updated 12/19/2007 5:25:46 PM ET 2007-12-19T22:25:46

An Iranian detained in northern Iraq more than three years ago has been released by U.S. authorities, Iran's ambassador said Wednesday.

Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi said that Hadir Alawi, who was detained in northern Iraq in June 2004, was released Tuesday.

Qomi said about 20 Iranians remain in U.S. custody in Iraq, including five he described as Iranian diplomats and officials.

U.S. Navy Capt. Vic Beck, spokesman for multinational forces in Iraq, said the Iranian man was released into "government of Iraq custody" on Tuesday. He gave his full name as Sayed Hadir Alawi Mohammed.

The military had "assessed him to be no longer a threat to the security of Iraq," Beck said.

Point of contention
The detentions are among many points of tension between Washington and Tehran in Iraq, where Iran holds significant influence over Shiite groups and is suspected of aiding Shiite militias. But envoys from the two nations have opened groundbreaking contacts on efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Qomi said Alawi's "business in Iraq was legitimate, official and carried out in cooperation with the Iraqi government." But he refused to give specifics on Alawi's work.

He also declined to say from where Alawi was released or where he was now.

Detentions of Iranians in Iraq by the U.S. remains a sensitive issue after the brief August detention by U.S. troops of eight Iranian nationals in a central Baghdad hotel and the January arrest of five Iranians during a U.S. raid in the northern city of Irbil.

Two of those taken in the January raid were released in November along with seven other Iranian detainees. The other three remain in U.S. custody.

Iran denies U.S. allegations
U.S. authorities had accused the five of links to the Quds Force, part of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran has consistently denied U.S. allegations that it is arming and training fighters in Iraq and insists the five were diplomats in Iraq with permission of the government.

Washington broke diplomatic ties with Iran after militants supporting the 1979 Islamic Revolution seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Tensions have sharply increased in recent years after Washington claimed Iran was using its nuclear energy program as cover to seek atomic weapons.

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