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2 Americans detained in Iraq on visa violations

2 Americans detained in Iraq on visa violations

Iraqi security forces have detained two Americans for questioning after they crossed into a northern province from the country's semiautonomous Kurdish region without visas, authorities said Friday.
The two Americans, whose identities were not made public, were detained Sunday in the northern city of Mosul, an Iraqi army official said. He gave no details about why the two were in Iraq.
Maj. Stephen Holt, a U.S. military spokesman, confirmed the Americans were in Iraqi custody. The U.S. Embassy also acknowledged the detentions but did not release details.
The pair were traveling with a Kurdish translator, who was also detained, and all three were being questioned by Iraqi security forces in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad.
The Iraqi army official said the Americans only had entry permits for visiting Kurdistan and did not have visas needed to visit the rest of Iraq. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.
Although the three provinces that make up Iraq's Kurdish region are at odds with the central government over issues involving land and oil, Baghdad has encouraged foreign and Iraqi tourism in Kurdistan.
The area has largely been spared the violence that struck the rest of the country after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Americans and Europeans have been among tourists who have visited the area in recent years.
Violence has declined overall in Iraq since 2007, though insurgents routinely target security forces and civilians, in particular Shiite Muslims, whose community has dominated Iraqi politics since Saddam Hussein's overthrow.
Al-Qaida-backed Sunni insurgents have repeatedly struck at Shiites during religious events in an attempt to stoke sectarian strife.
An aide to the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites warned on Friday of possible attacks against pilgrims making their way to the holy city of Karbala. There they will mark the end of 40 days of mourning that follow the anniversary of the seventh-century death of one of Shiite Islam's most revered saints, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson Hussein.
He was killed in a battle near Karbala for the leadership of the nascent Muslim nation following Muhammad's death in 632. Hussein's death led to the split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
During Friday prayers in Karbala, Sheik Abdul-Mahdi al-Karbalaie, an aide to Shiite spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, demanded Iraqi forces increase security to protect the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims expected to arrive in the city next week.
"More intelligence elements must be deployed to the area where terrorists are expected to launch attacks," he said.
Al-Karbalaie noted that this year's observance of what is known as Arbaeen takes place during the sensitive political period before the March 7 parliamentary elections. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned of a possible increase in violence before the voting.
Meanwhile, gunmen carrying pistols fitted with silencers shot and killed a Sunni cleric in Baghdad, police said Friday. Sheik Ahmed Saadoun al-Falih was leaving the al-Taqwa mosque Thursday when gunmen opened fire.
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Associated Press Writers Bushra Juhi and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-02 12:21 GMT+08:00