U.S. Holding Iranians Hostage?

Did the United States hold three Iranian diplomats hostage for two years? That was the claim made by two unnamed “senior U.S. officials” last week in a Washington Times “exclusive.” The Times reported that Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, maintained that the three men were “consular officials who were arrested illegally in an office long used by the Iranians in Irbil, a city in the Kurdish region of Iraq.”

According to one of the American officials who talked to the Times, they “were held for more than two years even though they had not been involved in anti-U.S. activities and were functioning as diplomats at the time.” Kazemi-Qomi likewise insisted that their work in Iraq was innocent: “They worked on issuing visas and other consular matters for ordinary people, patients seeking medical care, tourists and businessmen traveling from Kurdistan to Iran.”

So why did U.S. officials hold these poor, conscientious diplomats? The Times asserted that it was done in order to try to compel Tehran to stop supporting anti-U.S. forces in Iraq; one of the U.S. officials claimed that the U.S. held these men as “potential leverage” against Iran.

Yet this strange “exclusive” also contained telling indications that, despite the claims of these unnamed U.S. officials, the detained Iranians were not simply innocent and high-minded diplomats. Times reporter Barbara Slavin also noted that the three detained “diplomats” were members of Iran’s Qods Force, which she identifies as “an elite unit in Iran’s military and intelligence establishment. Many of its officials and veterans serve in top Iranian government positions.”

At a news conference on February 14, 2007, President George W. Bush was outspoken about the Qods Force’s involvement in anti-American activity in Iraq: “I can say with certainty that the Qods force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops.” He stated that the Qods Force was “a vital part of the Iranian government.”

What’s more, the intelligence website states that the Qods Force is part of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, “responsible for extraterritorial operations, including terrorist operations.” Members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps “are assigned to Iranian diplomatic missions, where, in the course of routine intelligence activities they monitor dissidents.” Global Security notes that the Revolutionary Guard Corps has trained “approximately 12,000 Arabic speaking Iranians, Afghans, Iraqis, Lebanese shi’ites and North Africans” for foreign operations, and “has also supported the establishment of Hizballah branches in Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan, Jordan and Palestine, and the Islamic Jihad in many other Moslem countries including Egypt, Turkey, Chechnya and in Caucasia.”

All this lends credence to a statement that U.S. forces issued in January 2007, when the men were arrested: the arrests, it said, were “part of an ongoing effort by coalition forces targeting individuals involved in activities aimed at the killings of Iraqi citizens and Iraqi and coalition forces.” Last week — in a striking departure from the Obama Administration’s ever-lengthening series of conciliatory gestures to the Iranian mullahs — a White House official reaffirmed this, saying that “the detainees in question are members of the Qods Force and the Qods Force is involved deeply in training and supporting Iraqi militant groups that threaten our soldiers and civilians as well as Iraqi security forces and civilians and the long-term stability of Iraq.”

In light of all that, it’s hard to fathom what these unnamed U.S. officials — as well as the Washington Times — were thinking. Iran declared war against the United States in 1979, and has never rescinded that declaration or ended that war. These “diplomats” were acting as agents of that belligerent government. That “senior U.S. officials” would apparently not be aware of the rapacious agenda of a regime that has been assiduously murdering its own people over the last few weeks is curious in the extreme, and irresponsible of the Times to propagate.

If even the Obama White House can affirm that these Iranian detainees were more than just “diplomats,” these officials are either unfathomably naïve or inexcusably agenda-driven. They have given Tehran’s anti-American propaganda mill more material — while lives, after all, are at stake.