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US forces storm Iranian consulate

BBC | January 11, 2007 

US forces have stormed an Iranian consulate in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil and seized five members of staff.
The troops raided the building at about 0300 (0001GMT), taking away computers and papers, according to Kurdish media and senior local officials.

The US military had no immediate comment on the raid, which comes amid high tension between Iran and the US.

The Bush administration accuses Iran of helping fuel violence in Iraq, as well as trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran strenuously denies both charges, countering that US military involvement in the Middle East endangers the whole region.

A local TV station said Kurdish security forces had taken over the building after the Americans had left.

Irbil lies in Iraq's Kurdish-controlled north, about 350 kilometres (220 miles) from the capital Baghdad.

Reports say the Iranian consulate there was set up last year under an agreement with the Kurdish regional government to facilitate cross-border visits.

Pressure

Iranian media said the country's embassy in Baghdad had sent a letter of protest about the raid to the Iraqi foreign ministry.

One Iranian news agency with a correspondent in Irbil says five US helicopters were used to land troops on the roof of the Iranian consulate.

It reports that a number of vehicles cordoned off the streets around the building, while US soldiers warned the occupants in three different languages that they should surrender or be killed.

In December, US troops detained a number of Iranians in Iraq, including two with diplomatic immunity who were later released.

Thursday's raid came as US President George W Bush unveiled his new strategy in Iraq, which included increasing troop numbers and a commitment to stop Iranian support for "our enemies in Iraq".

BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus says the raid could signal a ratcheting-up of pressure on the Iranians, in line with the rhetorical thrust of his speech.

Meanwhile in the Iraqi capital, the five off-duty policemen were killed in an ambush in the western al-Khadra neighbourhood, hospital officials said

Security sources said another man was killed wounded in an attack on a money changer in downtown Baghdad.

In the restive Anbar province, the US military said that one of its troops was killed on Tuesday by a roadside bombing.

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