Iran: U.S. behind abduction
Iranian officials in Iraq on Tuesday accused U.S. forces of collaborating with Iraqi soldiers in what they described as the kidnapping...
The Washington Post
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iranian officials in Iraq on Tuesday accused U.S. forces of collaborating with Iraqi soldiers in what they described as the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in downtown Baghdad.
Four Iraqis allegedly involved in the kidnapping Sunday evening of Jalal Sharafi were arrested and interrogated by Iraqi police, according to two Iranian officials in Baghdad.
The four Iraqis, who wore military uniforms and carried military identification cards, were "not under the Ministry of Defense control, they were directly connected to the American control," said an Iranian Embassy official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Tuesday the military was not involved in the reported abduction.
Some Iraqi commando units do operate under U.S. military supervision, but Garver said he was certain no Iraqi army units were involved.
"Some work very closely with us, some not so much, but all of them have U.S. advisers with them, and had something like this happened we would have expected to hear of this by now," Garver said.
It is also possible that the diplomat was seized by Sunni insurgents opposed to Iran's growing influence in Iraq or by criminals seeking a ransom.
U.S. deaths: The military disclosed the death of two American troops. A Multi-National Division soldier died Tuesday after "insurgents targeted a security post" in southwest Baghdad, and a Marine was killed Monday in al-Anbar province "from wounds sustained due to enemy action."
Iraqi deaths: At least 51 Iraqis were killed or found dead around the country, including eight slain by two car bombs in Baghdad.
Baghdad moves: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki complained Tuesday the long-awaited Baghdad security operation was off to a slow start and warned that insurgents are taking advantage of the delay to kill as many people as possible. But he also reassured Iraqis that security forces will live up to their responsibilities. The statement came as new checkpoints were erected and increased vehicle inspections and foot patrols were reported in some neighborhoods, providing the main evidence so far that U.S. and Iraqi forces were gearing up for a major sweep, neighborhood by neighborhood.
Seattle Times news services
Insurgents are known to have worn Iraqi uniforms to carry out abductions. They have kidnapped dozens of diplomats from Baghdad's streets.
But there has been no claim of responsibility by any insurgent group, and officials said they were unaware of any ransom demand.
The incident comes as a major embarrassment to the Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who regards both Iran and the U.S. as allies and who appealed last week to both sides to take their quarrels elsewhere.
Iraqi officials declined to comment Tuesday on the Iranian claims, but Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari scheduled a news conference for today, where he was expected to discuss the issue.
The Iranian officials condemned the disappearance of Sharafi, whom they identified as a second secretary in the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, and said his abduction was part of the Bush administration's effort to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.
"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," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Sharafi has worked at the embassy for two years and has a wife and children living in Iran, said Abbass Ittry, the embassy's office manager.
At the time of the apparent abduction, Sharafi was traveling with two colleagues, the Iranian officials said. They said Sharafi's colleagues escaped and notified police, and that police and the abductors briefly exchanged gunfire.
Defense and Interior Ministry officials are searching for Sharafi, said Brig. Abdul Khaliq Karim, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of exacerbating tensions in Iraq by providing money, sophisticated explosives and training to Shiite militias.
President Bush last fall secretly authorized the killing or capture of Iranian intelligence operatives or Revolutionary Guard members operating in Iraq.
U.S. officials last month detained five Iranians at a liaison office that provided consular services in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Iraqi officials said the men were in the process of being certified as diplomats.
In December, U.S. forces detained five Iranians in two separate raids in Baghdad.
In another development, U.S. officials said they were investigating reports an Iraqi parliament member, who belongs to al-Maliki's Dawa Party, was part of a group of Shiites involved in the suicide bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait in 1983.
Spokesman Lou Finter said the U.S. embassy in Baghdad is trying to determine whether legislator Jamal Jaafar Mohammed is the man by the same name who was implicated in bombings in Kuwait that were claimed by the Dawa Party.
Citing "U.S. military intelligence," CNN reported Tuesday that Mohammed was sentenced to death for his alleged role in the bombings, which killed five people and injured more than 80 others.
Washington Post reporters Saad al-Izzi and Naseer Nouri contributed to this report, which was supplemented with information from the Chicago Tribune.
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