SULAIMANIYAH, Iraq — U.S. troops arrested an Iranian man during an early morning raid on a hotel in this northern Iraqi city Thursday and accused him of helping to smuggle a deadly type of roadside bomb into Iraq.
But the Kurdistan Regional Government in a statement called the arrest "illegitimate," said the man was a member of a trade delegation that had been invited to Sulaimaniyah by the local government and demanded that he be released.
"Actions like these serve no one," the statement said.
The United States has detained several Iranians in Iraq in the past year and accused them of training Iraqi insurgents and providing weapons to them. In January it took five Iranians into custody in Irbil, the Kurdish regional capital, and accused them of being members of the Iranian military. They're still being held. Eight other Iranians who were detained last month in Baghdad were quickly released, however.
The U.S. statement didn't identify the man except to allege that he is an officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp's elite Quds force. The statement said intelligence indicated that the man had trained foreign fighters in Iraq and provided them with roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs. EFPs fire a molten jet of metal through vehicles' armor and are much feared by U.S. troops.
The Kurdish Regional Government said the man was Aghai Farhadi, a member of an economic and commercial delegation from the Iranian governorate of Karmanshah, which borders Iraq's Sulaimaniyah and Diyala provinces.
Hassan Baqi, the head of the Sulaimaniyah chamber of commerce, said Farhadi had been in Sulaimaniyah for a week for discussions on opening a border crossing near Panjween,68 miles east of Sulaimaniyah, and other trade-related issues.
It was unknown what evidence, if any, American troops recovered when they seized the man at the Sulaimaniyah Palace Hotel. Saifudean Ahmed, Sulaimaniyah's security director, said 20 U.S. soldiers took part in the arrest. Witnesses said helicopters hovered over the scene for two hours.
Kurdish officials were quick to distance themselves from the detention.
"We had no prior knowledge of the detention of a member of the Iranian commercial delegation," Sulaimaniyah police chief Gen. Zarkar Alia said in a statement. "We heard of the incident from unofficial sources. The operation was carried out without coordination with us, the security forces or the authorities in Sulaimaniyah."
Sulaimaniyah is one of the main cities in Iraqi Kurdistan, which has its own tensions with Iran. The Iranian military has been bombarding mountain villages on the Iraqi side of the border, allegedly to combat Kurdish separatist guerrillas who the Iranians say have taken refuge there.
Kurdish and Iraqi officials have demanded that Iran stop the bombardment, saying Iran should fight Kurdish rebels in Iran.
(Price reports for the (Raleigh) News & Observer. Taha is a McClatchy special correspondent. Leila Fadel in Baghdad contributed to this report.)