Iran and US exchange bitter accusations

Simmering tensions between the US and Iran continued today as separate incidents heightened existing frictions.

A US military spokesperson again ruled out the return of five Iranians held in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil in January.

Instead Major General William Caldwell reiterated previous claims by the US that Iranian elements are supplying terrorists in Iraq with the explosives and devices which are causing such bloody chaos in the troubled Middle Eastern country.

"We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them," the Associated Press news agency quoted Maj Gen Caldwell as saying.

"We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees debriefs."

Meanwhile Tehran's head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Iraq earlier this year has marks on his hands and feet.

Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad before his abduction in early February, has claimed he was tortured by US forces during interrogations over Iran's intentions in Iraq.

Exactly what ICRC representative Peter Stoeker said after his meeting with Mr Sharafi remains a matter of controversy. Western news reports claim that he was unable to say whether the marks were caused by torture while the Iranian Republic News Agency (IRNA) reports that he "confirmed" that torture had taken place.

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