March 25, 2007

Tehran Wants to Swap British Sailors for Iranian Officers Detained in Iraq


By Ali Nourizadeh
London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A military source close to the command of the Iranian Al-Quds Brigade revealed to Asharq al-Awsat the motives behind detaining 15 British sailors in Shatt al-Arab on Friday. He said the decision to take in the British military elements was taken at an emergency meeting of the Higher Defense Council in the light of a report received by Brigadier Qasim Sulaymani, the commander of Al-Quds Brigade, and communicated on 18 March to General Hasan Fayruz Abadi, the armed forces Chief-of-staff.

Asharq al-Awsat learns that the report contained a warning that the operations undertaken by Al-Quds Brigade and the Revolutionary Guards have become exposed to American and British military intelligence after the arrest by American forces of Brigadier Tayshizri, the commander of Al-Quds Brigade operations in Iraq, and his assistant, Brigadier Qayim, and three of their aides in Irbil, and the subsequent abduction of Jalal Sharafi, the representative of the Intelligence Ministry at the Iranian diplomatic mission in Baghdad, in addition to the disappearance of Colonel Amir Muhammad Hussein Shirazi in Turkey. Sources said he has defected but Iran says he was kidnapped. He is one of the most important intelligence officers in Al-Quds Brigade in Iraq.

The Revolutionary Guards intelligence had submitted to the joint chiefs of staff of the Iranian armed forces early in March a plan to abduct a number of American and British military to exchange them for the detained Iranian officers, who total 15 officer and intelligence agents. But the Joint Chiefs of Staff called for giving the issue more time and allowing room for diplomatic contacts between the Iraqi and Iranian Foreign Ministries. It was learned that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Muttaqi received promises from his Iraqi counterpart Hushyar Zebari that the five officers arrested in Irbil might be released before the Nowruz feasts (Iranian New Year). But Nowruz was celebrated in 21 March and no news came about the said officers except for a phone call one of them had with his wife in the presence of a representative from the International Reed Cross. It was then that instructions were issued to the units of the Guards and the Marine Base at Khurramshahr to implement the first part of the plan by laying siege and detaining one of the British Navy patrols charged with combating smuggling. The Revolutionary Guards Navy had undertaken a similar act in June 2004 when it detained two British officers and six soldiers in two boats. They were released on 21 June 2004 after high-level contacts between London and Tehran.

An Iranian military source said that the Guard Command will not relinquish easily the card of the 15 detained Britons. The British Embassy in Baghdad has warned the Iranian Embassy of the consequences of continuing to detain the 15 soldiers.

The British Navy soldiers were detained after they finished searching a commercial vessel in Iraqi waters. They were circled by Iranian boats and led to Iran's territorial waters, according to the British account. Iran said they were in its territorial waters. Iran and Britain have summoned the chiefs of their respective diplomatic missions and asked for clarifications.

March 25, 2007 02:44 PM

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