The Washington Post

U.S. Refuses to Free 5 Captured Iranians Until at Least October

- By Robin Wright

The United States will not release five Iranians detained in a U.S. military raid in northern Iraq until at least October, despite entreaties from the Iraqi government and pressure from Iran, U.S. officials said. The delay is as much due to a communicat­ion and procedural foul-up within the U.S. government as a policy decision, they added.

During his Washington visit this week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appealed to Secretary of State Condoleezz­a Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to free the Iranians, who were arrested in Irbil in January, U.S. and Arab officials said.

Zebari told U.S. officials that the release would help the new U.S.-Iran dialogue on Iraq, which brought diplomats from the two nations together last month in Baghdad at their first public meeting in almost three decades. Iran has become pivotal to U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq because Tehran exerts great influence in Iraq with a wide cross-section of parties and has armed and trained many militant groups. Zebari also warned that Tehran might not attend a second session unless the Iranians are released, the sources said.

The U.S. raid on Iran’s northern liaison office Jan. 11 was designed to detain two senior Iranian officials who were visiting Iraq, U.S. officials said. The two escaped arrest, but U.S. commandos did detain five midlevel operatives working with Iran’s elite Quds Force, which is the foreign operations wing of Iran’s Revolution­ary Guards and is tied to arming, training and funding militants in Iraq.

The detention of the Iranians followed President Bush’s vow to break up Tehran’s networks in Iraq. The fate of the five men has reached the highest levels of the White House, with Bush’s top foreign policy advisers meeting to discuss the issue in the spring. They agreed to hold the men as they do other foreign fighters captured in Iraq, with their status reviewed every six months.

They were originally due for review six months after their detention — or by mid-July. Instead, the Multinatio­nal Force headquarte­rs reviewed their status in April, meaning they are not eligible for another review until October, U.S. officials said. Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker were unaware that a review had occurred until last week, the officials noted.

Zebari was not told of the new timeframe during his talks in Washington, U.S. and Arab officials said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned June 13 that the United States would face consequenc­es for its January raid. “We will make the U.S. regret its repulsive, illegal action against Iran’s consulate and its officials,” Mottaki told reporters in Tehran.

The same day, Iran filed a complaint with the United Nations. “U.S. military forces, in violation of the most basic provisions governing diplomatic and consulate affairs and in a flagrant contempt for the most fundamenta­l principles of internatio­nal law, attacked the Iranian Consulate General in Irbil and abducted five Iranian consular officers after disarming the guards of the premises, breaking the doors into the building and beating and injuring the personnel of the Consulate General,” the letter said.

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