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Tehran Summons Iraqi Envoy Over Reported Detentions - 2004-08-08

Iranian officials are upset over allegations by Iraq's interim government suggesting that four Iranians arrested in Iraq are spies.

A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry said Sunday that Tehran wants Iraq to prove that four Iranians, recently arrested in Baghdad, are spies, as Iraqi officials are alleging.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Iraq's Interior Ministry, said four Iranian intelligence officers were taken into custody and charged with suspicion of spying and of carrying out acts of sabotage in Iraq.

Iranian authorities responded Sunday, saying Iraq's charge d'affaires was being summoned to provide proof of the allegations.

Iraqi authorities have been cracking down on the presence of thousands of Iranians believed to be illegally in Iraq, most of whom say they are pilgrims traveling to the Islamic holy cities of Karbala and Najaf, south of Baghdad.

According to Iranian expert and political science professor Amal Hamada, who teaches at Cairo University, Tehran is attempting to increase its influence in Iraq by taking advantage of the political situations both in Iraq and in the United States.

"They're trying to take advantage of the situation in Iraq and the advantage of the domestic situation in the USA, meaning, the Iranians know that the USA administration is going to be very busy with the presidential elections coming in the next few months, so they (US) may not be willing to escalate things in the Middle East," she commented. "With the government in Iraq, they know that the transitional government is not as strong as it should be. So, I think they're trying to win compromises, to win a kind of influence in Iraq by taking advantage of the situation in general."

Ms. Hamada says she has no doubt that Iran has spies in Iraq. But, she says, she believes many other countries, both from the Middle East and the west, also have intelligence agents in Iraq.

On Sunday, the spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Hamid Reza Asefi, called on Iraqi officials to stop creating what he called a "bad atmosphere" between Iran and Iraq.

The interim government in Iraq is calling for cooperation from Tehran to help protect its border from the flow of Iranians entering Iraq illegally. The Baghdad government has blamed some acts of terror in Iraq on insurgents from Iran.