(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Iranian officials in Iraq on Tuesday accused U.S. forces of collaborating with Iraqi soldiers in what they described as the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat in downtown Baghdad.
Four Iraqis allegedly involved in the kidnapping Sunday evening of diplomat Jalal Sarafi were arrested and interrogated by Iraqi police, according to two Iranian officials in Baghdad. The detained Iraqis, who wore military uniforms and carried military identification cards, were ``not under the Ministry of Defense control, they were directly connected to the American control,'' said an official at the Iranian Embassy who spoke on condition of anonymity, reports Trend.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said Tuesday that the military was not involved in the reported abduction, and that he was not aware of any involvement by Iraqi forces.
Iraqi officials declined to comment Tuesday on the Iranian charges, but Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari scheduled a press conference for Wednesday where he was expected to discuss the issue.
The Iranian officials condemned the disappearance of Sarafi, whom they identified as a second secretary in the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, and said his abduction was part of the Bush administration's effort to counter Iranian influence in Iraq.
``The Islamic Republic of Iran considers it a responsibility of U.S. forces in Iraq to protect members of the diplomatic community, including Iranian diplomats, and will hold them responsible for obtaining the release of the abducted Iranian diplomat,'' Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
Sarafi has worked at the embassy for two years, and has a wife and children living in Iran, said Abbass Ittry, the embassy's office manager. At the time of the apparent abduction, which was first reported by the New York Times, Sarafi was traveling with two colleagues, the Iranian officials said. They said Sarafi's colleagues escaped and notified police and that police and the abductors exchanged gunfire during a brief clash. Defense and Interior Ministry officials are searching for Sarafi, said Brig. Abdul Khaliq Karim, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry.
U.S. officials have accused Iran of exacerbating tensions in Iraq by providing funding, sophisticated explosives and training to Shiite militias. President Bush last fall secretly authorized the killing or capturing of Iranian intelligence operatives or Revolutionary Guard members operating in Iraq. U.S. officials last month detained five Iranians at a liaison office that provided consular services in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Iraqi officials said the men were in the process of being certified as diplomats. In December, U.S. forces detained five Iranians in two separate raids in Baghdad.
Also Tuesday, the U.S. military disclosed the death of two American soldiers. A Multi-National Division soldier was killed Tuesday after ``insurgents targeted a security post,'' in southwest Baghdad, according to a statement. A Marine was killed Monday in al-Anbar province ``from wounds sustained due to enemy action,'' the military said in a statement. Their names will be released after relatives have been notified.
U.S. officials said Tuesday they are investigating an allegation that a member of the Iraqi parliament was convicted in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait.
``We are actively investigating these serious allegations and continue to be in close contact with the government of Iraq to pursue this case,'' Lou Fintor, a U.S. embassy spokesman in Baghdad said. He said he had no further details.
Citing ``U.S. military intelligence,'' CNN reported Tuesday that Jamal Jaafar Mohammed, a member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Dawa party, was sentenced to death for his alleged role in the bombings, which killed five people and injured over 80.