U.S. detains Iranian diplomats in Iraq

Irbil residents witness raid in city that has mostly avoided daily bloodshed

January 12, 2007|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Molly Hennessy-Fiske,Los Angeles Times

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office in the northern Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil yesterday morning, detaining six people, witnesses said.

Irbil residents said they saw U.S. soldiers drop from helicopters onto the Iranian diplomatic building at the center of town about 4 a.m. Kurdish officials, including the provincial Interior Affairs Minister Kareem Singary and Irbil Police General Manager Farhad Kareem, said they couldn't comment on the raid because it was "above our authority."

The raid follows similar detentions of Iranian diplomats during raids in Baghdad three weeks ago. The Bush Administration has accused Iran of arming and supporting Shiite militias, and meddling otherwise in Iraq's affairs.

The raid and fighting yesterday jolted residents in a city that has largely been spared the daily bloodshed of Baghdad, about 220 miles south.

Hogher Mahmoud, 30, who runs a dairy shop in Irbil, woke to the sound of aircraft overhead and a firefight. He peered outside but could see little, he said, since the area was experiencing a blackout.

The U.S. military released a statement acknowledging that troops had detained six people suspected of attacking Iraqi and U.S.-led forces earlier in the day. But the statement said the six detainees were taken "without incident," and did not specify the detainees' nationality or where they were found.

Ali Saeed, a lawyer and civil right activist, said the raid was troubling so soon after President Bush's Wednesday speech promising more troops and added security in Iraq.

"I understand the new strategy that Bush announced, but I think it was a bad start," Saeed said of the raid. "There was no respect for our authorities here. And the Iranian policy is not made here. I am afraid this will spark a fire in this calm, secure region."

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a state-sponsored radio station that U.S. forces targeted a "diplomatic mission" with legally credentialed staff. He accused the United States of trying to "create tension" between Iraq and its neighbors.

Elsewhere, U.S. troops clashed with insurgents in and around Baghdad, while police reported recovering 37 bodies in Baghdad during the 24-hour period ending yesterday.

Insurgents could be seen trading mortar fire with U.S. troops yesterday morning in Dora, a southern Baghdad neighborhood.

Sunni insurgents began shooting mortars across the Tigris River and into the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Zafaraniya about 9:30 a.m., according to witnesses and police.

"Their attacks inflicted no significant damage or losses, and now our forces are responding," said Interior Ministry Brig. Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf.

In a statement released yesterday, the U.S. military said it was conducting an operation in the Dora area but could not release details and had heard no reports of explosions. On Wednesday, U.S. forces and Iraqi National police had searched 80 houses in Dora, detaining six people.

"This section of the capital, as well as surrounding neighborhoods, has been subjected recently to an increase in sectarian violence including intimidation, murders and indirect fire," the military said in a Wednesday statement.

Elsewhere in the capital, U.S. and Iraqi Interior Ministry forces raided three homes in the sprawling Shiite slum of Sadr City, detaining five men, according to witnesses.

U.S. and Iraqi forces were securing downtown's Haifa Street, the scene of a huge offensive Tuesday that killed at least 51 insurgents.

Five Iraqi police officers heading home for weekend leave yesterday were killed by gunmen in the mostly Sunni Al Khadra neighborhood in northern Baghdad, police said.

Eight high-ranking Ministry of Oil officials were kidnapped on their way to work in the capital yesterday by men in Iraqi Police uniforms, according to police reports. The men, who arrived in two police cars, seized the ministry's bus, separated Sunni officials from Shiites, beat the Shiites, and then released them before leaving with their Sunni co-workers, saying, "You will see the bodies of these four at the garbage dump by tomorrow."

In the northern city of Samarra, a suicide bomber attempted to drive his truck into the house of the city council chief yesterday morning but was stopped by barricades. The explosion destroyed five nearby homes and killed three people, police said.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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