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On Releasing “The Irbil Five”

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Jim Lobe highlights the political implications behind the decision to release or hold-on to the five Iranian diplomats who were detained by US forces in Irbil:

An important indication of where the balance of power within the administration stands vis-a-vis Iran policy is likely to emerge in the next week or two when a decision is due on whether to release the five Iranians who have been held by U.S. forces in Iraq since they were seized in a raid on the de facto Iranian consulate in Irbil last January 10. If they are freed, it would suggest strongly that the realist wing of the administration is in the driver’s seat; if, as now seems likely, you can draw your own conclusions.An important indication of where the balance of power within the administration stands vis-a-vis Iran policy is likely to emerge in the next week or two when a decision is due on whether to release the five Iranians who have been held by U.S. forces in Iraq since they were seized in a raid on the de facto Iranian consulate in Irbil last January 10. If they are freed, it would suggest strongly that the realist wing of the administration is in the driver’s seat; if, as now seems likely, you can draw your own conclusions….

…Initial indications are not favorable. According to a Washington Post report by Robin Wright last Friday, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the day-to-day operational commander in Iraq, said he will recommend that the five Iranians not be released when their case is reviewed. “Militarily, we should hold on to them,” he said at a meeting with Post reporters and editors. That position stood in stark contrast to statements by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani during a similar meeting at the Post earlier in the week at which he also insisted that the Iraqi government was united in demanding that they be released. “The five were not part of the Quds Force,” he said, according to Wright. Interestingly, Wright had reported last April, in arguing for releasing the five, Rice had asserted their continued detention and interrogation were no longer of any value, presumably to the U.S. military or intelligence.

Indeed, Newsweek’s Michael Hirsh reported in July that Iraqi officials who, like the administration, believe that the Quds Force is indeed supporting Shia militias that are attacking U.S. targets in Iraq, were nonetheless certain that the Irbil 5 were legitimately in Iraq and were the unfortunate victims of a botched raid that “Americans are now too embarrassed to admit.”

“We don’t want to embarrass the Americans. But it was a botched attempt. And they went after these innocent guys,’’ Hirsh quoted one “high-level Iraqi official” as saying. “As simple as that. And now they’re stuck. And we’ve kept quiet.” (Quoting U.S. officials in Baghdad, Hirsh also noted that one of the five had explosive residue on his hands.)

Irancove @ October 11, 2007

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