U.S.-Led Forces Raid Iranian Consulate in Iraq U.S. forces have raided an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq and arrested several people, including diplomats and staff. The U.S. military said the detainees were suspected of being tied to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces.

U.S.-Led Forces Raid Iranian Consulate in Iraq

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Luke Burbank.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up, English soccer fans lose one of their biggest stars. Beckham will soon be bending it in Los Angeles.

BURBANK: First though, at about the same time President Bush was unveiling his new Iraq plan last night - a plan that involved vowing to get tough with Iran -U.S. troops were on the move in northern Iraq in the Kurdish region. The target was an Iranian diplomatic office where six people were eventually arrested. Those arrests have created a lot of tension in the area between U.S. and Kurdish forces.

NPR's Ivan Watson is in the Kurdish capital of Erbil, which is where this raid took place. He joins us now. Welcome, Ivan.

IVAN WATSON: Thank you, Luke, happy to be here.

BURBANK: So what exactly happened last night?

WATSON: Well, somewhere around 3:00 o'clock in the morning local time, within hours of President Bush's speech and the broadcast on American TV, residents were woken up by the sound of helicopters overhead right here in the center of what is a very peaceful city normally. And they heard gunfire as well. And we went to investigate this in the morning and found that the Iranian consulate, right in the center of town on a quiet residential street, just a two-story villa, had in fact been raided.

Kurdish security officials appeared stunned by this move. They said there had been no coordination between the U.S. military and the Kurdish security forces, and recall that they are very close allies here, perhaps the closest that the U.S. has in Iraq. Since this raid, the Kurdistan regional government has condemned the move and called it the kidnapping of Iranian diplomats. Of course, the Iranian foreign ministry has also condemned this operation.

BURBANK: Of course, what comes to mind, Ivan, as you mentioned, the close relationship between the Kurds and the U.S., and yet there seems to be a lot of tension building there, Ivan. What exactly happened after this?

WATSON: Well, in the morning, after daybreak, there was a very tense face-off between a column of American Humvees and Kurdish security forces who are known as Peshmerga here. They apparently encircled about three Humvees and the Kurdish security forces did not let them leave. Weapons were cocked on both sides and these people have fought together in the past against Saddam Hussein's Army just three years ago.

The American forces had to stand there on the street in broad daylight for more than an hour - I'm told by eyewitnesses - until at least four U.S. helicopters flew in and took away some of those American soldiers. The spokesman for the Kurdistan regional government has since told me that the Kurdish security forces were very suspicious. They did not know what the American troops were doing in the region at this time.

And they almost opened fire on them, and they say that could happen in the future if the U.S. military makes further unilateral military operations in this territory controlled by the Kurds.

BURBANK: An interesting development, Ivan, for the U.S. troops who really don't have a long list of friends already in Iraq to be getting into it with people that are considered allies. What do we know about the people, the Iranians, who were arrested, or the people at the Iranian diplomatic headquarters?

WATSON: Well, this was a consulate for Iran. There are a lot of Kurds still living in Iran over the years of warfare. There have been refugee flows back and forth across a very porous border. And locals tell me that there are always long lines for visas, locals here trying to get visas to go to Iran. Kurdish officials say that they knew about this consulate, that all of the Iranians posted there were there officially, that they had papers, and they are calling this a kidnapping.

And I repeat. They have condemned this operation by the U.S. military.

BURBANK: So we do know that it was Iranian citizens that were in this building, that were arrested.

WATSON: That's what the Kurdish security forces are saying. The Iranian foreign ministry has condemned this move as well already. The U.S. military did put out a statement saying that it had detained six people. It did not identify their nationality. And said that they were linked to insurgent activities, but did not provide much more information.

BURBANK: It's very interesting timing, as you said earlier, even as the president is talking about Iraq and Iran and this raid happens, and as you said, a quiet neighborhood.

WATSON: This could very well be interpreted as a blunt message to Iran right next door. However, in threatening or warning Iran, the U.S. has proceeded to aggravate some of the only allies the U.S. has in Iraq; that is, the Iraqi Kurds. And they are furious about this. Another Kurdish official I talked to said, If you want to go after Iran, fine. Do it in southern Iraq. You took a wrong turn somewhere in Ramadi. Erbil is one of the most peaceful cities in the country.

BURBANK: NPR's Ivan Watson, joining us from Erbil in northern Iraq. Thanks, Ivan.

WATSON: You're welcome, Luke.

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