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U.S. moves in Iraq may push Iraqi and Iranian governments closer

The US arrest of an Iranian official to Iraq has resulted in closed borders between the two Middle Eastern countries – a decision that may take an economic toll.

By / September 24, 2007

Iran shut most of its border crossings with Northern Iraq on Monday to protest the US military's arrest of an Iranian official who had been visiting Iraq as part of an official delegation.

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The detention in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah of the Iranian, who was visiting Iraq at the behest of both the Iraqi central government and the semiautonomous Kurdish government in the north, has brought protests from the Iraqi government as well as rare signs of unhappiness with the US from the Kurds, who are usually the most pro-American of any Iraqi faction, the Associated Press reports.

Iran closed major border crossings with northern Iraq on Monday to protest the U.S. detention of an Iranian official the military accused of weapons smuggling, a Kurdish official said.
The closings came four days after U.S. troops arrested an Iranian official during a raid on a hotel in Sulaimaniyah, 160 miles northeast of Baghdad.
U.S. officials said he was a member of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that smuggles weapons into Iraq. But Iraqi and Iranian leaders said he was in the country on official business and with the full knowledge of the government.
"This closure from the Iranian side will have a bad effect on the economic situation of the Kurdish government and will hurt the civilians as well," said Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the autonomous Kurdish government. "We are paying the price of what the Americans have done by arresting the Iranian."

US officials have alleged that the arrested man, Mahmudi Farhadi, is not a diplomat as Iraqi and Iranian officials insist, but has instead been involved in smuggling weapons into Iraq.

The matter is the latest in a string of issues that have strained relations between the US and Iraqi governments, with senior Iraqi officials saying US military actions are violating their nation's sovereignty. Agence France-Presse reports that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attacked the detention as has the Iraqi president, an ethnic Kurd.

"I am informing you (the US military) of our displeasure over the arrest of the Iranian civilian official without consulting the government of Kurdistan and that is a humiliation for the regional administration," (Iraqi President Jalal) Talabani said in a statement released by his office in Baghdad.
"He was an official on a commercial mission with the knowledge of the federal government in Baghdad and the government of Kurdistan," Talabani said in a statement addressed to General David Petraeus, the head of US forces in Iraq, and US ambassador Ryan Crocker.

The incident follows a shootout in central Baghdad last week involving Iraqis and the US military contractor Blackwater USA, which Iraqi officials have alleged was involved in the killings of unarmed civilians. That incident provoked an angry response from Mr. Maliki, who cast the apparent immunity that Blackwater employees seem to enjoy from Iraqi prosecution as another affront to the nation's sovereignty.