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US/Iraq/Iran – diplomats freed

US military in Iraq frees Iranian diplomats

Article published on the 2009-07-09 Latest update 2009-07-09 15:13 TU

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iranian diplomats were released into his custody.(File photo: AFP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Iranian diplomats were released into his custody.
(File photo: AFP)

The US military in Iraq on Thursday freed five Iranian diplomats who had been detained since January 2007. The decision to free them was made under an agreement with the Iraqi government as part of the gradual end of US military operations in Iraq.

The US military has accused Iran of funding and supporting Shia-Muslim militias in Iraq, and had arrested the five in the northern Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil on 11 January 2007.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced their release Thursday, though the US military has not immediately confirmed it.

"The five Iranian diplomats abducted in Iraq were handed over by the occupying US forces to the Iraqi Minister,” said Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Kazemi Qomi, quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

The Iranians expected them to be handed over to their embassy a few hours after they were transferred to Iraqi custody at 10:30am local time, according to Iranian Foreign Minister spokesperson, Hassan Ghashghavi.

The US said the five men were not diplomats, and had accused them of arming militias and inciting attacks against the US. Their detention has caused friction between Iran and the US.

Their release is part of the troop withdrawal agreement signed by Baghdad and Washington, which under which detainees held by the US in Iraq are to be transferred to Iraqi custody.

The US military continues to hold between 10,000 and 11,000 detainees in prisons in Iraq.

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