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Tehran officials condemn US detention of 8 Iranians in Iraq

TEHRAN -- The detention of eight Iranians in Iraq by US troops -- along with TV images of the detainees being led away blindfolded and handcuffed -- drew swift condemnation yesterday from Tehran officials.

But the scene -- widely broadcast in the United States -- did not appear on Iranian state TV in a possible attempt to keep the latest quarrel between the two foes from escalating.

The images were reminiscent of the iconic picture of Americans blindfolded by Iranian guards during the 444-day crisis when Iranian militants seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage.

The Iranians were taken into custody late Tuesday at a Baghdad hotel after unauthorized weapons were found in their cars.

The eight, members of an Iranian energy ministry delegation, were released yesterday. Saadi Othman, an adviser to General David Petraeus, the top US general in Iraq, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the detentions were "regrettable."

The unlicensed weapons belonged to the delegation's Iraqi guards.

Videotape shot Tuesday night showed US troops leading the blindfolded and handcuffed Iranians out of the Sheraton Ishtar hotel in central Baghdad.

The footage was not shown on Iranian television, but the state broadcaster aired a brief clip showing a US military vehicle and an American soldier totting a rifle and walking into a building that may have been the Baghdad hotel.

Only state-run broadcasts are carried in Iran, but satellite TVs are common for watching foreign broadcasts.

Internet images of the detention also could have reached many Iranians.

Handcuffing and hooding or blindfolding detainees in Iraq, who in nearly all cases are men, is standard practice by US troops. But the procedure is commonly perceived as highly insulting in Muslim culture.

The incident comes on the heels of harsh rhetoric Tuesday by both President Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian leader said US influence in Iraq is waning and that Tehran was ready to fill any power vacuum in the neighboring country.

Bush, in a speech to the American Legion convention in Reno, said he had given the order for US troops to confront Tehran's "murderous" activities in Iraq.

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