Iraqi official: Iran to free Iraqi sailors

Iran is to hand over nine Iraqi coast guards who Baghdad says were kidnapped by Iranian forces in their water frontier last weekend, according to the governor of Iraq's Basra province.

    The affair is a test of warming ties between Iraq and Iran

    "The nine will be delivered to the Iraqi side at 2.30pm

    (1130 GMT) today," Mohammed al-Waili, the governor, said.

    Waili said on Tuesday that the Iraqi coast guards had boarded

    an Iranian-skippered ship suspected of smuggling oil in Iraqi

    waters when they were overpowered by an Iranian patrol.

    Iran initially denied the incident, but then its envoy to

    Baghdad on Wednesday accused the Iraqi vessels of having

    encroached on Iranian waters.

    The envoy said Tehran was

    investigating Iraq's claims that the coast guard patrol had been

    detained.

    The affair is a test of the new warmth in relations between

    Baghdad and Tehran since pro-Iranian Shias took control in

    Iraq after US forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.

    Iraq and Iran have a long history of disputes along the

    waterway. Iran briefly seized three British naval patrol boats

    in the same area in June 2004, at a time when US-led

    forces were responsible for policing the border.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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