Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Iraqi foreign minister calls for the release of Iranian detainees

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

The Iraqi foreign minister called for the release of five Iranians detained by US forces in what he said was a legitimate diplomatic mission in northern Iraq, but he stressed that foreign intervention to help insurgents would not be tolerated.

The two-pronged statement on Sunday by Hoshyar Zebari high-lighted the delicate balance facing the Iraqi government as it tries to secure Baghdad with the help of US forces while maintaining ties with its neighbors, including US rivals Iran and Syria.

"Any interventions -- or any harmful interventions to kill Iraqis or to provide support for insurgency or for the insurgents should be stopped by the Iraqi government and by the coalition forces," Zebari said in an interview with CNN's Late Edition.

But he also stressed Iraq has to keep good relations with its neighbors in the region.

"You have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries," he said. "So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighborly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation."

Justification

The US military said the five Iranians detained last week in the Kurdish-controlled northern city of Irbil were connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq. It was the second US raid targeting Iranians in Iraq in less than a month.

The military said the Quds Force faction of the Revolutionary Guard, a hardline military force that reports directly to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is "known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the Government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces."

"Al-Quds" is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, and a frequent term for political or military factions across the Muslim world.

Iran's government denied the five detainees were involved in financing and arming insurgents and called for their release along with compensation for damages.

"Their job was basically consular, official and in the framework of regulations," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on Sunday. "What the Americans express was incorrect and hyperbole against Iran in order to justify their acts."

In Nicaragua, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the US was trying to hide its failures in Iraq by accusing his nation of funding Iraqi insurgents. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of his meeting with Nicaragua's president, Ahmadinejad ducked the question of whether his country was in fact arming and supporting insurgents responsible for attacks in Iraq.

Defiant

Meanwhile, US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said on Monday that the US plans to "go after" what it said were networks of Iranian and Syrian agents in Iraq.

"We're going after their networks in Iraq," he told a news conference, as he laid out the new US and Iraqi strategy to end sectarian violence -- by both Sunnis and Shiites -- at what Khalilzad called a "defining moment" for Iraq.

Khalilzad and the US commander in Iraq, General George Casey, denied there was any disagreement between Washington and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki over the detentions.

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