Armed men wearing Iraqi military uniforms abducted a senior Iranian diplomat Sunday in Baghdad, an official at the Iranian embassy said.
The diplomat was identified by Iran's government-controlled news agency as Jalal Sarafi, the second secretary of the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. Abbass Ittry, the ambassador's office manager, said Sarafi was approached by approximately 30 armed men in the Karada neighborhood in central Baghdad.
"He was going out doing some personal errands when armored cars with men wearing military uniforms stopped him and blindfolded him and took him away," Ittry said in a phone interview.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini called the abduction a terrorist act and blamed it on the Iraqi Defense Ministry, which he said "acted under U.S. supervision,"the
Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Baghdad, said U.S. troops were not involved in the reported abduction. He also said he was not aware of involvement by Iraqi armed forces. Attempts to reach an Iraqi government spokesman for comment Tuesday morning were unsuccessful.
The alleged abduction was first reported by the New York Times.
The incident appeared to further inflame tension over Iran's role in Iraq, and an intensified vow by the U.S. to confront it.
"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," Hosseini told the news agency.
He urged Iraq's government to work to get Sarafi released, and to "severely punish" those involved in the kidnapping.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of exacerbating tensions in Iraq by providing funding, weapons and training to Shiite militias. They specifically have accused Iran of providing specially-shaped roadside bombs that penetrate armored vehicles.
U.S. officials have said there is plenty of evidence of what they regard as Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs.
"What I would tell you is there's really a gap right now between what we know and what we're willing to discuss," U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell told reporters earlier this week, addressing Iran's role in Iraq's violence.
President Bush last fall secretly authorized the killing or capturing of Iranian intelligence operatives or Revolutionary Guard members operating in Iraq, the Washington Post reported last week. Bush has warned Iran that if it acts against U.S. troops or Iraqis in Iraq, the United States will respond firmly.
U.S. officials last month detained five Iranians at an Iranian facility in Irbil. Iraqi officials said the men were in the process of being certified as diplomats. Iran has 56 diplomats in Baghdad and two southern Iraqi cities.
At the time of the apparent abuction on Sunday, Sarafi was traveling with two colleagues, Iranian officials said. The colleagues escaped and notified police.
Police and the apparent abductors, men in military uniforms, exchanged gunfire during a brief clash. Four of the men in uniform, who were traveling in a BMW, were detained by the police, embassy official Ittry said. The rest fled.