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US forces storm Iranian consulate in Arbil

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Thursday January 11, 2007

Baghdad/Tehran- US forces accompanied by military helicopters on Thursday stormed the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish city of Arbil, arresting five Iranian employees, a Kurdish security source said. In addition to the arrests, US troops confiscated documents and computers, while Kurdish security authorities cordoned off all roads leading to the building.

In Tehran, the Iranian leadership responded by summoning diplomats representing US interests in order to protest.

Local Kurdish officials in northern Iraq refused to comment on the incident.

Arbil is located 350 kilometres north of Baghdad in Iraq's Kurdistan province, the only region officially recognized as a federal entity.

The raid came a day after US President George W Bush said the United States would confront Iran and Syria, accusing them of fomenting violence in Iraq by allowing insurgents into the country and supporting attacks on American troops.

The political and religious representatives of Iraq's Sunni Muslim population accuse the Iranian leadership of supporting Shiite militias and even sending its own fighters to take part in death squads.

In Tehran, Iran summoned the ambassadors of Iraq and Switzerland (which represents US interests in Iran) over the consulate raid, Iran's state television network IRIB reported.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry demanded explanations from the two ambassadors on the raid and stressed that the consulate was established in the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region at the explicit wishes of the Iraqi government and Iraqi Kurdish officials.

Meanwhile, a source close to the Kurdistani government said the administration was unaware of the US plans to raid the Iranian consulate and didn't know the purpose of the operation.

After raiding the consulate, the US forces headed for Eikawa district, which hosts foreign companies and countries' representatives. Security forces of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) reportedly surrounded three US military vehicles to prevent them from further action.

Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini condemned the raid and called it contrary to diplomatic norms.

He also confirmed the arrest of the five consulate staff members, but could give no information on their whereabouts or whether they have been transferred outside Arbil.

The IRIB Arabic network Al-Alam reported that the Iranian consulate employees had already been transferred to Baghdad although the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Massoud Barzani, had tried to prevent the transfer.

Hosseini told ISNA news agency that all accusations by the US alleging Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs were just excuses to cover up the US failure in Iraq.

"Even the Iraqi officials have several times confirmed that Iran had no interference in Iraq," the spokesman said.

Elsewhere at least three people, including a local leader, were killed and 31 wounded when a truck bomb exploded Thursday in Samaraa, northern Iraq, an Iraqi police source said.

Among the dead was Asaad Yassin, president of the municipal council of Samaraa, near whose home the truck was parked, the source said.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency