- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

TEHRAN — Iran’s government summoned the top Iraqi envoy in Tehran to protest the arrest in Baghdad of several reporters for Iran’s state news agency and the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat.

Shi’ite-Muslim Iran also denounced an assault by U.S. Marines in the holy Iraqi city of Najaf and announced nationwide demonstrations today to protest the raids.

The arrests and abduction are the latest in a series of events souring relations between the neighbors amid accusations Iran has been aiding Iraqi insurgents fighting U.S.-led forces.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry official yesterday confirmed a report that Iraq’s charge d’affaires to Tehran, Khalil Salman al-Sabihi, was called to a meeting Wednesday by an Iranian official, who demanded the “quick release” of the reporters.

Later yesterday, the managing director of Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Abdollah Nasseri Taheri, sent a letter to Iraq’s culture minister demanding that his journalists be freed immediately.

Iran says Iraqi police on Monday arrested Mostafa Darban, the Baghdad bureau chief for IRNA, and three Iraqi staffers without explaining why.

Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim said he was unaware that any IRNA staff members had been detained.

In a report late Wednesday, IRNA said the Foreign Ministry official also demanded details about the fate of Iranian diplomat Faridoun Jihani, who was kidnapped July 4 while traveling from Baghdad to the southern Iraqi city of Karbala.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Mohammed Khatami said Mr. Jihani might be released in the coming days.

An Iraqi armed group, called the Army of Islam, said it had kidnapped Mr. Jihani and that he had been engaged in raising sectarian differences in Iraq.

Tensions have been heightening in recent weeks between Iraq and Iran, which fought a 1980-1988 war that is thought to have killed 1 million people from both sides.

Last month, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan said Iran was Iraq’s “first enemy” because it purportedly was playing a role in arming Iraqi Shi’ite militants battling U.S.-led coalition forces, including in Najaf, where fierce fighting continued between American troops and fighters loyal to firebrand Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr.

Iranian Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani rejected Mr. Shaalan’s remarks as propaganda, while Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi distanced his government from the remarks.

On Tuesday, deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States was concerned about accusations of Iranian involvement in the unrest in Najaf, home to the third-holiest shrine of the world’s nearly 120 million Shi’ite Muslims.

Yesterday, an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman termed the U.S. military operations in Najaf “inhumane and horrible.”

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