U.S. hands over Iranian officials detained in Iraq
Five Iranian officials detained by the U.S. military in Iraq for up to two years were released on Thursday and handed over to Iranian embassy staff by Iraqi authorities, an Iranian embassy official said, according to Reuters.
The capture of the Iranians, who include officials U.S. forces accused of arming Shi'ite Muslim militias at the height of Iraq's sectarian war, stoked tension between Tehran and Washington, also at odds over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
The men were first handed over by their U.S. jailors to Iraq's Shi'ite Muslim-led government, which is friendly with Iran, and then transferred into Tehran's care.
"We received them and they are in good health, thank God. They are at the embassy in Baghdad," said an embassy spokesman.
The White House in Washington said it handed over the men at the request of the government in Baghdad, in compliance with a U.S.-Iraq security agreement.
Under a bilateral security pact that took effect in January, the United States must gradually transfer more than 10,000 detainees it still holds to the Iraqi government to be either charged in local courts or released.
A vast prison camp in southern Iraq, and a smaller one near Baghdad airport, will be closed or handed to Iraq, ending a controversial programme of detention without charge that has been a feature of the U.S. presence in Iraq during six years of war.
Iranian state television said three of the men were diplomats detained in a 2007 U.S. raid in Iraq's northern city of Arbil, while the rest were "two other Iranians kidnapped elsewhere in Iraq by the U.S. occupation troops."
Five men were originally detained in Arbil in 2007, but two of them were later released. There was no further information about the additional two Iranians released on Thursday.
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted the ambassador in Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, as saying the freed Iranians would visit Shi'ite holy places in Iraq before returning to Iran early next week.