims on Wednesday that the Iranians “were connected with networks that were smuggling weapons into Iraq, attempting to undermine the stability of the government of Iraq, and ultimately targeting coalition forces.”

“The sovereignty issue for the government of Iraq is one that means that neighbors don’t interfere or meddle inside their neighbors’ borders,” he said. “And we have always felt that it has not been a useful thing for Iranian influence to be active inside the government – inside the borders of Iraq.”

Two days after the raid, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Bush approved the strategy of raiding Iranian targets in Iraq as part of a broad effort to confront Tehran.

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