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Middle East
US releases Iranians held in Iraq
Those freed include five captured in Arbil on suspicion of aiding Shia militias.
Last Modified: 09 Nov 2007 09:58 GMT

The US announced it would release the nine after noting a drop in mortar attacks in Baghdad [AFP]

US forces have released nine of the 20 Iranians being held in Iraq and handed them over to government officials in Baghdad, the US military has said.
 
The nine included two who were among five captured in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil in January on suspicion of aiding Shia militias in Iraq.
Their capture added to a sharp rise in tensions between Iran and Iraq, and between bitter rivals Washington and Tehran.
 
"All nine individuals were determined to no longer pose a security risk and to be of no continued intelligence value," the US military statement said on Friday.
Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, said the nine were handed over to Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, and were then transferred to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.

Iranian state television quoted an unidentified Iranian embassy official as saying that the two captured in Irbil, who were described as diplomats, would return home later on Friday.

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US officials claimed that the five captured in Arbil in January were either members or "associates" of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards's elite Quds Force, which Washington accuses of supporting terrorism.

Iran insists that all five detained in Arbil were diplomats working in a facility that was undergoing preparations to be a consular office.

The building, along with another Iranian office in Sulaimaniyah, was shut after the January 11 raid. Both offices - located in the two largest cities in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish zone - reopened on Tuesday as Iranian consulates, Iraqi and Iranian officials said.

Tehran has denied stoking violence in Iraq, blaming bloodshed in Iraq on the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003. Washington accuses Tehran of funding, training and arming militias in Iraq.

The US military announced it would release the nine this week after noting last month a sharp drop in mortar attacks on Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Many of those attacks have been blamed on Shia militias using Iranian-made weapons.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, has held three rounds of talks on security in Iraq with his Iranian counterpart this year.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, urged Iran and the United States to hold a new round of trilateral talks with Iraq following the "positive" release of the nine Iranians.

"We have been saying that there should be a new round of talks  between the three countries on the issues involving Iraq. These talks should happen this month," Zebari said.

Source:
Agencies
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