From BBC News, Jan. 11:
US forces have stormed a building in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized six people said to be Iranians, prompting a diplomatic incident.
Iranian and Iraqi officials said the building was an Iranian consulate and the detainees its employees.
The US military said it was still investigating, but that the building did not have diplomatic status.
The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to local media.
AFP news agency quoted Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman as saying he did not know the nationality of the six but said they were “suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces”.
“I can confirm for you through our forces there that this is not a consulate or a government building,” he said.
However, Tehran said the attack violated all international conventions. It has summoned ambassadors from Switzerland, representing US interests, and Iraq.
A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry described the raid as an attempt to sabotage Tehran’s relations with Iraq. One Iranian MP said it showed America’s cruelty and meanness.
A local TV station said Kurdish security forces had taken over the building after the Americans had left.
Irbil lies in Iraq’s Kurdish-controlled north, about 350km (220 miles) from the capital Baghdad. Reports say the Iranian consulate there was set up last year under an agreement with the Kurdish regional government to facilitate cross-border visits.
One Iranian news agency with a correspondent in Irbil says five US helicopters were used to land troops on the roof of the Iranian consulate.
It reports that a number of vehicles cordoned off the streets around the building, while US soldiers warned the occupants in three different languages that they should surrender or be killed.
In December, US troops detained a number of Iranians in Iraq, including two with diplomatic immunity who were later released.
This is especially ominous in light of the bellicose rhetoric in President Bush’s “Address to the Nation” the previous night outlining his new course on Iraq:
Succeeding in Iraq also requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilizing the region in the face of extremist challenges. This begins with addressing Iran and Syria. These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq. Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We’ll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.
We’re also taking other steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East. I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region. We will expand intelligence-sharing and deploy Patriot air defense systems to reassure our friends and allies. We will work with the governments of Turkey and Iraq to help them resolve problems along their border. And we will work with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating the region.