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US Hikers Were Seized in Iraq: WikiLeaks Document Corroborates Nation Report | The Nation

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US Hikers Were Seized in Iraq: WikiLeaks Document Corroborates Nation Report

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The Iranian government has retaliated against rising Kurdish militancy by launching a counteroffensive on PJAK, inside Iran and across the border in Iraq. In August 2007, for example, Iranian soldiers crossed into Iraq and attacked several villages, McClatchy reported. Most recently, on June 4, officials in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region alleged that "a small unit of Iranian soldiers," including a tank and several other vehicles, had penetrated more than a mile into Iraqi Kurdistan's Arbil province in search of Kurdish rebels.

This article was reported in collaboration with the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute. Naseh Afrani (a pseudonym) contributed reporting from Kurdistan province, and Nicholas Jahr contributed reporting from New York.

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About the Author

Babak Sarfaraz
Babak Sarfaraz is a pseudonym for a journalist in Iran.

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Until his arrest, Taab was a key player in Iran's counteroffensive. The former Revolutionary Guards officer says that several current members of the Guards told him that Taab's stated goal was to "completely wipe out PJAK" in his jurisdiction. According to Ahmedi, the scholar at Georgetown, Taab was involved in recent cross-border assassinations of Iranian Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish weekly Awena reported that Taab and his unit assassinated two Kurds on December 15, 2008.

According to the former officer and the Sanandaj official, Taab's criminal enterprise grew beyond smuggling in 2007, when he made his first forays into murder. Koolbars, the petty border smugglers, are often killed by land mines or fatally shot by border police. So Taab concocted a scheme to kidnap koolbars as well as ordinary unemployed Iranian Kurdish civilians, dress them in the uniforms of PJAK insurgents and then kill them—claiming they'd died in a military clash—in order to collect a bounty, as high as $40,000 a head, from his superiors in the Revolutionary Guards. He was assisted in this plot by at least nine others, seven of whom have been apprehended. The article in Kurdistan Va Kurdnews named all seven, including Haji Majid Muqimiyan of Kermansha, identified as a ringleader.

PJAK has officially denied involvement in these border clashes, including in a May 3, 2009, post to the Iranian website Tabnak, which is published by Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards. Many of the PJAK clashes may, in fact, have been "bogus," said the Sanandaj official. "More or less no clashes with PJAK have been reported in the area since Heyva Taab and his gang were busted."

A mother of one koolbar tearfully described her son's disappearance. She said he went missing the same day in early 2009 that the government later claimed a clash with PJAK had taken place. The woman, a resident of a border town in Iranian Kurdistan, is a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits against Taab; she asked that her name and location not be mentioned, for fear that it would harm her case in court.

Taab's scheme was wildly successful, according to the Sanandaj official, who said one bank account under Taab's name has had nearly $6 million deposited in it since 2008. This macabre scheme ended only in the spring of 2009, when Taab killed a local official's brother who was seeking work in the area and, more decisively, last July when he killed the cleric's son.

On June 11 Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary general of Iran's High Council for Human Rights, said that the government's investigation was nearly complete and a trial for Bauer, Fattal and Shourd "should not be very far from now." In a statement issued on June 17, the mothers of the hikers called on Iran either to prosecute or release their children. "Iran has no legitimate reason at this stage not to release them or move forward with a fair trial in which our children can openly answer any allegations against them."

"These new revelations, if indeed true, show the hikers have been victims of political machinations and manipulation," said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. "The fact that they have been held for so long without prosecution strongly supports this trend. Under Iranian laws, they have committed no crime and should be released immediately. Their Iranian lawyer, who has studied the judicial files against them, has consistently maintained the only charge against them is illegal entry, which is subject to a fine and not arbitrary detention for so long. With this new information, even that charge appears fabricated, and there is no basis for holding them."

As of the press date, Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd have been detained by Iran for ten months and twenty-three days.

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