US decides not to release alleged Iranian agents

The five seized men will be held for several more weeks in the aftermath of last week's release of 15 British military personnel.

iran diplomat 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
iran diplomat 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
The Bush administration decided this week that it will hold five seized alleged Iranian intelligence agents for several more weeks, at least, instead of freeing them quickly in the aftermath of last week's release of 15 British military personnel who had been taken by Iran, US officials said Friday. Vice President Dick Cheney's foreign policy advisers won an internal administration tussle over what to do with the men, US officials confirmed on condition of anonymity. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had argued for a quicker release but was overruled, partly so as not to make the release appear part of a deal involving the British, the sources said. The United States has held the five since they were seized in January under disputed circumstances in northern Iraq. The Bush administration has accused Iran of supplying deadly roadside bombs used against US troops in Iraq and of undermining the fragile democratic government there. Some US officials have suggested that Iran may have captured the 15 sailors and marines last month partly in hopes that Britain would ask close ally Washington to speed up release of the five. Britain has the second-largest number of troops in Iraq after the United States. The five are classified as detainees and will be treated like other foreign detainees picked up in Iraq, one official said. That means they will be subject to periodic review of their status, a process that means they will be held "certainly a good number of weeks," and possibly for several months, the official said. US officials spoke on condition of anonymity to describe an internal administration decision. The decision was reported Friday on The Washington Post's Web site. Iran has recently stepped up complaints over its personnel detained in Iraq, hinting it might boycott an international conference on Iraq unless American forces release the five alleged Revolutionary Guard agents. US troops seized the five Iranians in Kurdish northern Iraq, saying they were providing money and weapons to militants. Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani has said American forces were really after commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who were visiting Kurdish officials. Iran claimed the men were diplomats and that the building they occupied was a diplomatic mission. The United States claims the five hold no diplomatic immunity and were properly seized. They have not been charged with a crime and little is known about their detention. The United States allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit the men but so far has not allowed visits from Iranian representatives. Separately, an Iranian diplomat showed off wounds on his feet Wednesday, and said they were inflicted by drills during two months of detention in Iraq. He said he was harshly interrogated by an American official when he refused to cooperate. The United States has denied any role in the capture of Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, who was seized by gunmen in Baghdad on Feb. 4. Teheranhas said he was taken by an Iraqi military unit commanded by US forces, an accusation repeated by several Iraqi Shiite lawmakers.