The US Military is holding at least four Iranians in Iraq, including men the Bush administration calls senior military officials, who were seized in raids last week, the New York Times reported on Sunday.
The raids were aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, the Times said, citing senior Iraqi and US officials in Baghdad and Washington.
Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the US National Security Council, told the Times two Iranian diplomats were among those initially detained in the raids.
They were turned over to Iraqi authorities and released, he said.
The Times said Johndroe confirmed that a group of other Iranians, including the military officials, remained in custody while an investigation continued.
It was unclear what kind of evidence American officials possessed that the Iranians were planning attacks, and the officials would not identify those being held, the Times said.
One official said that “A lot of material” was seized in the raid, but would not say if it included arms or documents that pointed to planning for attacks, the paper reported.
'Event validates our claims about Iranian meddling'
The two raids, in central Baghdad, have deeply upset Iraqi government officials, who have been making strenuous efforts to engage Iran on matters of security, the Times said. At least two of the Iranians were in Iraq on an invitation extended by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during a visit to Tehran earlier this month.
The Times said it was particularly awkward for the Iraqis that one of the raids took place in the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, who traveled to Washington three weeks ago to meet President George W. Bush.
Over the past four days, the Iraqis and Iranians have engaged in intense behind-the-scenes efforts to secure the release of the remaining detainees, the Times reported.
A senior Western official in Baghdad said the raids were conducted after US officials received information that the people detained had been involved in attacks on official security forces in Iraq, the paper reported.
US and Iraqi officials have long accused Iran of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, but have rarely produced evidence. The Bush administration presented last week’s arrests as a potential confirmation of the link, the Times said.
“We suspect this event validates our claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities,” Johndroe told the Times.