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Fate of 5 Iranian consulate staff held by US troops in Iraq not clear

Baghdad, Jan 13, IRNA-The fate of five Iranian diplomats arrested by US troops in the Iranian consulate in Erbil, Iraq, is still in the dark three days after their arrest during a raid conducted by the troops on the consulate in northern Iraq, it was reported on Saturday.

The consulate was raided Thursday morning and its six staff taken away by the forces. One, a local employee, was released Friday, reliable sources here said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they said that the US forces were forced to release the local employee because of intense pressure from Tehran and Baghdad.

US forces broke into the consulate building at 3 am Thursday (local time) by disarming its guards and breaking the lock of the gate. They then arrested the consular staff and took them away along with computers and documents to an "unknown place," the sources added.

The sources described the move by the US forces as "unprecedented" since the invasion of Iraq by US and allied forces in 2003.

The government of the Iraqi Kurdish region said the raid was conducted without a notification to the local government.

Releasing a statement, the government of Kurdish party leader Massoud Barzani condemned the US raid on the Iranian consulate and demanded immediate release of all detained consular staff.

The government of the Kurdish region of Iraq expresses its disapproval of the operation against the Iranian consulate, the statement added.

Noting that the raid was conducted without notifying the regional government, the statement said that the attack on the Iranian consulate "damaged efforts to restore stability and security in Iraq."

Barzani's statement further said that the US move was condemned by the entire Kurdish people.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told his Iraqi counterpart, Hoshyar Zebari, in a telephone conversation after the incident that "America's illegal and adventurist acts should stop in Iraq."

"These acts violate the Geneva convention (which mandates inviolability of embassies and consulates) and the attack was an obvious interference of the brotherly relations between the two countries," he added.

The Iranian consulate was established in Erbil two years ago upon the request of the Kurdish regional government to facilate travel and other exchanges of residents.

The office was intended to facilitate travel and other exchanges between nationals of the two neighboring countries.

The US Friday accused Iran of establishing the consulate to facilate anti-American and anti-Iraqi activities inside that country.

Tehran categorically denies the claims.

... Payvand News - 1/13/07 ... --

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