15 Brits Freed: It's American Dips Who Should be Worrying Now

Now let's see if we've got this right:

As negotiations over the 15 captured Brits were going on, an Iranian diplomat, who had been kidnapped in Iraq a couple of months ago, was suddenly freed and returned to his embassy in Baghdad on Tuesday.

That diplomat, Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at Iran's mission in Baghdad, is still not sure who kidnapped him. He was snatched off the street on February 4th, in broad daylight in a predominately Shiite, middle class neighborhood of Baghdad.

The police managed to capture one of the cars involved. The four uniformed men inside claimed they worked for one of Iraq's many security forces. According to Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari that particular force-and all the other ones contacted-denied the men worked for them. So, of course, did the U.S, military and intelligence agencies.

Although the release of the detainee seemed to coincide with a thaw in negotiations with Iran, Iraq"s Foreign Minister claimed there was no link at all: "Really, it has no connection whatsoever."

(Question: If Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari doesn't know who held the kidnapped diplomat, how does he know Shafari's release had nothing to do with the release announced today of the 15 Brits? Can't have it both ways.)

Though Iraqi authorities continue to hold the four kidnappers arrested, they still claim they don't know for sure who seized the diplomat.

But it's not necessary to dispatch the four to Egypt or a secret American prison for water boarding. According to the Times, "others familiar with the case said they believed that those responsible worked for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency."

(For anyone betting it was not the CIA behind the operation, I've got a bridge over the Euphrates near Baghdad I'd like to sell you.)

You would think the first to rise up in outrage over the affair would be the thousands of American diplomats scattered around the globe. It's their vulnerable necks which have been put on the block by Dubya. But, compared with torture, secret renditions, targeted assassinations and the like, snatching a foreign diplomat is small change. Anyway, if the Iranians could take American diplomats hostage in 1979, why can't Americans do the same thing to Iranians today?

In fact, according to the new de facto rules of the game being played by the Bush administration, it's open season on just about any American official overseas these days.

The Iraqi Government has also been timidly working to free five other Iranians who were seized by U.S. forces on January 11th. The Iranians were arrested in Arbil in Northern Iraq by helicopter-born American troops who stormed an Iranian liaison office, and made off with five officers of the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard, along with documents and computers.

The U.S. claims that the Iranians are suspected of helping to target Iraqi and Coalition forces. This despite the fact that the attacks against the Coalition forces in that area have come from the Sunnis not Iranian allied Shiites.

Iraqi officials immediately protested the U.S. action, and, according to a rather astonishing admission of impotence by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the supposedly sovereign Iraqi government has been repeatedly asking the Coalition to release them: "We have a sense they are going to be released; we have some good pledges that they will be released after the investigation is finished."

Although Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told The Associated Press that the case of those the five Iranians also had no connection with the British captives, turns out that the Iranian News Agency has announced that an Iranian official will now be allowed to meet with the captured Iranians.

U.S. officials still won't confirm all this publicly. However, they've obviously been very much part of the behind the scenes dealings.

But, according to Patrick Cockburn, the Americans were actually after much bigger game: two top Iranian officials, who they had thought would be there. Mohammed Jafari, the powerful deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

Far from sneaking around Kurdistan, the two officials met with the President of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, and other top Kurdish officials.

The Iranian Foreign Minister claimed that those officials "had gone to Iraq to develop co-operation in the area of bilateral security."

Question: If true, wasn't that exactly the kind of help that the U.S. has been asking from Iran?

As Cockburn points out, "The attempt by the US to seize the two high-ranking Iranian security officers openly meeting with Iraqi leaders is somewhat as if Iran had tried to kidnap the heads of the CIA and MI6 while they were on an official visit to a country neighboring Iran, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan."

Can't say traveling American officials haven't been warned.