(From the Associated Press and MSNBC)
US says Iranian agent detained in Iraq by Herve Bar
Thu Sep 20, 10:53 AM ET
The US military said it arrested an Iranian agent in northern Iraq on Thursday, as a senior American commander said the country was emerging from the most violent phase of the war.
The commander told reporters that violence across Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since early 2006.
US Special Forces troops raided a hotel in the majority Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah, a military statement said, and detained an Iranian it said was a member of the Quds Force, the covert operations arm of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.
He was the latest Iranian national to be detained in Iraq by the US military, which accuses Iran of helping fund and arm Shiite militia groups in the country's bloody sectarian conflict.
"Contrary to recent diplomatic initiatives, this individual has been involved in transporting improvised explosive devices and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) into Iraq," the US statement said.
EFPs, which when they explode emit a white-hot slug of molten copper that can cut through the armoured skins of US military vehicles, have been blamed for the deaths of at least 200 US service personnel since May 2004.
"Intelligence reports also indicate he was involved in the infiltration and training of foreign terrorists in Iraq," the statement said.
A Kurdish regional government official earlier told AFP that an Iranian businessman was detained by US forces in a pre-dawn swoop at the Sulaimaniyah Palace hotel.
The spokesman, Jamal Abdullah, identified the man only as Farhadi and said he was a member of an Iranian commercial delegation which has been visiting Sulaimaniyah from the Iranian province of Kermanshah for the past two days.
There was no immediate comment from Tehran.
The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said in London on Tuesday he had no doubt that Iran was giving "lethal" support to Iraqi militias.
"There is no question about the very lethal and damaging impact of the Iranian activity and support for these militias," Petraeus said after testifying to Congress last week about Iraq's future.
Echoing testimony in Washington, Petraeus said there was clear evidence that Iran was training militias and giving them weapons, including rockets and improvised explosive devices that have killed many allied troops.
The arrest comes amid mounting tension between the United States and Iran, with Washington also accusing Tehran of covertly developing a nuclear weapon.
Tehran denies both charges, saying the presence of US troops is the main cause of violence in Iraq and that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.
Thursday's arrest is the third such action by US troops since January, when five Iranians working in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil were seized for allegedly aiding the insurgency. They are still in US military custody.
Late last month, US forces briefly detained a group of Iranians, including two diplomats, from a Baghdad hotel in what the military later said was a "regrettable incident."
Lieutenant General Ray Odierno told a press conference in Baghdad, meanwhile, that violence across Iraq has fallen to its lowest level since before February 2006, when the bombing of a Shiite mosque sparked savage sectarian bloodletting.
Odierno, the number two commander of US-led forces in Iraq, added that there had also been a 50 percent fall-off in violence in Baghdad since January.
"Attacks nationwide have fallen to the lowest level since before the Golden Mosque bombing," Odierno said, referring to the attack which destroyed the revered shrine in Samarra.
"Car bombs and suicide attacks have dropped to their lowest level in a year," Odierno said. "Attacks in Baghdad have reached the lowest level this year and the trend continues to be down."
He added, however, "There are still way too many civilian casualties inside of Baghdad and Iraq."
Iraqi security officials said four people were killed in two car bomb attacks in Baghdad on Thursday, one of which killed two soldiers at a checkpoint in the teeming Sadr City slum.