By Patrick Cockburn
Published: 03 April 2007
A failed American attempt to abduct two senior Iranian security officers on an official visit to northern Iraq was the starting pistol for a crisis that 10 weeks later led to Iranians seizing 15 British sailors and Marines.
Early on the morning of 11 January, helicopter-born US forces launched a surprise raid on a long-established Iranian liaison office in the city of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. They captured five relatively junior Iranian officials whom the US accuses of being intelligence agents and still holds.
In reality the US attack had a far more ambitious objective, The Independent has learned. The aim of the raid, launched without informing the Kurdish authorities, was to seize two men at the very heart of the Iranian security establishment.
The targeted generals
* MOHAMMED JAFARI
Powerful deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, responsible for internal security. He has accused the United States of seeking to "hold Iran responsible for insecurity in Iraq... and [US] failure in the country."
* GENERAL MINOJAHAR FROUZANDA
Chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the military unit which maintains its own intelligence service separate from the state, as well as a parallel army, navy and air force