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What has happened to the 5 iranians kidnapped by US?

by brian Saturday, Mar. 31, 2007 at 9:06 PM

- As the Western media turns its attention to the fate of 15 Britons detained for allegedly trespassing into Iranian waters over the weekend, the status of five Iranian officials captured in a U.S. military raid on a liaison office in northern Iraq on Jan. 11 remains a mystery.

Fate of Five Detained Iranians Unknown

by Khody Akhavi

WASHINGTON - As the Western media turns its attention

to the fate of 15 Britons detained for allegedly

trespassing into Iranian waters over the weekend, the

status of five Iranian officials captured in a U.S.

military raid on a liaison office in northern Iraq on

Jan. 11 remains a mystery.

Even though high-level Iraqi officials have publicly

called for their release, for all practical purposes,

the Iranians have disappeared into the U.S.-sanctioned

“coalition detention” system that has been criticized

as arbitrary and even illegal by many experts on

international law.

Hours before President George W. Bush declared that

they would “seek out and destroy the [Iranian]

networks providing advanced weaponry and training to

our enemies in Iraq,” U.S. forces raided what has been

described as a diplomatic liaison office in the

northern city of Arbil, the capital of Iraqi

Kurdistan, and detained six Iranians, infuriating

Kurdish officials in the process.

The troops took office files and computers, ostensibly

to find evidence regarding the alleged role of Iranian

agents in anti-coalition attacks and sectarian

violence in Iraq. One diplomat was released, but the

other five men remain in U.S. custody and have not

been formally charged with a crime.

“They have disappeared. I don’t know if they’ve gone

into the enemy combatant system,” said Gary Sick, an

Iran expert at Columbia University who served in the

White House under former President Jimmy Carter.

“Nobody on the outside knows.”

A spokesman for the Multinational Forces Iraq (MFI),

Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, told IPS this week from

his office in Baghdad, “They are still in ‘coalition

detention’ in accordance with the U.N. Security

Council Resolution 1546, 1637 and 1723.” He provided

no further information regarding their status or


The resolutions endorse the transitional government of

Iraq and extend the mandate of the U.S.-led coalition

force into 2007.

The continued detention of the Iranians has escalated

tensions between the U.S. and Iran and may even have

set the stage for the seizure by Iranian forces of 15

British sailors and marines who allegedly crossed into

Iranian waters over the weekend.

“The Iranian group in Iraq was arrested by American

forces, and we have been asking continuously for their

release,” Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told

the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh this week, “but this is

something different from the British sailors.”

A State Department official with knowledge of the

situation said the Iranians were informed of the

status of the diplomats after their detention through

the Swiss government, which represents U.S. interests

in Iran in the absence of any U.S. diplomatic

presence. He referred all additional questions to MFI

in Baghdad.

Washington severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979,

after Iranian students sympathetic to the Islamic

Revolution took 52 staffers hostage at the U.S.

Embassy in Tehran.

During this month’s regional meeting in Baghdad in

which U.S. officials also participated, the Iranian

delegation requested the release of the five men,

according to a State Department spokeswoman. In

response, the Iraqi government asked the U.S.-led

coalition to investigate the circumstances involving

their detention, she told IPS, adding that “the

investigation is not complete, and we don’t comment

publicly with respect to ongoing investigations.”

The U.N. Security Council resolution that officially

marked the end of the U.S. occupation and transferred

sovereignty to the Iraqi government retains the U.S.

military’s right to implement “security detentions”.

However, any such detentions should be subject to

Iraqi law, according to Scott Horton, who teaches

international law at Columbia University School of


“The Iranians who are being held as ’security

detainees’ are not being charged with anything, and so

are being held unlawfully,” he told IPS.

Under Iraqi law, detainees identified as insurgents

who are “actively engaged in hostilities” — those

implicated in attacks on coalition forces and innocent

Iraqi civilians — are supposed to be charged in

civilian courts. They may be held up to 14 days before

being brought before a magistrate and either charged

with a crime or released. In order to hold detainees

longer without charging them, detention authorities

must provide justification for doing so, according to


That such requirements appear to be systematically

ignored by U.S. forces not only in Iraq, but also in

Afghanistan and the broader “war on terror”, has

fueled criticism of Washington’s detention policies

and practices by human rights groups and legal experts

around the world.

“The U.S. hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under

which it detains ‘combatants’,” said John Sifton, a

researcher with Human Rights Watch. “They regularly

conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and

real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into

the same pot.”

“The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the

soil under which all this has flourished,” said


U.S. detention camps in Iraq currently hold more than

15,000 prisoners, most of whom, like the Iranians,

have been held without charge or access to tribunals

for months, even years, in some cases, according to a

recent New York Times investigative report.

“It’s an exercise of raw power by the U.S. that’s not

backed by any legal justification,” said Horton.

“Legally, it doesn’t pass the ‘ha ha’ test.”

The U.N. secretary-general’s office has not commented

on the detained Iranians or Iran’s detention of the 15

British sailors, describing both incidents as

“disputes between individual states”.

“We’ve left it to the respective countries to work it

out among themselves,” said Farhan Haq, a U.N.

spokesman. “Ultimately it’s up to Security Council

members themselves to determine how its resolutions

get implemented.”

The legal fate of the captured Iranians turns in part

on the issue of whether the two-story building in

Arbil that was the target of the Jan. 11 raid was, as

Iran claims, an official consulate, in which case its

premises and staff are entitled to diplomatic immunity

under the Vienna Convention, or rather a liaison

office, as U.S. officials contend, which would not be

entitled to the same protections.

Both Iran and the Kurdish regional government have

agreed that consular activities — such as the issuance

of visas — had been carried out by office staff since


But the U.S. State Department insists that it was not

an accredited consulate and that the five detainees

are members of the Quds force, an elite unit of Iran’s

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) described by

spokesman Sean McCormack as specialising in “training

terrorists and those sorts of activities”.

According to a knowledgeable source at the Iraqi

Embassy here, the five were not accredited diplomats,

although they had submitted documents for

accreditation before the raid was carried out. Their

applications were being processed at the time, said

the source, who asked not to be identified. The source

also said that the Kurdish regional government had

treated them as if they were indeed accredited.

The raid on the Arbil liaison office was the third in

a series of episodes that targeted Iranian officials

operating in Iraq. On Dec. 20, U.S. forces stopped a

car carrying two Iranian diplomats and their guards.

The next morning, soldiers raided the compound of

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the largest

political party in Iraq, and detained two Iranians who

turned out to have been members of the Revolutionary


After a tense nine-day political standoff, the

Iranians were released from U.S. custody and were

ordered by the Iraqi government to leave the country.

As part of extensive review of its diplomatic

relations with Iran, the Iraqi foreign ministry plans

to turn all liaison offices in Iraq into consulates,

giving them official diplomatic status, according to

the New York Times.

There are 36 Iranian diplomats currently based at

Iran’s embassy in Baghdad, as well as 11 at its

consulate in Karbala and nine more at another

consulate in the southern city of Basra.

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