x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

US military releases Iranian 'agents'

Five Iranian diplomats held by the US military in Iraq since 2007, after accused of being 'agents' for Tehran, are freed.

Five Iranian diplomats held by the US military in Iraq since January 2007 were freed today, the official IRNA news agency said, quoting Tehran's ambassador to Baghdad. "The five Iranian diplomats abducted in Iraq were handed over by the occupying US forces to the Iraqi prime minister [Nuri al-Maliki]," the ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi said. He said the five men were to be handed over to the Iranian embassy after they met Mr Maliki. "The five Iranians were released and they are in the hands of the Iraqi government. We should receive them in the next hours," a source at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad said.

The US embassy had no immediate comment. US forces, which accuse Iran of funding and equipping militias in Iraq, had arrested the five at an office in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on Jan 11, 2007. It accused them of being agents for Tehran, arming militias and inciting anti-US attacks in Iraq. The arrests triggered a diplomatic row, with Tehran accusing US forces in Iraq of violating international diplomatic regulations, but Washington and the US military in Iraq maintained they had no diplomatic status.

The Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari had said that the five Iranians had been working in Arbil with official sanction, but that their "liaison office" had not yet become a full consulate. *AFP