Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Baghdad by Iraqi army unit

Gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms and apparently connected to the Iraqi government kidnapped an Iranian diplomat Sunday, the foreign minister of Iraq said Tuesday. Iranian officials blamed the kidnapping on an Iraqi army unit supervised by U.S. forces. The U.S. military denied the accusation.

Iran identified the abducted diplomat as Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary in its Baghdad embassy. A foreign ministry statement said he was kidnapped in central Baghdad in front of a branch of the Iranian state-owned bank Melli.

The Iraqi foreign ministry account said the diplomat was in a vehicle at the time of his abduction. Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi foreign minister, said the Iranian diplomat was driving through a central Baghdad neighborhood when he and his guards came under fire from men in vehicles that belonged to an Iraqi “government entity.”

Police found the attack suspicious and intervened, seizing one vehicle and arresting four men, Zebari said. After interrogating the four detained men, Iraqi authorities believe the gunmen are connected to an Iraqi government body, he said.

“We are working very hard and the Prime Minister is working very hard to get to the bottom of this,” Zebari said. “This is unacceptable. It’s our responsibility to protect diplomats in this country.”

Iraqi officials would not say what part of the government the gunmen were connected to.

An Iranian official in the embassy in Baghdad said Sharafi was shopping when he was snatched in the Shiite neighborhood of Karada.

“The U.S. performance will have adverse consequences on its diplomatic standing in the international community,” Iranian foreign Minister Mohammed al Hosseini said in a statement. “Based on reliable information, certain agents behind the terrorist act have been arrested. They acted under US supervision.”

The U.S. military said it had looked into the incident but found no evidence that an Iraqi Army unit it oversees was involved.

“In all of our research we have found no unit within Multi-National Force-Iraq or that we are associated with that has conducted any operation that remotely resembles this,” said a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Christopher Garver.”We’re continuing to research based on the seriousness of this. However at this time there is no evidence that any MNF-I (Muti-National Force-Iraq) unit participated in this event.”