Report: Envoy to meet Iranians detained in Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iranian state media reported Wednesday that an Iranian envoy will be allowed to meet the five Iranians detained in January by U.S. forces in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil.

There was no immediate confirmation of the report in Baghdad, where neither Iraqi government nor a U.S. military spokesman said they knew that permission had been granted for such a meeting.

“A representative from the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad will meet” the detained Iranians, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said.

U.S. troops detained the five Iranians when it raided their office in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous zone, on Jan 11. The troops also confiscated computers and documents.

The United States accused the Iranians of having links to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard network that was supplying funds and weapons to insurgents in Iraq. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President Bush had approved the strategy of raiding Iranian targets in Iraq as part of efforts to confront the government in Tehran.

Iran denounced their detention, denying that they had any links to insurgents and saying the five men were diplomats who were engaged exclusively in consular work.

The Iraqi government said the office where the Iranians were arrested was an Iranian government mission that was about to be upgraded to a consulate.

On Wednesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said his government had been forwarding Iranian requests for a meeting to the American military, but he could not confirm that one had been arranged. Nor could Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh confirm the reported meeting.

“I don’t know if it has happened or if it will happen, but I can confirm that we have passed that request for some time,” Zebari told The Associated Press.

‘No linkage’ to detained Britons
Zebari insisted the case of the five detained Iranians had no connection to the 15 British sailors and marines detained by the Iranian navy in the Persian Gulf last month.

“I’d like to make absolutely clear the two cases have no linkage or connection,” he said, reacting to media reports that moves to release the one group of detainees could be reciprocated with the other.

The U.S. military in Baghdad said it had no confirmation of the report, but was checking.

The Iranian news agency said the U.S. military had until now refused to allow an Iranian diplomat to see the detainees.

“The new American political and military appointments in Iraq have been effective in the breakthrough,” the Iranian agency said, referring to the new U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, who took office this week, and the new overall U.S. military commander, who took over in February.

The United States and some in the Shiite-led Iraqi government charge that Iran is backing Shiite militias involved in sectarian violence and attacks on U.S. and other coalition troops.

A mostly Shiite Muslim country, Iran has close ties with Iraq’s majority Shiites. It denies links to armed groups in Iraq, arguing it gives only political and religious support to Iraqi Shiites.