U.S. Releases 5 Iranian Officials in Iraq
Thursday, July 9, 2009; 9:33 AM
BAGHDAD -- The U.S. military on Thursday released five Iranian officials who were detained in January 2007 in northern Iraq on suspicion of aiding Iraqi Shiite militants, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and Iranian officials said.
Zebari, who met them after their release, said he expected the officials to be turned over to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad "after legal procedures were taken." A diplomat at the Iranian Embassy said they were meeting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday afternoon and would be brought to the embassy afterward.
"We have no information yet about their physical or psychological condition or where they were kept the past two years," said Amir Arshadi, the embassy spokesman. "We are still waiting for them."
The U.S. military had no immediate comment.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly demanded the release of the officials, calling their detention by U.S. forces a kidnapping that violated diplomatic protocols. At the time, U.S. authorities said the men included the operations chief and other members of Iran's elite Quds Force, which was accused of arming and training Iraqi militants. Officials in Washington and Baghdad maintained the men had no diplomatic status.
The officials were among seven arrested at an office in Irbil, a city about 200 miles north of Baghdad and the seat of the Kurdish regional government. Computers and documents were also seized. Two of the men were freed later in 2007.
Zebari said the men were freed under a security agreement signed by the United States and Iraq last year. Under its provisions, the U.S. military has begun relinquishing control over a detainee population that numbered 21,000 last year. U.S. officials say it is roughly half that today, with about 750 detainees released each month.
Iraqi officials said that Maliki had urged their release.
Special correspondents Qais Mizher and Zaid Sabah contributed to this report.