Iranian Diplomat Seized In Iraq In February Released

Tuesday, April 3rd 2007, 7:18 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ An Iranian diplomat in Iraq seized two months ago by uniformed gunmen in Baghdad has been released, Iran reported Tuesday.

Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, will return to Tehran later Tuesday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported, citing ``informed sources.'' The report gave no indication of why or how Sharafi had been freed.

In Baghdad, an official at the Iranian embassy confirmed Sharafi's release, but said he did not know who was responsible for freeing him.

``He was kidnapped and I don't have further details,'' said the official, who added Sharafi had already left the country.

``He was released yesterday (Monday),'' said the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Sharafi was seized on Feb. 4 when his car was intercepted by vehicles carrying armed men in the Karradah district of Baghdad. The gunmen, who wore Iraqi uniforms, forced him into one of their vehicles and sped away.

Iran said he had been taken by an Iraqi military unit commanded by the U.S. forces, and said it was holding the Americans responsible for his safety.

U.S. officials denied any role in his disappearance.

The Iraqi government said it did not know who had abducted Sharafi, but Shiite lawmakers said he had been taken by an Iraqi commando unit that reports to the U.S. command _ an allegation strongly denied by U.S. spokesmen.

The abduction took place as tension mounted between Iran and the United States over alleged Iranian support of Shiite extremists in Iraq and U.S. efforts to force Tehran to stop enriching uranium _ a process that can produce material for nuclear reactors or bombs.

It also occurred nearly a month after U.S. troops detained five Iranians in northern Iraq and accused them of having links to a network backing armed Shiite groups.

A British navy crew was detained March 23 by units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards while the Britons patrolled for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that long has been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.

Iran says the team was in Iranian waters. Britain insists it was in Iraqi waters working under a U.N. mandate.