US raids Iran 'liaison office', Russia says it is unacceptable

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Erbil province in northern Iraq

The U.S. armed forces detained five Iranians working at a "liaison office" located in Erbil, Iraq before dawn on Friday. Sources said that the U.S. forces first landed their helicopters around the building, then broke through the office's gate, disarmed the guards, confiscated some documents and certain objects, arrested five suspected terrorists, and then left for an undisclosed location.

However, there was no raid on the Iranian Consulate General as earlier reported. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Agence France-Presse that the building raided was "not a consulate or a government building", which appears to be confirmed by the Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who said the Iranians were working at an office that had government approval and was in the process of being approved as a consulate, but was not a Consulate nor the Iranian Consulate General. The US is strategically insisting that they raided a "liaison office" instead of a Consulate to avoid being found in violation of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mikhail Kamynin said that the raid was absolutely unacceptable and was a violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The Kurdistan Regional Government also expressed their shock and disapproval of the raid.

On Thursday's hearing on Iraq, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delware), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Bush Administration did not have the authority to send U.S. troops on cross-border raids. Biden said, "I believe the present authorization granted the president to use force in Iraq does not cover that, and he does need congressional authority to do that. I just want to set that marker." After the meeting, Biden sent a follow-up letter to the White House asking for an explanation from the Bush Administration on the matter.

On Thursday morning, Iran's foreign ministry official sent a letter to Iraq's foreign ministry asking Iraq to stop the Bush Administration from interfering with Iraq-Iran relations, and has protested the raid on its liaison office. The official said, "We expect the Iraqi government to take immediate measures to set the aforesaid individuals free and to condemn the U.S. troopers for the measure. Following up on the case and releasing the arrestees is a responsibility of primarily the Iraqi government and then the local government and officials of the Iraqi Kurdistan."

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