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By Jerry Garner
Iran accused the United States on Tuesday, of coordinating the abduction of an Iranian Diplomat conducting business in Iraq. U.S. Officials have denied any direct or indirect involvement in the kidnapping, as tensions between the two nations continue to escalate.
Shortly after sunset on Sunday, a car transporting Jalal Sharafi, second secretary to the Iranian Embassy in Iraq, was travelling through the streets of a Shiite neighborhood. Sharafi had just left a branch of the state-owned Iranian bank in the Karradah district, when his car was blocked by gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms.
Sharafi was forced into one of two vehicles that began to speed away from the scene. Suspicious of what was happening, Iraqi police opened fire on the vehicles, disabling one of them. Sharafi was not in the vehicle that was stopped, but four gunmen found inside were arrested and interrogated.
The following day, uniformed Iraqis appeared at the police station, presented proper identification badges, and demanded custody of the four gunmen for transfer to another detention facility, an official stated.
The authorities complied with the seemingly legitimate order, and the gunmen disappeared. Neither the Interior Ministry nor the Defense Ministry, who collectively control the Iraqi Security Forces, had any information as to what happened to the gunmen when they left the police station.
The Iranian Government and some Shiite lawmakers in Iraq believe that Sharafi was detained as part of an intelligence gathering operation carried out by the Iraqi Special Operations Command, under the direct supervision of U.S. Forces.
“They acted under U.S. supervision,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said in a statement released in Tehran. Al Hosseini described the incident as a “terrorist attack.”
“Based on reliable information, certain agents behind the terrorist act have been arrested. They acted under U.S. supervision,” Hosseini said. “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.”
At the same time, the Bush administration has accused Iran of fueling sectarian violence in Iraq by providing Shiite extremists with weapons and explosives that are being used to attack both U.S. Forces and Sunni Arab targets. U.S. Forces have been holding five Iranians in custody for the past month following a raid carried out in the Northern city of Irbil, and accuses the Iranian Government of plans to attack Americans in the region.
An official at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad states that Shafari’s abduction is just the latest case of heavy handedness under the orders of U.S. officials. “They should release our colleague as soon as possible,” he said angrily.
The United States remains firm in it’s position that neither U.S. Forces, or Iraqi troops under their command, had any involvement with the abduction.
“In all of our research we have found no unit within Multi-National Force-Iraq or that we are associated with that has conducted any operation that remotely resembles this,” said U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver. “We’re continuing to research based on the seriousness of this. However, at this time, there is no evidence that any MNF-I unit participated in this event.”
Although the United States has received the blame for the kidnapping, there is little or no evidence to support the allegation, and there are many alternatives to consider. Kidnappings are common in Baghdad, where merchants and high ranking local officials are often kidnapped by criminals who wish to command a large ransom for their release. Other suspects include rogue elements of the Iraqi Security Forces, or even Sunni insurgents.
Iran officials, however, refuse to consider the possibility that Shafari’s kidnapping was anything less than an attempt by Washington to exert control over Tehran.
“This is not the first time such a thing has happened,” the Iranian Embassy official said of Sharafi’s alleged abduction. “Normally, the United States is responsible.”
American officials remain firm that there is no involvement from their forces. “We don’t really know a whole lot about it at this point,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said. “We know that the Iraqi government is investigating.”
At this time, details are incomplete at best according to Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari. “We are working very hard and the Prime Minister is working very hard to get to the bottom of this,” Zebari said. “This is unacceptable. It’s our responsibility to protect diplomats in this country.”
The one thing that is absolutely certain in all of this is that an already tense situation has been further intensified by the abduction of Jalal Sharafi.
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