US forces carry out provocative raid on Iran’s consulate in northern Iraq
In the early hours of yesterday morning, US forces raided the Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, detaining at least five employees. The arrests were clearly aimed at reinforcing the bellicose message contained in President Bush’s speech, just hours before, that the American military would “interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria” and “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
Since 2005, US officials have repeatedly accused Iran and Syria of assisting anti-US insurgents inside Iraq, but have failed to provide any evidence. In the aftermath of yesterday’s raid, the American military issued a bland statement declaring that six people “suspected of being closely tied” to anti-coalition activities had been detained as part of “routine security operations”. “[T]he Coalition will continue to work with the government of Iraq to prevent interference by hostile actors in Iraq’s internal security affairs,” the statement added.
The operation, however, was anything but routine. According to local Kurdish officials, at around 3 a.m. US troops disarmed the guards outside the consulate, broke into the building and confiscated computers and documents. Military helicopters circled overhead. While American officials denied that the liaison office had diplomatic protection, it functioned as a consulate issuing travel documents, carrying out other consular tasks and was awaiting official recognition. An Iranian flag flying over the building was hauled down during the raid.
As for “working with the government of Iraq”, the US military did not bother to inform any Iraqi government officials or the regional Kurdish government of their plans. A cautious statement from Kurdish authorities pointed out that the consulate was protected by international agreement and warned the operation “does not help the efforts to bring peace, stability and security to the rest of Iraq.” The statement added that it would be “better to inform the Kurdistan government before taking actions against anybody.”