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U.S. frees Iranian detainee

The release of a man seized in Kurdish city in 2004 comes as Tehran and Washington gear up for Iraq security talks.

December 20, 2007|Alexandra Zavis | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The American military has released an Iranian detainee, officials from the U.S. and Iran said Wednesday, as the two countries prepared for a new round of talks on security in Iraq.

The Iranian Embassy identified the man as Haydar Alawi, who was detained in the northern Kurdish city of Sulaymaniya in July 2004. The U.S. military gave a different version of the name, Sayed Hadir Alawi Mohammed, but provided no other information.

The detention of Iranian nationals by U.S. forces in Iraq has been an ongoing issue in relations between the three countries.

U.S. officials accuse Iran's elite Quds Force of supplying sophisticated weapons to and funding, directing and training Shiite Muslim militias who have attacked U.S. forces in Iraq. Tehran denies the accusations and says it is the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq that has fueled the bloodshed.

Caught between two key allies, Iraqi officials have repeatedly urged the United States to release Iranian detainees as a confidence-building measure. Iraq has hosted a series of meetings intended to promote cooperation between the United States and Iran on Iraqi security, overcoming an official diplomatic freeze that lasted more than two decades.

U.S. forces freed nine Iranians on Nov. 9, including two of the five men detained in January in a U.S. raid in the Kurdish city of Irbil. The military had accused the five of being Quds Force members; Iran has said they are diplomats.

There was no immediate information about the charges against Alawi; he returned to Iran on Wednesday, according to the Iranian Embassy.

A U.S. military spokesman said Alawi was released because he was determined to no longer be a threat to the security of Iraq.

About 10 other Iranians are believed to still be in U.S. custody.

Security experts from the three countries had planned to meet Tuesday in Baghdad, but the talks were postponed. That same day, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flew in to Iraq on a surprise visit.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Philip T. Reeker said this week that he expected the Iraqi Foreign Ministry to announce a new date within days. The talks are intended to pave the way for the next ambassadorial-level meeting.

In other developments, the U.S. military announced the capture early today of a suspected leader of Shiite militants in the northern part of Baghdad. The suspect is alleged to have procured and stored weapons, including armor-piercing bombs that U.S. officials say are being supplied by Iran.

The U.S. military has said the decision of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to freeze the operations of his militia has played a key part in the marked downturn of violence since U.S. forces completed a 28,500-troop buildup in June.

But commanders say it is too soon to tell whether Tehran is fulfilling a pledge to the Iraqi government to crack down on weapons-smuggling across their shared border.

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alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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