By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007
Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top commander of day-to-day operations in Iraq, said he will recommend that five Iranians captured by U.S. forces in January not be released when their case is reviewed this month, a move that could further increase tensions between Washington and Tehran.
"Militarily, we should hold on to them," he told reporters and editors at The Washington Post on Wednesday.
The status of the captured Iranians is so sensitive that it is the only case of foreign detainees in Iraq that is being reviewed all the way up to the White House. Odierno's view reflects a deepening anger at both the State Department and the Pentagon over Iran's failure to cooperate in the stabilization of Iraq, even after the first bilateral public dialogue between U.S. and Iranian diplomats in 28 years was launched in March in Baghdad.
Since then, according to U.S. officials, Tehran has continued to arm, train and support Iraqi militants who aim to destabilize Iraq and target U.S. troops. "Why should we reward bad behavior?" said another senior U.S. official involved in Iraq policy.
The United States says the five Iranians, nicknamed the Irbil 5 because they were seized during a U.S. raid on Iran's Liaison Office in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil, are members of the Quds Force, an elite wing of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps charged with its foreign clandestine operations.
Iran and Iraq say the men were credentialed officials working out of a diplomatic facility recognized by the Kurdish government and about to be recognized by Baghdad. Two more senior Iranian officials who were the targets of the U.S. raid escaped.
U.S. troops last month arrested a sixth Iranian, Mahmudi Farhadi, in northern Iraq and said he also was part of the Quds Force network. Odierno said he is a "significant" player who is suspected of providing weapons, money and training to Iraqi militants since 2005. But Iran and Iraq say he was part of a visiting business delegation traveling with the knowledge of local and national Iraqi governments.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told editors and reporters at The Post this week that Iraq is demanding that the Iranians be freed. "The five were not part of the Quds Force," he said. Iran threatened to close the border after Farhadi's capture, and Talabani wrote U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker charging that the United States had "ignored our authority." Talabani added: "I ask for his immediate release in order to maintain healthy relations."
In Iraq, detainees under U.S. control come up for review every six months. The United States also is holding two other Iranians detained in two separate earlier incidents.