US frees nine Iranians in Iraq in possible outreach to Teheran

In a possible break in the US-Iranian standoff in Iraq, the US military released nine Iranians no longer deemed a threat, including two accused of membership in an elite force suspected of arming Shi'ite militias. The handover - planned for several days - still leaves at least three high-profile Iranians in US custody and doesn't significantly ease the many disputes between Washington and Teheran in Iraq. But it could open the door for another round of groundbreaking talks between the two nations, which have been without diplomatic relations for 28 years. It also is seen as a possible gesture for Iran's pledge to block suspected cross-border weapons shipments to armed Shi'ite factions, whose attacks have been sharply reduced. American soldiers delivered the nine men Friday to the offices of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, where they were met by Iran's ambassador, according to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh. The former captives arrived in Teheran later Friday, Iranian state TV said.