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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2007, 13:28 GMT 14:28 UK
Seized Iran diplomat free in Iraq
Police checks in Baghdad
US officials have denied any involvement in the kidnapping
An Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Iraq in February has been freed.

Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad, apparently walked back into the embassy off the streets of the Iraqi capital.

No-one has admitted seizing him, but Iraqi officials had been working for his release - and that of five Iranian officials seized by the US in January.

Separately, Iraqi officials say they are urging Iran to free 15 UK Navy personnel they seized on 23 March.

"We are intensively seeking the release of the five Iranians," an unnamed Iraqi official said.

"This will be a factor that will help in the release of the British sailors and marines."

While Iraqi diplomats are hopeful that their release would have a positive impact on the case of the British naval personnel, they are not making a direct connection between the two issues, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad.

Dim hopes

Mr Sharafi was abducted from his car in February in the city's central Karrada district by men wearing Iraqi army uniforms.

He was released on Monday and returned to Iran on Tuesday.

Iranian officials had previously blamed the US for the abduction, saying Jalal Sharafi was taken by an Iraqi army unit that worked closely with the Americans.

Exterior of the building raided by the US forces in Irbil
Computers were seized from the Iranian liaison office in Irbil

US officials denied any involvement in the kidnapping and said they did not know about the diplomat's release.

But they have been refusing to release the five Iranian officials they caught during a raid on an Iranian liaison office in the northern city of Irbil on 11 January.

The US accuses them of aiding the insurgency and rejects Iranian and Iraqi government statements that the men were engaged in consular work.

The Iraqi foreign ministry has been pressing for their release from the beginning - and had hoped that they would be freed by the Persian New Year on 21 March, says our Baghdad correspondent.

This did not happen and there are no particular signs of an imminent release, our correspondent says.




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