Thursday, January 11, 2007

US forces storm Iranian consulate in Arbil, arrest five

Jan 11, 2007, 13:13 GMT

Baghdad/Tehran - US forces accompanied by military helicopters on Thursday stormed the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish city of Arbil, arresting five Iranian employees, a Kurdish security source said.

In addition to the arrests, US troops confiscated documents and computers, while Kurdish security authorities cordoned off all roads leading to the building.

In Tehran, the Iranian leadership responded by summoning diplomats representing US interests in order to protest. Local Kurdish officials in northern Iraq refused to comment on the incident.

Arbil is located 350 kilometres north of Baghdad in Iraqi Kurdistan province, the only region gaining an official recognition as a federal entity.

The raid came a day after US President George W Bush said the United States would confront Iran and Syria, accusing them of fomenting violence in Iraq by allowing insurgents into the country and supporting attacks on American troops.

The political and religious representatives of Iraq's Sunni Muslim population accuse the Iranian leadership of supporting Shiite militias and even sending its own fighters to take part in dead squads.

In Tehran, Iran summoned the ambassadors of Iraq and Switzerland (which represents US interests in Iran) over the consulate raid, Iran's state television network IRIB reported.

The Iranian foreign ministry demanded explanations from the two ambassadors on the raid and stressed that the consulate was established in the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region at the explicit wishes of the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish officials.

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Minister Spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini condemned the raid and termed it as contrary to diplomatic norms.

He also confirmed the arrest of the five consulate staff members, but could give no information on their whereabouts or whether they have been transferred outside Arbil.

The IRIB Arabic network Al-Alam reported that the Iranian consulate employees had already been transferred to Baghdad although Massoud Barezani, the chief of the Kurdistan deferral entity, had tried to prevent the transfer.

Hosseini told ISNA news agency that all accusations by the US alleging Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs were just excuses for covering up the US failure in the US.

'Even the Iraqi officials have several times confirmed that Iran had no interference in Iraq,' the spokesman said.

© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur

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