Source AP ©

Iran closes major border with northern Iraq after diplomatic scandal with USA

Kurdish official reports on Monday, Iran closed major border crossings with northern Iraq to protest the U.S. detention of an Iranian official the military accused of weapons smuggling.

At least four border gates have been closed and one remains open, the governor of the Kurdish province of Sulaimaniyah, Dana Ahmed Majeed, told The Associated Press. The move threatens the economy of Iraq's northern region - one of the country's few success stories.

In Tehran, the public relations department in Iran's Interior Ministry said no decision had been taken to shut the border.

But Kurdish authorities said the Iranians began shutting down the crossing points late Sunday near the border towns of Banjiwin, Haj Omran, Halabja and Khanaqin.

The closings came four days after U.S. troops arrested an Iranian official during a raid on a hotel in Sulaimaniyah, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northeast of Baghdad.

U.S. officials said he was a member of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that smuggles weapons into Iraq. But Iraqi and Iranian leaders said he was in the country on official business and with the full knowledge of the government.

"This closure from the Iranian side will have a bad effect on the economics situation of the Kurdish government and will hurt the civilians as well," said Jamal Abdullah, a spokesman for the autonomous Kurdish government. "We are paying the price of what the Americans have done by arresting the Iranian."

A U.S. military spokesman, Rear Adm. Mark Fox, also said Sunday that Iran has smuggled advanced weapons into Iraq for use against American troops, including the Misagh 1, a portable surface-to-air missile that uses an infrared guidance system and could threaten U.S. aviation.

Iran has denied U.S. allegations that it is smuggling weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, a denial that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" aired Sunday.

"We don't need to do that. We are very much opposed to war and insecurity," said Ahmadinejad, who arrived in New York Sunday to attend the U.N. General Assembly. "The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests."

But the U.S. insists it has evidence to the contrary. On Monday, U.S. troops killed one suspected militant and detained four others said to be involved in kidnapping operations run by Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Baghdad's Shiite district of Sadr City, the military said.

The latest detention of an Iranian official also has taxed relations between Iraq and the United States, already strained after the shooting deaths of 11 civilians at Nisoor Square in Baghdad on Sept. 16 - allegedly at the hands of Blackwater USA security contractors.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said the Blackwater incident was among several "serious challenges to the sovereignty of Iraq" by the company, adding he would take the case up in discussions with U.S. President George W. Bush in New York, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

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