Friday, September 08, 2006

Iraqis blame Iran for border clash, captures

Iraqi border guards accused Iran on Friday of shelling their territory and taking six soldiers prisoner after a clash on the border northeast of Baghdad.

Iran's state news agency said on Thursday seven Iraqi security personnel were detained crossing into Iranian territory in Ilam province. An investigation was under way, IRNA said.

A senior officer in Iraq's U.S.-backed border guards service said Iranian artillery had fired on to Iraqi soil near the town of Mandali, 100 km (60 miles) from Baghdad, on Wednesday. READ MORE

Clashes on Thursday following the discovery by an Iraqi patrol of an Iranian outpost inside Iraq led to the capture of Lieutenant Waleed Abdul Hussein and five of his men by Iranians, the senior officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"They took the officer and five soldiers, along with their Humvee at midday yesterday," the officer said, referring to a U.S.-built military vehicle used by the Iraqi forces.

A senior official at the Iraqi Defence Ministry in Baghdad said the incident was still being investigated but that a formal statement from Baghdad was expected.

A spokesman for the U.S. military, which has forces close to the Iranian border, said he was looking into the report.

Relations are now warm between Tehran and fellow Shi'ite Islamists dominating Iraq's elected government, contrasting with the days of Saddam Hussein when the two countries fought a war along a broad front throughout the 1980s.

The activities of security forces on either side of the border, including efforts to counter smuggling, have occasionally led to brief detentions of troops, however.

A senior Iraqi government delegation has been in Tehran this week preparing among other things for a possible first official visit there soon by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

Kurdish groups in Iraq have accused Iran in recent weeks of shelling border areas, targeting anti-Iranian Kurdish guerrillas. Mandali is south of the main concentrations of Kurds living along the Iranian border.