Source AP ©

Three Iranians detained by U.S. troops in Iraq

Three Iranians, with two said to be government officials, were detained by the U.S. troops Thursday in a northern Iraq town.

The morning raid by American forces took place at the Sulaimaniyah Palace Hotel in the center of Sulaimaniyah, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad, according to an official of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK.

The party is headed by Iraq's President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd.

One of the detained Iranians is the mayor of Qasr-e Shirin, an area close to the Iranian border with Iraq, while the other is head of a local office there in charge of allotting passes to Iranian merchants seeking to travel on business to the Kurdish-controlled area in northern Iraq, the PUK official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case, said the third detained Iranian was a merchant. More details were expected later Thursday, he said.

U.S. troops did not immediately confirm the hotel raid or report taking any Iranians in custody.

Detentions of Iranian nationals remains a sensitive issue following a brief August detention by U.S. troops of eight Iranians in a central Baghdad hotel and a January arrest of five Iranians during a U.S. troop raid in the northern city of Irbil.

While the eight Iranians were promptly released in Baghdad after it was established they were on an official visit here, the other five remain in custody.

U.S. authorities have said the five included the operations chief and other members of Iran's elite Quds Force, which is accused of arming and training Iraqi militants. Iran has consistently denied the U.S. allegations and insists the five were diplomats in Iraq with permission of the government.

The Iraqi government, which is backed by the U.S. but closely allied to Iran, has been trying to get the two sides closer, in hopes the cooperation will reduce violence in the country.