U.S. Troops Release Detained Iranians

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 29, 2007; 12:04 PM

BAGHDAD -- Eight Iranians, including two diplomats, were released by U.S. forces Wednesday after being detained because unauthorized weapons were found in their cars, the U.S. military said. An adviser to the top U.S. general in Iraq called the detentions "regrettable."

The incident Tuesday came as tensions between Washington and Tehran were already strained by the detention of each other's citizens as well as U.S. accusations of Iranian involvement in Iraq's violence and alleged Iranian efforts to develop nuclear bombs.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zebari told the British Broadcasting Corp. the Iranians were released after Iraqi officials intervened and told the Americans they were part of an official delegation on a legal visit to discuss electricity cooperation.

In Tehran, the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday summoned the Swiss diplomat representing U.S. interests in Iran to protest the detentions. Switzerland looks after the U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the Iranian delegation was in Baghdad to hold talks with Iraqi officials on building a power plant.

"These actions are contrary to the responsibilities of foreign forces in Iraq and is another mistake in the erroneous behavior of the Americans," Hosseini was quoted as saying by state-run television.

Four cars carrying the Iranians, as well as seven Iraqis, were stopped at a checkpoint Tuesday evening and then allowed to proceed to the nearby Sheraton Ishtar hotel, where they were later taken into custody and questioned, the military said.

Saadi Othman, an adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. general in Iraq, told British Broadcasting Corp. television that the detentions were "regrettable" and had "nothing to do" with President Bush's remarks on Tuesday, when he lashed out at Iran for meddling in Iraq's affairs and fomenting instability here.

Zebari, the Iraqi foreign minister, said the detentions were a result of "miscommunication and misunderstanding, and some misinformation." The group was here to discuss Iran supplying Iraq with electricity, Zebari said.

"These Iranians were part of an official delegation visiting the Ministry of Electricity in Baghdad by invitation and they were staying in one of the hotels in Baghdad when an American force arrested them," he told the BBC. "After we intervened with the embassy and explained the situation, that they were here on legal grounds on a legal basis and they have their visas, their credentials were established, then they were released this morning."

He added that it had nothing to do with Bush's speech.

"What happened in Baghdad with the arrest of the seven Iranians, there was no linkage, no connection whatsoever," he said.

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