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The Conflict in Iraq

Iraqi Group Wants POWs Freed

Abductors threaten to 'punish' Iranian envoy unless Tehran releases prisoners held since the 1980s war, TV reports.

August 16, 2004|From Reuters

TEHRAN — Kidnappers holding an Iranian diplomat in Iraq will "punish" him within 48 hours if Iran does not release 500 prisoners captured in its 1980s war with Iraq, Iranian state television said Sunday.

A group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq seized diplomat Faridoun Jihani on Aug. 4 as he traveled to take up his position as consul in Karbala, about 60 miles south of Baghdad.

"The armed group that has taken hostage an Iranian diplomat has threatened that Iran must free 500 Iraqi prisoners of war in the next 48 hours or they will punish him," Iran's Al Alam TV channel said.

Iran says that it has returned all Iraqis captured in its 1980-88 war with its western neighbor and that the final group was repatriated last year, shortly before U.S.-led troops invaded Iraq to topple President Saddam Hussein.

"The file concerning prisoners of war between the two countries is closed, and all that remains is that of those missing in action," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Iran's official news agency, IRNA.

Asefi described the demand and the nature of the group as "suspicious."

He said Iraq's interim government was responsible for securing the diplomat's release.

He also said Iran was in contact with groups it thought could help secure Jihani's release, but he gave no details.

Jihani's captors accuse him of "inciting sectarian strife and operating outside the sphere of diplomacy."

Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan has accused Iran of stirring insurrection in Iraq by sending spies and weapons across the border.

Washington has also accused Iran of fomenting unrest among Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority.

Iran denies the charges.

Jihani is the second senior diplomat taken hostage in recent weeks.

Egyptian envoy Mohammed Mamdouh Helmi Qutb was kidnapped briefly last month.

Scores of other foreigners have been kidnapped in Iraq as leverage to force multinational troops and businesses to leave the nation.

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