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Iraq asks Iran to hand back captive coastguards

The Iraqi foreign minister was meeting the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad on Tuesday to seek the return of nine Iraqi coastguards seized by Iran along their tidal waterway frontier.
/ Source: Reuters

Iraq’s foreign minister was meeting the Iranian ambassador in Baghdad on Tuesday to seek the return of nine Iraqi coastguards seized by Iran along their tidal waterway frontier on Saturday.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari was raising the issue in a previously scheduled meeting with the Iranian ambassador, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said. The Iranian embassy and officials in Tehran declined comment.

“Eight men from the coast guard and an officer were taken prisoner by Iranian coast guards,” said a spokeswoman in the prime minister’s office, confirming details of the incident given by local officials in southern Basra province.

One senior officer running Iraqi patrol boats on the Shatt al-Arab waterway, between the city of Basra and the open waters of the Gulf, said one coastguard had been badly wounded by gunfire when Iranian forces intervened as an Iraqi patrol was attempting to search a ship suspected of smuggling oil.

The local governor said an Iraqi coastguard had been killed but the government spokeswoman said she was unaware of that.

Iraq and Iran have a long history of disputes along their tidal border. Iran seized three British naval patrol boats in the same area on its border with Iraq in June 2004, at a time when British forces were responsible for policing the border.

However, relations between Baghdad and Tehran are at the warmest in decades with the arrival in power of majority Shiite leaders from the south following the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Many of those new leaders sought refuge in Shiite Iran during the 1980-88 war Saddam Hussein fought against Tehran.