By Joshua Partlow and Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 6 -- Iranian officials in Iraq on Tuesday accused U.S. forces of collaborating with Iraqi soldiers in what they described as the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in downtown Baghdad.
Four Iraqis allegedly involved in the kidnapping Sunday evening of diplomat Jalal Sharafi were arrested and interrogated by Iraqi police, according to two Iranian officials in Baghdad. The detained Iraqis, who wore military uniforms and carried military identification cards, were "not under the Ministry of Defense control, they were directly connected to the American control," said an official at the Iranian Embassy who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A U.S. military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, said Tuesday that the military was not involved in the reported abduction and that he was not aware of any involvement by Iraqi forces.
Iraqi officials declined to comment Tuesday on the Iranian allegations, but Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari scheduled a news conference for Wednesday at which he was expected to address the issue.
The Iranian officials condemned the disappearance of Sharafi, whom they identified as a second secretary at the embassy in Baghdad, and said his abduction was part of the Bush administration's effort to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran considers it a responsibility of U.S. forces in Iraq to protect members of the diplomatic community, including Iranian diplomats, and will hold them responsible for obtaining the release of the abducted Iranian diplomat," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Sharafi, who has worked at the embassy for two years, has a wife and children living in Iran, said Abbass Ittry, the embassy's office manager. At the time of the apparent abduction, which was first reported by the New York Times, Sharafi was traveling with two colleagues, the Iranian officials said. They said that Sharafi's colleagues escaped and notified police, and that police and the abductors exchanged gunfire during a brief clash.
Iraqi Defense and Interior Ministry officials are searching for Sharafi, said Brig. Abdul Khaliq Karim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
U.S. officials have accused Iran, a Shiite Muslim theocracy, of exacerbating tensions in Iraq by providing funding, sophisticated explosives and training to Shiite militias. President Bush last fall secretly authorized the killing or capturing of Iranian intelligence operatives or Revolutionary Guard members operating in Iraq. U.S. officials last month detained five Iranians at a liaison office that provided consular services in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Iraqi officials said the men were in the process of being certified as diplomats. In December, U.S. forces detained five Iranians in two raids in Baghdad.
The U.S. military, in statements Tuesday, disclosed the deaths of two American service members. A Multinational Division soldier was killed Tuesday after "insurgents targeted a security post" in southwest Baghdad, and a Marine was died Monday in Anbar province "from wounds sustained due to enemy action." Their names will be released after relatives have been notified.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said they are investigating a report that a member of the Iraqi parliament had been convicted in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait.
"We are actively investigating these serious allegations and continue to be in close contact with the government of Iraq to pursue this case," said Lou Fintor, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Baghdad. He said he had no further details.
Citing "U.S. military intelligence," CNN reported Tuesday that Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party, was sentenced to death for his alleged role in the bombings, which killed five people and injured more than 80.
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report.