U.S. Military Announces Release of Nine Iranians The U.S. military announced Friday that it had released nine Iranian citizens detained in Iraq over the past three years. At least two of them were suspected to be members of an Iranian group accused of helping Iraqi insurgents obtain arms and ammunition. The releases came after American commanders suggested that there had been a decline in Iranian shipments of arms and ammunition to militants in Iraq.
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U.S. Military Announces Release of Nine Iranians

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U.S. Military Announces Release of Nine Iranians

U.S. Military Announces Release of Nine Iranians

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

We mentioned earlier this week that the U.S. military in Iraq planned to release nine captive Iranians, some of whom have been held for three years. Today, the men were freed as U.S. officials suggested Iran had reduced the flow of arms and ammunition to Iraqi militants.

NPR's Jamie Tarabay reports from Baghdad.

JAMIE TARABAY: In a statement, the U.S. military said the men were released after a careful review of their records concluded they were no longer a security risk and there was no intelligence value in continuing to hold them. They were handed over to the Iraqi government, which then transferred them to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, where they were greeted by Ambassador Hassan Qomi.

Ambassador HASSAN QOMI (Iran's Ambassador to Baghdad): (Through translator) We received nine Iranian citizens from the Iraqi government this morning, including two employees of the Iranian consulate in Irbil.

TARABAY: U.S. troops seized five Iranians during a raid in the northern city of Irbil last January. Iran insisted those detained were diplomats. But U.S. officials said they were members of the Quds Force, an elite wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that's been accused of funneling arms and ammunitions to militants in Iraq. Washington recently labeled the Quds Force a terrorist organization.

The U.S. is still holding three of the five individuals seized in Irbil, but U.S. military spokesman Rear Admiral Greg Smith announced earlier this week that the other two would be let go.

Rear Admiral GREG SMITH (U.S. Navy): The two individuals of Irbil five remain identified as Quds Force associates. But their individual threat to this country's security has been deemed to be insignificant.

TARABAY: While U.S. officials deny any quid pro quo, the release of the Iranians came after Tehran reportedly assured the Iraqi government it would stop the flow of weapons into Iraq. Since then, the U.S. military says there has been a drop in the supply of one of the deadliest types of roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators. EFPs can cut through the heaviest of armor. The U.S. military accused Iran of giving them to Shiite militias in Iraq.

Again, Rear Admiral Smith.

Rear Adm. SMITH: It is our best judgment that these particular EFPs that we defined in most recent large (unintelligible) do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made.

TARABAY: Smith warned the Iranians released today not to try to reenter Iraq.

Rear Adm. SMITH: We trust them to carry through. And if they don't, they'll be held accountable for that. And I suspect in the same way they will as well as the government that they come from, in the case of Iran, will be held accountable for their future activities.

TARABAY: The Iranian embassy said the other seven who were freed today had no connection with its government. Iran says most of them were in Iraq on pilgrimages to Shiite religious shrines. But today's U.S. military statements says two of them were captured in Sunni towns and two others during an operation aimed at militants of al-Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. military says it's still holding 11 Iranians captured in Iraq. Ambassador Qomi says he believes that figure is closer to 20.

Jamie Tarabay, NPR News, Baghdad.

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