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US to Release 9 Iranian Detainees in Iraq


The U.S. military says it will soon release nine Iranians detained in Iraq who are no longer a threat to Iraqi security. The official also says Iran has honored its pledge to stop the flow of munitions to extremists in Iraq. VOA's Deborah Block has further details from the northern Iraqi city of Irbil.

Two of the Iranians who will be freed are among five who were captured in January during a U.S. raid on an Iranian government facility in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital, Irbil. U.S. military spokesman, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, says the identities of the nine Iranians would be released later.

"These individuals have been assessed to be of no continuing value nor do they pose a further threat to Iraqi security," he said.

He says the others were taken into custody at various times. Five were members of an Iranian elite force, an arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran says five were diplomats working in a facility that was being set up as a consular office.

2007 has become the bloodiest year in Iraq for American troops. So far, 853 troops have died. On Tuesday, the American military announced the deaths of five soldiers and one sailor, pushing the death toll past the previous worst year - 850 in 2004.

Despite the grim statistics, there has been a sharp downturn in both Iraqi and American deaths over the past two months. The U.S. military says a decline in Iranian weapons deliveries could be one of the factors.

Among the weapons Washington has accused Iran of supplying to Iraqi Shiite militia fighters are EFPs, or explosively formed projectiles. They fire a slug of molten metal capable of penetrating even the most heavily armored military vehicles and are more deadly than other roadside bombs.

U.S. military spokesman, Rear Admiral Gregory Smith.

"The EFPs we have found do not appear to have arrived in Iraq after the Iranians made their pledge to stop arming, funding and training extremists," he said. "We hope to confirm in the coming weeks and months that Iran has honored its pledge to further verification that the flow of munitions has indeed stopped."

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that Iran had made assurances to the Iraqi government that it would not back the extremists. He did not reveal when the pledge was made.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi government Tuesday rejected a security plan proposed by Iran's foreign ministry to restore stability to Iraq. In a statement, an Iraqi government spokesman said other countries in the region should not interfere in Iraq's internal affairs.

A spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said Monday in Tehran that the plan focused on the need to drive armed militant groups out of Iraq.

Also, Iran opened two consulates in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. One is in a facility in Irbil that was shut down by U.S. forces after a raid in January.

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