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    Wednesday, August 29, 2007

    U.S Troops release Iranian Diplomats

    U.S Troops release Iranian Diplomats -

    BAGHDAD, Iraq - U.S. troops released seven Iranians early Wednesday, hours after detaining them at a central Baghdad hotel, an Iranian embassy official said.

    The Iranian diplomat, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that one of those released contacted the embassy Wednesday morning to say that they have been handed over to Iraqi authorities.

    American troops raided Baghdad's Sheraton Ishtar hotel and took away a group of about 10 people late Tuesday. The diplomat said the seven Iranians included an embassy staffer and six members of a delegation from Iran's Electricity Ministry.

    "At 7 a.m. today, a member of the delegation called the embassy and said they are now at the prime minister's office," the diplomat said. "The Americans released them. They held them until seven this morning."

    The U.S. military confirmed that it had taken "some individuals ... identified as being Iranian citizens with Iranian passports" into custody on Tuesday, but said they were apprehended at a checkpoint nearby the Sheraton hotel during a routine stop.

    The others involved were "Iraqi escorts who identified themselves with Iraqi Ministry of Electricity badges," the military said.

    Several of the men were observed to have weapons in their cars, none of them had the appropriate permits, so all were detained, the military said.

    There was no immediate comment from the military on their possible release.

    The arrest of Iranians officials could add to tensions between Washington and Tehran already strained by the detention of each other's citizens as well as U.S. accusations of Iranian involvement in Iraq's violence and alleged Iranian efforts to develop nuclear bombs.

    Videotape shot Tuesday night by AP Television News showed U.S. troops leading about 10 blindfolded and handcuffed men out of the hotel in central Baghdad. Other soldiers carried out what appeared to be luggage and at least one briefcase and a laptop computer bag.

    Video At Jawa Report

    In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "I've seen that report but I can't verify it."

    The Internet site of Radio Sawa, an Arabic language station financed by the United States, said Iranian officials were detained and taken to an unknown location. It said the Iranian delegation was in Baghdad to negotiate contracts on electric power stations.

    An Iranian diplomat told the AP that the Iranian Embassy had notified Iraqi authorities about the Radio Sawa report. The diplomat refused to give his name.

    Iran has constantly complained about the U.S. detention since Jan. 11 of five Iranians who were in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. U.S. officials say the five include the operations chief and other members of Iran's elite Quds Force, which is accused of arming and training Iraqi militants.

    The Iranian regime denies any involvement in the violence wracking its neighbor.

    On Tuesday, President Bush lashed out at Iran for meddling in Iraq's affairs and fomenting instability in its neighbor. Bush made his remarks in a speech to the American Legion convention in Reno, Nevada, in which he presented a ringing defense of the unpopular Iraq war effort.

    "I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran's murderous activities," said Bush, whose administration has accused Iran of arming Shiite militias in Iraq. "The Iranian regime must halt these actions."

    U.S. authorities are unhappy about Iran's arrest of four people with dual American-Iranian citizenship for allegedly seeking to undermine the Islamic republic's security. Two are imprisoned in Iran, while two are free but barred from leaving the country.

    Relations also are edgy over the suspicions of the U.S. and its allies that Tehran is using its civilian nuclear power program as a screen to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies that, saying the program only has the peaceful aim of generating electricity.

    The strains have many people in the region worried about the possibility of fighting between the U.S. and Iran.

    But while making his latest defense of Iran's nuclear program earlier Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dismissed the possibility of any U.S. military action against Iran, saying Washington has no plan and is not in a position to take such action.

    Ahmadinejad declared that U.S. political influence in Iraq is "collapsing rapidly" and that Tehran is ready to help fill any power vacuum.

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