BAGHDAD: US forces yesterday freed a group of Iranians including two diplomats who were seized at a Baghdad hotel overnight in what the military said was a "regrettable incident." Tehran issued a protest over what it called the "unjustifiable" detention of the Iranians, who were taken by US troops from the Sheraton hotel in blindfolds and handcuffs after their convoy was stopped at a nearby checkpoint.
The seizure of the Iranians late on Tuesday came just hours after US President George W Bush waged a new verbal attack on Tehran, and was likely to further exacerbate tensions between the arch-foes.
Bush said he had ordered his military chiefs in Iraq to confront Iran's "murderous activities," labelling the Islamic republic the world's leading sponsor of state terrorism.
But Saadi Othman, an adviser to the US commander of troops in Iraq, General David Petraeus, described the detention as "regrettable."
"Nothing was intended, and once we found out from the Iraqi government that they were Iranian officials, we released them," Othman told BBC television.
Iran lodged a formal complaint with the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests there, saying the Iranians were members of an energy ministry delegation in Baghdad for talks on building a power plant.