ARBIL, Iraq - US troops raided Iran's consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on Thursday and arrested five employees, an Iranian diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The US military in Iraq said that its forces had made six arrests in Arbil on Thursday, but did not confirm if any were Iranians.
"We don't know the reason for this," the diplomat said of the raid, which came amid mounting US accusations that Iranian agents are fomenting unrest in Iraq and ordering attacks on American forces.
"The Americans arrested five employees and took all the computers and documentation," the Iranian official said.
The Iranian consulate building in Arbil, which is the capital of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, was sealed off by Kurdish security forces, according to a correspondent at the scene.
In Tehran, the semi-official Fars new agency confirmed the raid.
"In this attack, five of the consulate staff have been arrested by the American troops. They also took some documents and properties," Fars said, quoting an un-named official.
"In the US occupiers' attack on Iran's general consulate in Arbil, the raiders have broken the gate of the office and arrested the consulate's guards," the official added.
According to Iranian state television, Tehran's embassy in Baghdad has sent a note to Iraq's foreign ministry calling for the immediate release of the arrested staff members.
An official at the Iranian foreign ministry said that an investigation had been launched, while the US military in Iraq confirmed only that six people were arrested in an operation in the greater Arbil area.
"Coalition forces conducted routine security operations in northern Iraq and took six individuals into custody suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces," it said.
"This operation was part of an ongoing effort by coalition forces targeting individuals involved in activities aimed at the killing of Iraqi citizens and coalition forces," it added.
"The coalition will continue to work with the government of Iraq to prevent interference by hostile actors in Iraq's internal security affairs," it said.
The Americans said the six suspects surrendered without incident in what was an ongoing operation, but provided no further details.
Iran condemned as "provocative" the raid.
"This is a provocative US action and it is contrary to all international laws, and it is condemned," Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told state run radio.
"By doing this the Americans are following two aims, firstly to continue their pressure on Iran and secondly to create tension among Iraq's neighbors," he said.
"These provocations and mischievous actions cannot tarnish the ongoing friendly relations with Iraq," Hosseini added, however.
He said that Iran had asked Iraqi officials to pursue the case.
Last month, US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said that US forces had detained two Iranian nationals among eight people rounded up on suspicion of weapons smuggling in a raid in Baghdad.
The two Iranians were later handed over to Iranian officials in Baghdad.
US to ramp up action against Iran, Syria
US troops will go on the offensive against hostile operations by Iran and Syria in Iraq, the White House said Wednesday, in extracts from the new war plan for the violence-riven country.
In a key operational shift, the new strategy, due to be laid out by President George W. Bush in a prime time address on Wednesday, will include a bid to "counter Iranian and Syrian action that threatens coalition forces."
The document made no mention of the call by the independent Iraq Study Group in December for US talks with foes Syria and Iran over Iraq's plight.
US troops, due to be boosted by five brigades in Baghdad under the plan will "increase operations against Iranian actors," extracts of the strategy released by the White House said.
The coalition will "intensify efforts to counter Iranian and Syrian influence inside Iraq," the document said.
It added that US allies in the Middle East were "concerned about negative Iranian influence in Iraq."
"Iran has been cultivating influence in Iraq through all means at its disposal," the summary said.
"Iran's threat involves both lethal action and the burrowing of Iranian actors into Iraqi institutions.
"Syrian actions, while posing less of a strategic threat to Iraq than Iranian actions, exacerbate the tactical challenge faced by the Iraqi government."
The United States has repeatedly accused Iran of fomenting violence in Iraq, saying there are Iranian fingerprints on Shiite militias and the makeshift roadside bombs that have killed many US soldiers.
But the Shiite-led government in Baghdad has pursued closer security ties with Tehran, which is also locked in a standoff with Washington over its nuclear program.
The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker, recommended last year that Washington hold direct talks with Iran and Syria given their capacity to influence events in Iraq.
But Bush warned shortly afterwards that the two US foes must stop helping extremists and commit to help Iraq's fledgling government before any talks were possible.
"If people come to the table to discuss Iraq, they need to come understanding their responsibilities to not fund terrorists, to help this young democracy survive, to help with the economics of the country," Bush said on December 7.
"And if people are not committed, if Syria and Iran is not committed to that concept then they shouldn't bother to show up," said Bush, who also ruled out direct talks with Iran unless it verifiably freezes sensitive nuclear work.
US and Iranian tension over Iraq was exacerbated last month when five Iranians were detained by US forces in Baghdad. The BBC reported they were senior intelligence officers engaged in a covert political mission to influence the Iraqi government.
Rice: US won't stand idly by while Iran meddles in Iraq
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran that the United States won't "stand idly by" while Tehran operates against US interests in neighboring Iraq.
Speaking hours after US troops raided Iran's consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil and arrested five employees, Rice said Washington was determined to "pursue" Iranians trying to disrupt US efforts to stabilize Iraq.
"You will see that the United States is not going to simply stand idly by and let these activities continue," she said on Fox News television.