U.S. Detains 6 Iranians in Irbil Raid

http://apnews.excite.com/article/20070111/D8MJ87280.html

By QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - U.S.-led multinational forces detained six Iranians
Thursday at an Iranian government office in the northern city of Irbil,
Iraqi officials said, as President Bush accused Iran and Syria of aiding
militants and promised to "interrupt" the flow of support as part of his new
war strategy.

The U.S. military said it had taken six people into custody in the Irbil
region but made no mention of a raid on the Iranian government office.

The forces entered the building about 3 a.m., detaining the Iranians and
confiscating computers and documents, two senior local Kurdish officials
said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
information. Irbil is a city in the Kurdish-controlled northern part of
Iraq, 220 miles from Baghdad.

A resident living near the building said the troops used stun bombs and
brought down an Iranian flag from the roof. As the operation went on, two
helicopters flew overhead, the resident said on condition of anonymity for
fear of reprisals.

At the Pentagon, a senior U.S. military official said the building was not a
consulate and did not have any diplomatic status. The six Iranians were
taken in a "cordon-and-knock" operation, said the official who spoke on
condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the
information.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Baghdad was seeking
clarification from the U.S. and Iran "about these people and what they were
doing there and whether they were employees."

The regional Kurdish government condemned the arrests and called for the
immediate release of the Iranians. It added that the government "was not
aware in advance of the raid."

Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi and Swiss ambassadors in Tehran
and "demanded an explanation" about the incident. Switzerland represents
American interests in Iran, where there is no U.S. embassy.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told state-run radio the
raid was "against a diplomatic mission" since the "presence of Iranian
staffers in Irbil was legal." Hosseini claimed the action by coalition
forces reflected a "continuation of pressure" on Iran, aiming to "create
tension" between Iraq and its neighbors.

Late last month, U.S. troops elsewhere in Iraq detained two Iranians and
released two others who had diplomatic immunity.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the U.S.
military would continue to target networks of individuals, regardless of
their nationality, that are providing weapons designed to kill American
troops in Iraq.

"I think it's instructive that in the last couple of weeks two of those
raids that we conducted to go after these folks that are providing these
kinds of weapons - two of those raids had policed up Iranians. So it is
clear that the Iranians are complicit in providing weapons," he said.

The arrests come as tensions are high between Iran and the United States.
The Bush administration has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear
weapons and of helping fuel violence in Iraq. Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is trying to expand Tehran's role in Iraq as a
counter to U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf region.

Al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government spokesman, said any improvement in
relations between the United States, Syria and Iran would only help Iraq.

Sometimes we pay the price for the tension in relations between Iran and the
United States and Syria, therefore it is in our interest ... that these
relations improve, but not at the expense of Iraq," he said.

Bush's new strategy, however, ignores key recommendations of the Iraq Study
Group, which in December called for a new diplomatic offensive and an
outreach to Syria and Iran. Instead, the president accused both countries of
aiding terrorists and insurgents in Iraq.

"We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said. "We will interrupt
the flow of support from Iran and Syria."

Politicians and ordinary Iraqis, meanwhile, expressed skepticism Thursday
that Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq will quell the violence
in their country, but some offered weary acceptance of any effort to stop
the carnage after several failed past attempts.

The varied reactions underscore the challenges facing the Shiite-dominated
Iraqi government, which is under pressure to rein in predominantly Shiite
militias as well as Sunni insurgents as both sides have killed thousands in
spiraling sectarian attacks.

An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki welcomed the new strategy but
stressed that the government must take the lead in the military action. The
plan also envisions 10,000 to 12,000 Iraqi troops to secure Baghdad
neighborhoods, and al-Maliki has announced plans for a new Iraqi security
operation, although similar past efforts have been unsuccessful.

"The failure in Iraq will not only affect this country only but the rest of
the region and the world, including the United States," al-Maliki aide Sadiq
al-Rikabi said.

"The current situation is not acceptable - not only for the American people
but also for the Iraqis and their government. As Iraqis and as an elected
government we welcome the American commitment for success," he added. "The
Iraqi government also is committed to succeed."

A Sunni lawmaker rejected the plan to send more U.S. troops and called
instead for a timetable for them to withdraw, while other critics from both
sects said it wouldn't succeed because of the power of mostly Shiite
militias that have been blamed for much of the recent sectarian violence.

"Bush's plan could be the last attempt to fix the chaos created after the
invasion of Iraq. Yet, sending more troops will not end the problem, on the
contrary, there will be more bloodshed," said Sunni lawmaker Hussein
al-Falluji.

Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman said the "plan will fail. Sending more
troops and financial support will not help if there is no sectarian and
political solution."

Osama Ahmed, a 50-year-old Sunni who works in the Ministry of Higher
Education, said he got up early to watch the speech, which was broadcast
live at 5 a.m. Thursday on Iraqi state television.

"More U.S. troops will mean more wasted blood and more people killed," Ahmed
said. "The violence will surge unless U.S. administration decides to curb
militiamen who are part of the Iraqi government."

Abdel-Karim Jassim, a 44-year-old Shiite trader, said he had hoped Bush
would come up with something other than the troop increase.

"Sending more troops will not solve the problem," he said, although he
acknowledged that "Iraqis cannot handle security issue on their own because
of the sectarian divisions and the strong militias and insurgents."

Awad Mukhtar, a 35-year-old technician, said Bush's new proposals could be
Iraq's "last chance" for peace.

"The security situation in Iraq is very bad, we are facing death at any
moment daily," Mukhtar said. "I see the new Bush strategy as the last chance
for Iraqis to save their lives ... we have no other choice, only to wait and
see the results."

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue and Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to
this report in Baghdad.