U.S. troops staged two secret raids in northern Iraq today, ABC News has learned, capturing as many as six Iranians and only narrowly avoiding a gun battle with local security forces, according to the Iraqi foreign ministry and local officials in northern Iraq's Kurdish region.
The Iranian government has made an official complaint to the government in Baghdad, which the Iraqi Foreign Ministry has relayed to the U.S. Embassy.
In the first raid, the U.S. troops stormed a building that houses the Iranian liaison office in the northern city of Irbil at 3 a.m. local time, where they detained at least five Iranians and also confiscated computers and documents.
A nearby resident told the Associated Press that the troops used stun bombs in the raid and had helicopters flying overhead as they went through the two-story yellow house.
In the second raid, staged later in the day, U.S. troops attempted to abduct more people from inside the perimeter of Irbil airport, but were surrounded by Kurdish peshmerga troops.
"This group has come from nowhere," Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told ABC News. "They were unwilling to reveal their identity and entered the airport, which is a very sensitive area, and there was a response by the local forces."
Both sides were heavily armed, and shooting very nearly broke out. "There weren't any casualties, but it was a split second really for a disaster to happen. This has created a great deal of anxiety," said Zebari.
It is unclear where the U.S. troops came from - even local U.S. officials contacted by the Kurdish authorities had no knowledge of the armed men.
The American military later issued a statement saying it had detained six people in a raid in Irbil, but did not specify their nationality or give any other information about the raids.
The raids came within hours of President Bush's speech about future U.S. policy in Iraq, which included a pledge to "interrupt the flow of support from Iran" for anti-U.S. forces in Iraq.
Bush went on to say, "We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." Last month, U.S. forces in Baghdad detained four Iranians, two of whom were diplomats.
The liaison office that was raided issues travel permits for Iraqis traveling to Iran and other consular tasks and is on a waiting list to be officially declared a consulate. Technically, according to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry, the Iranians working in the liaison are not diplomats.
The Iranian foreign ministry has said the raid was "against a diplomatic mission" and is demanding the release of those who were abducted.
Neither the central government in Baghdad nor the regional authorities in Kurdistan had any advance knowledge of the U.S. raids against the Iranian targets, although the Iraqi government has long been aware of Iranian support for armed factions inside Iraq. Zebari said that "we are not questioning or doubting the credibility, the integrity of our friends in the coalition," but he said "this is a very delicate situation."