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Iran reopens border crossings in northern Iraq

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran reopened five border crossing points with Kurdish-run northern Iraq on Monday, closed last month by Tehran to protest the U.S. detention of an Iranian official.

Car and truck bombs killed at least 24 people in Baghdad and north of the capital, including a blast that killed at least 13 people in Dijlah, a village near Samarra in the Sunni heartland. The attacks bore the hallmarks of al-Qaida in Iraq, which has promised an offensive to coincide with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The Iranian border points were closed Sept. 24 to protest the U.S. detention of an Iranian official. The U.S. military has said the official was a member of the paramilitary Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that is accused of providing arms and training to Shiite extremists.

The border points were reopened after a Kurdish delegation traveled to Iran to complain the region should not be punished for something the Americans did. Iraqi and Iranian authorities have claimed that the detained Iranian, Mahmoud Farhadi, was in Iraq on official business and demanded his release.

A spokesman for the Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq, Jamal Abdullah, said he hoped the resumed flow of traffic and goods would help rising prices plaguing the region since the closures.

The reopening is in the “economic interests of both countries,” Abdullah said, adding that Tehran and Baghdad share the responsibility to “prevent gunmen from having access to either side of the border.”

Iran ambassador member of Quds Force?
U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus claimed this weekend that the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, was a member of the Quds Force.

“The Quds Force controls the policy for Iraq; there should be no confusion about that either,” Petraeus told CNN and other reporters during a trip to a military base on the Iranian border. “The ambassador is a Quds Force member. Now he has diplomatic immunity and therefore he is obviously not subject (to an investigation) and he is acting as a diplomat.”

Petraeus did not provide details on how he knew that Qomi, who has held talks in Baghdad with U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, belonged to the Quds Force.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry rejected the allegations.

“These are not new comments. Similar accusations were raised, formerly. It is baseless and not right,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters in Tehran.

The Iraqis have found themselves caught between two allies as they struggle to balance the interests of the U.S. military, their main sponsor, and Iran, a major regional ally. Iran holds considerable sway in Iraq: Both countries have majority Shiite populations, and many members of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ruling Shiite bloc have close ties with Tehran.

Tense relations
Iraqi-U.S. relations also are strained over the Sept. 16 killing of Iraqi civilians allegedly by security guards from Blackwater USA, which protects American diplomats in Iraq.

An official Iraqi investigation into the Blackwater shootings has raised the number of Iraqis killed to 17 — six more than previously thought — and concluded the gunfire was not warranted and that those involved should face trial.

A government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, announced Sunday that the Iraqi investigative committee had asserted the shootings amounted to deliberate murder and recommended those involved be held legally accountable.

Its final results showed that the convoy from the Moyock, N.C.-based security company did not come under direct or indirect fire at western Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. “It was not hit even by a stone,” al-Dabbagh said in a statement.

Blackwater contends its employees came under fire first.

Commission met first time Sunday
A U.S.-Iraqi commission also met for the first time on Sunday to review American security operations after the Sept. 16 shootings. The panel is one of at least three investigations.

Al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi Cabinet would weigh the Iraqi findings with those of the joint commission “and subsequently adopt the legal procedures to hold this company accountable.”

Also Monday:

  • U.S. troops killed five and detained three suspected rogue Shiite militants in eastern Baghdad after they came under attack during an operation targeting a cell involved in kidnappings and attacks with armor-piercing roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, the military said.
  • The U.S. military said American soldiers detained 17 suspected insurgents during a combat operation Saturday in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. The suspects were said to be members of a mortar cell wanted for launching attacks into Baghdad.
  • Britain will withdraw nearly half its troops in Iraq beginning next spring, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in London, leaving a contingent of 2,500 soldiers. Brown told lawmakers the move is possible because of improving security following the U.S. increase in troop numbers this summer and detailed discussions with the Iraqi government on a visit last week.