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Baghdad - An Islamic group said Sunday it had "detained" an Iranian diplomat in Iraq for allegedly stirring sectarian strife, but Tehran expressed ignorance of the motives behind the kidnap.
A statement from the Islamic Army in Iraq read by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya channel television channel said Fereydun Jahani was "detained for stirring sectarian strife and for activities outside his diplomatic duties".
Pictures were shown of the diplomat's passport, identity and business cards along with what appeared to be footage of him speaking, without sound, against a black backdrop.
The group accused Iran of "blatant interference in Iraqi internal affairs," the station said amid a war of words between Baghdad and Tehran.
It added that the diplomat warned "all states against violating internationally recognised diplomatic duties."
Jahani disappeared on Wednesday as he was travelling to the central Iraqi city of Karbala to open an Iranian consulate following an agreement to do so by the Iraqi interim government, embassy charge d'affaires Hassan Kazemi Ghomi told AFP.
"We asked the coalition and Iraqi police if they knew what happened, but they said they hadn't arrested him," Ghomi said.
"We recognised him from the television. No one has contacted us," Ghomi added, indicating that no threats or demands had been made.
In Tehran, the foreign ministry said in a statement that it was "following up the matter with sensitivity, and with all the concerned parties in Iraq."
"This issue is being followed up together with the Swiss embassy in Tehran, the British ambassador in Tehran and Iraqi officials," ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a statement faxed to AFP.
The Swiss embassy acts as a diplomatic go-between for Iran and the United States, which cut direct diplomatic ties in 1980.
"We do not have any more information. We have no indication of what motivated the group to do this, and this matter needs further investigation," Asefi said.
A group with the same name kidnapped two Pakistanis in Iraq last month and subsequently executed them for cooperating with the US-led multinational forces.
On April 15, the first secretary at Iran's embassy in Baghdad, Khalil Naimi, was gunned down on a Baghdad street a day after Tehran sent a peace mission to help end a standoff between US forces and militant Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.
After that shooting, Iran abandoned the apparent mediation effort.
Iranian officials have denied interference in Iraqi affairs, but the war of words intensified on Sunday, with the foreign ministry in Tehran saying it was not prepared to discuss serious issues with Baghdad's interim authorities.
The ministry also said it was summoning Iraq's top diplomat in Tehran over claims that four Iranian spies have been arrested in Baghdad and demanding proof of the allegations.
Asefi said Iraqi officials should "stop creating a bad atmosphere" between Iran and Iraq.
Iran has yet to formally recognise the Iraqi interim government, which has been described by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as "lackeys" of the Americans.
Tensions between Iraq and Iran have mounted since Iraqi Defence Minister Hazem al-Shaalan told The Washington Post he had seen "clear interference in Iraqi issues by Iran" and accused Tehran of taking over some Iraqi border posts and sending spies and saboteurs into Iraq.
He also alleged that Tehran was working "to kill democracy" in his country.
Khamenei last month voiced suspicion that US and Israeli "agents" have been behind a wave of kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq, the official news agency IRNA reported.
"We seriously suspect the agents of the Americans and Israelis are conducting such horrendous terrorist moves," Khamenei said, reasoning that he "cannot believe that the people who kidnap Filipino nationals, for instance, or behead US nationals are Muslims."