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Two Iranians freed in Iraq: embassy
Sat May 22, 2010 00:47

Two Iranians freed in Iraq: embassy
Fri May 21, 3:14 pm ET

BAGHDAD (AFP) Two Iranian men who were detained by the US military in Iraq have been freed, an Iranian diplomat at Tehran's embassy in Baghdad told AFP on Friday.

"Two Iranians have been freed by the Americans after co-operation with the office of the prime minister (Nuri al-Maliki) and the Iranian embassy," an Iranian diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat declined to give any further details about the two Iranians who were freed. It was not immediately clear when they were released.

A US military spokesman confirmed that the two, Ahmad Barazandeh and Ali Abdulmaliki, had been arrested by American forces in Iraq but had been transferred to Iraqi custody in June and October 2009 respectively.

"Barazandeh was captured in March of 2004 and Abdulmaliki was captured in Nov of 2007," the spokesman said.

Iran's envoy to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, told Iranian state-run television that the two were detained because they did not have passports.

"Barazandeh and Abdulmaliki came to Iraq for a pilgrimage but when they were arrested in Najaf and Samarra, they did not have their passports," he said, referring to Iraqi cities where two holy Shiite Muslim shrines are situated.

The ambassador added that they had been handed over to the Iranian embassy and would return to Iran at "the earliest time" possible.

The United States has detained several Iranian citizens in Iraq since the 2003 US-led invasion to oust now-executed dictator Saddam Hussein. It accuses Tehran of training and arming Shiite militant groups.

Iran detained three Americans on July 31 last year after they strayed across the Islamic republic's border while on a hiking trip in northern Iraq's Kurdistan region.

The release of the two Iranian prisoners in Iraq came as the mothers of the three US hikers called for the trio to be freed as a "humanitarian gesture".

Iran has given no official indication it is preparing to release the three, although the visit itself was seen as a breakthrough.

Washington insists the three hikers are innocent and should be released, stressing that they had mistakenly wandered across an unmarked border in a remote mountainous area.

On Wednesday, Iran's Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi renewed accusations of espionage against the trio.


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