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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Insists Detainees Be Released

BAGHDAD -- The U.S. military said Sunday that five Iranians being held by its troops in Iraq were linked to Revolutionary Guards who are arming and funding Iraqi militants but Tehran called them diplomats and demanded they be released.

The five were arrested Thursday in a U.S. dawn raid on an Iranian government office in the Kurdish city of Arbil.

It was the second such operation in a month and came as U.S. President George W. Bush issued a blunt warning to Iran over its activities in Iraq. It sparked concerns that the conflict may widen as Washington prepares to send additional troops to Iraq to quell soaring sectarian violence there.

The operation, denounced by the regional Kurdish government as a violation of its sovereignty, underlined the challenges Baghdad faces in striking a balance with Washington while building relations with neighbors whom the Bush administration accuses of fueling violence in Iraq.

The U.S. military said the five detainees were connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard-Qods Force. Qods is Arabic for "Jerusalem."

The organization was "known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces," it said in a statement.

In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini demanded their immediate release, saying that the five were diplomats involved in "consulate affairs." Iraq has said the mission did not yet have consular status but was operating legitimately.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said they were ready to spend billions of dollars financing projects in other countries to help thwart U.S. domination, The Associated Press reported.

The anti-U.S. presidents whose efforts to extend their influence have alarmed Washington met Saturday in Venezuela's capital, the first stop on Ahmadinejad's tour of Latin America that will also see him visit newly elected leftist leaders in Nicaragua and Ecuador.