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Iraq Transition

Iranian diplomat may have been arrested in Iraq

Story Highlights

• Iranian diplomat was taken by gunmen wearing uniforms, official says
• Iranian spokesman holds U.S. responsible for diplomat's release
• U.S. spokesman: "No Multi-National Forces were involved"
• Iraqi PM tells military to move faster on implementing security plan
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's government spokesman said Tuesday that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad told his country that an Iranian diplomat believed to have been kidnapped days ago instead had been arrested.

Ali al-Dabbagh, interviewed on CNN, said Iraqi authorities are trying to determine the fate of the diplomat.

"We've been informed by the Iranian ambassador here in Baghdad that one of their diplomats has been arrested," al-Dabbagh said.

He wouldn't provide more details until an Iraqi security forces investigation is completed.

Iraqi sources and official Iranian news reports had been saying all day Tuesday that the man -- identified as Jalal Sharafi, second secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad -- was abducted on Sunday night.

A high-ranking Iraqi government official told CNN that gunmen wearing uniforms similar to those of Iraqi soldiers "intercepted" the diplomat. He said the incident took place while the diplomat was driving through Masbah, near Baghdad's Karrada neighborhood.

"When a local police unit from al-Masbah tried to stop them, the abductors fled away with the diplomat, leaving Sharafi's car behind," the official said.

Police chased the alleged kidnappers as they were driving away from the scene and were able to detain four of them from one vehicle, the official said.

"It's unclear whether the armed men were a legitimate Iraqi army unit or gunmen wearing like Iraqi army uniforms," the official said.

Conflicting reports

Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported the diplomat was abducted in front of a branch of the Iranian state-owned Bank Melli.

Another news outlet, the Iranian Students News Agency, reported that the diplomat was kidnapped Sunday evening "when his convoy was stopped by men with official Defense Ministry identification in Baghdad."

"Iraqi security forces captured several suspects after pursuing their vehicles through the streets of Baghdad. The vehicle with the diplomat was not caught, though," ISNA said.

Iran blames U.S.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini condemned the act and linked it to Iraq's Defense Ministry, IRNA reported. He said he holds the United States responsible for the release of the diplomat.

According to IRNA, Hosseini said that "U.S. behavior and performance in Iraq have led to tensions and 'clearly violates all international conventions.'"

"The U.S.' performance will have adverse consequences on its diplomatic standing in the international community," IRNA quoted Hosseini as saying. "Based on reliable information, certain agents behind the terrorist act have been arrested. They acted under U.S. supervision."

He urged Iraq to do what it can "to obtain the release" of the diplomat and to punish those who carried out the alleged kidnapping.

"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," Hosseini is quoted as saying.

Asked about the incident, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said, "This is a government of Iraq issue. No Multi-National Forces were involved."

On Monday, the day after the alleged kidnapping, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with Hassan Kadhmi Qummi, the Iranian ambassador in Iraq, and discussed the need to provide better protection to the Iranian diplomats, Zebari's office said Tuesday.

The two discussed bilateral relations and reviewed the latest efforts made by the Iraqi government to release other Iranians who had been detained previously by authorities.

In Tehran on Tuesday, both the Swiss and Iraqi ambassadors to Iran were summoned to Iran's Foreign Ministry, where Iran issued its "strong objection" over the supposed kidnapping, ISNA reported.

Iran and the United States do not have diplomatic relations. Switzerland represents U.S. interests in Tehran, while Pakistan represents Iranian interests in Washington.

Iran's Foreign Ministry, in separate meetings, demanded the diplomats' release and urged punishment for those responsible, ISNA reported.

Al-Maliki urges quick action on security

Iraq's prime minister on Tuesday urged military commanders to quickly implement a modified Baghdad security plan, a crucial push to secure the war-torn capital.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's meeting with the commanders was held amid grassroots criticism of the military efforts in Iraq after Saturday's bombing at a Baghdad market and a Thursday bombing at a Hilla market, which together accounted for more than 200 deaths. (Watch Iraqi demand better security after the bloody attack on the Baghdad market Video)

Many Iraqis were upset that the modified plan, which had been been in its initial stages in the past month, had not developed faster.

"This delay is starting to send a negative message; those who want it to fail are starting to say it has failed in the cradle. I hope for determination and quicker implementation of all necessary preparations for the start of operations," al-Maliki said.

The Baghdad security plan, led by Iraqi forces, will address two key aspects that failed under a previous attempt to secure the Iraqi capital: adding more U.S. and Iraqi forces, and setting up a unified command-and-control structure.

Al-Maliki said commanders are being asked not to listen to politicians, only the chain of command. And, he said, no one will be immune from the law, no matter their sect.

The security plan is expected to intensify in coming days as more U.S. troops arrive. (Watch weapons found in Baghdad mosque Video)

On Tuesday, five civilians and a police officer were killed in Baghdad bombings, authorities told CNN. Also, 30 unidentified bodies were found slain across the capital -- all thought to be the result of sectarian killings, the Interior Ministry said.

Other developments

  • A U.S. soldier was killed Tuesday in combat southwest of Baghdad when insurgents targeted a security post, the U.S. military said. Since the start of the war, the U.S. military has suffered 3,094 fatalities in Iraq. Seven civilian contractors of the Defense Department have also been killed.
  • Coalition forces killed at least one insurgent and detained 17 "suspected terrorists" in Anbar and Salaheddin province raids, which targeted "al Qaeda and foreign fighter networks," the U.S. military said.
  • A British tabloid newspaper has released what it says is a U.S. fighter jet's cockpit video being used in the investigation of a "friendly-fire" incident in Iraq that killed a British soldier. The Sun posted the 15-minute video, along with a transcript, on its Web site under the headline: "The tape they wanted to hide." (Full story)
  • CNN's Jomana Karadsheh, Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.


    story.hosseini.file.afp.gi.jpg

    Iranian spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini, shown in a file photo, holds U.S. responsible for release of diplomat.

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