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U.S. releasing nine Iranians held in Iraq

BAGHDAD – The U.S. military soon will release nine Iranians it’s holding in Iraq, including two held since January on suspicion that they’d funneled weapons and financial support to Iraqi Shiite Muslim militias.

A military spokesman described the decision to release the nine as routine and cautioned against reading greater meaning into it. He didn’t explain why it took 10 months to decide that the two weren’t terrorists.

“These individuals have been assessed to be of no continuing value, nor do they pose a further threat to Iraqi security,” said American Navy Rear Adm. Greg Smith, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.

But the timing of the announcement, after a month in which American casualties dropped to their lowest point in 19 months, prompted speculation that the release might be part of trilateral negotiations among the U.S., Iraq and Iran over Iraqi security.

The Iranian government recently promised Baghdad that it would stop arming, funding and training extremists. Last week, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 American military commander here, said that explosively formed penetrators, a relatively sophisticated variety of roadside bomb that American officials say Iran is supplying, were killing fewer U.S. soldiers than they once did.

Military officials announced the pending release in a statement that also said that American and Iraqi forces in the first 10 months of this year had confiscated double the number of weapons than were confiscated in all of last year.