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US troops raid the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shi’ite leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and capture two Iranians. The two, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, are high-ranking members of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which the US accuses of supplying funding and training to Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. After a tense nine-day diplomatic standoff, the US acquiesces to requests by the Iraqi government and its own State Department to allow the two to return to Iran, though the Pentagon wished to keep them in captivity for interrogation. (Wright and Trejos 1/12/2007; Akhavi 3/31/2007) Iran calls both Chirazi and Davari “diplomats,” and says they are in Iraq at the invitation of Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, as part of an agreement to improve security between the two countries. (BBC 12/29/2006)
US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. (Alalam News 1/11/2007; Wright and Trejos 1/12/2007; Newswire 1/12/2007) US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” (Aqrawi 1/11/2007) Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). (Associated Press 4/6/2007)
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. (Wright and Trejos 1/12/2007) The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” (Agence France-Presse 1/25/2007; Akhavi 3/31/2007)
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).
The US military releases nine Iranian prisoners, including two captured when US troops stormed an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Irbil (see January 11, 2007). The office was shut after the raid, but has now reopened as an Iranian consulate. The US had one of the freed Iranians in custody for three years, and some of the released detainees are thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent organization. Iran is believed to be helping Iraqi Shi’ites, not Sunnis; however, US military officials say Iran may be arming Sunni organizations also, though not to the extent it is allegedly arming Shi’ite groups. Military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith says the identities of the nine Iranian prisoners will be released later, and says that many of the Iranians had been taken prisoner through the course of the US occupation. Kurdish forces have already released another Iranian soldier captured in September. Smith says Iran seems to be keeping its promise, made to the Iraqi government, to halt the flow of bomb-making materials and weaponry into Iraq. Recently captured caches of roadside bombs “do not appear to have arrived here in Iraq after those pledges were made,” Smith says. The second highest-level commander of US forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, said last week that over the last three months there has been a sharp decline in the number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) found in Iraq during the last three months. At least five other Iranians, also captured in the Irbil office, remain in custody, facing accusations of being members of the paramilitary al-Quds force, which the US says funnels weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq. The US says it is still holding eleven Iranians in total, but the Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, says the number is 25, and demands their release as well. (Associated Press 11/6/2007; McClatchy News 11/9/2007)
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