Iran releases Iraqi sailors held for almost one week

Eight Iraqi sailors detained by Iran after a weekend clash in a shared waterway were released early Friday, Iraqi officials said, but the body of a ninth sailor had not yet been repatriated. The eight sailors were released at midnight early Friday through the Shalamcha border police station near Basra, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, said Gen. Ahmed al-Khafaji, deputy Iraqi Interior Minister.

The body of a ninth sailor who was killed in the clash was to be released Saturday, al-Khafaji added.

Iranian officials were not immediately for comment.

Al-Khafaji also said two Iraqi boats detained by Iran during last Saturday's clash were also to be handed over Saturday, but Basra Governor Mohammed al-Waeli claimed Iran was going to keep the vessels.

Iraqi officials had said the sailors were detained Jan. 14 following a clash between Iraqi and Iranian coast guard ships near the Shatt al-Arab waterway, or Arvand River, in the Persian Gulf.

However, Iranian authorities have denied claims that an Iranian naval vessel fought a skirmish with an Iraqi coast guard ship, instead claiming that there was a clash between Iranian patrol boats and a merchant ship headed toward Iranian waters.

The Shatt al-Arab waterway runs along the Iran-Iraq border and has long been a source of tension between Iran and Iraq. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war broke out after former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein claimed the entire waterway, reports the AP.

D.M.