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U.S. military releases 9 Iranians held in Iraq

Nine Iranians were released Friday from U.S. custody in Iraq, the American military said.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nine Iranians were released Friday from U.S. custody in Iraq, the American military said.

The nine included two men — identified by the military for the first time as Brujerd Chegini and Hamid Reza Asgari Shukuh — who were among five people captured when U.S. forces stormed an Iranian government office in the northern city of Irbil in January.

At the time, U.S. officials accused them of being members of Iran’s elite Quds Force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran said the five were diplomats working in a facility that was undergoing preparations to be a consular office.

The building, along with another Iranian office in Sulaimaniyah, was shut after the Jan. 11 raid. Both reopened Tuesday as Iranian consulates, Iraqi and Iranian officials said.

The nine Iranians were released Friday to Iraqi officials, and were being transferred to the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, the U.S. military said in a statement. They were expected to return to Iran later Friday, it said.

'Careful review'
The U.S. statement said the Iranians were released after a “careful review of individual records to determine if they posed a security threat to Iraq, and if their detention was of continued intelligence value.”

“All nine individuals were determined to no longer pose a security risk,” it said.

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of the Multi-National Force-Iraq’s communications division, had announced earlier this week that the men would be freed “in the coming days.”

The U.S. has accused Iran of funding and arming Shiite extremists fighting American forces in Iraq. Tehran denies the allegations.

The U.S.-backed Iraqi government has close ties to neighboring Iran, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has sought to bring the antagonists together in hopes that would reduce violence.