U.S. Lets Red Cross See Seized Iranians

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 5, 2007

BAGHDAD, April 4 -- The U.S. military has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit five Iranian officials who were detained in Iraq nearly three months ago on suspicion of plotting against American and Iraqi forces.

A Red Cross delegation that included one Iranian citizen visited the detainees, and a request for a formal consular visit with them is "being assessed at this time" by the U.S. military, said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

In a briefing for reporters Wednesday, Caldwell did not say when the visit took place or whether it was connected to the case of the 15 British sailors and marines detained by Iran on March 23; Iran subsequently announced that they would be released.

The Iraqi government has called for the release of the five Iranians, who were captured during a U.S. military raid in January on an office providing consular services in the Kurdish city of Irbil.

A spokeswoman for the ICRC, Dorothea Krimitsas, confirmed that her organization had visited the Iranian officials but declined to provide details. In general, she said, such inspections involve multiple visits, and information about the detainees' treatment is discussed privately with the "detaining authorities."

News of the visit came a day after the Iraqi government confirmed that an Iranian diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, who was abducted Feb. 4 in downtown Baghdad by people dressed in military uniforms, had been freed. The back-to-back developments raised questions about whether they were connected to the diplomatic crisis involving Britain and Iran. U.S. and Iraqi officials denied that Sharafi's release was related.

During an international conference held in Baghdad in March, Iranian representatives discussed the issue of the five detainees with Zalmay Khalilzad, then the U.S. ambassador, and "there were promises to solve it in a friendly way," Ali Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, told reporters Wednesday in Baghdad.

"We don't want these relations to affect the situation in Iraq," he said.

The Americans have accused the Iranians of being members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's al-Quds Force, which is said to be active in arming and training militant movements in the Middle East. At the time of their capture, the Iranians were without passports and attempting to flush documents down a toilet, U.S. officials have said.

In a separate development Wednesday, two members of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc in the Iraqi parliament were said to be removed from the powerful political alliance because they held meetings with Americans, according to the head of Sadr's parliamentary bloc.

Nasar al-Rubaie, a leader of the 30-person alliance of Shiite lawmakers loyal to Sadr, said that the two legislators, Salam al-Maliki and Qusay Abdul Wahab, violated "clear instructions" by meeting with the unspecified Americans.

"If there is any kind of meeting between someone and the occupation, he will be rejected by Moqtada al-Sadr himself," Rubaie said.

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