BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. troops raided the Palestinian Authority (search )'s mission in Baghdad and arrested 11 people after ransacking the building, a Palestinian official said Thursday. A top U.S. general said eight people were arrested.
The detained men included charge d'affairs (search ) Majah Abdul Rahman, who was running the mission in the ambassador's absence, mission official Mohamed Abdul Wahab said. They were taken to a U.S. base in the center of the city and have not been released, he said.
"They even took all of our water bottles and food cans," Wahab said. "They behaved like common thieves."
Nabil Abu Rdeneh, an aide to Yasser Arafat, and Cabinet Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinian Authority would not comment on the arrest.
U.S. troops have conducted numerous sweeps against suspected criminals and loyalists of Saddam Hussein's regime. Wednesday's raid was believed to be the first such action against a foreign diplomatic mission.
Wahab said dozens of U.S. troops escorted by several armored vehicles arrived at the building in Baghdad's embassy district Wednesday morning. After the guards opened the gate, soldiers burst into the building and detained officials, drivers and gardeners.
The soldiers seized three AK-47 assault rifles that were used to guard against looting that laid waste to much of the capital after it fell to U.S. troops, Wahab said. The rifles and a handgun, which was also confiscated, were properly licensed by Iraq's former government, he said.
"Every embassy has guns, we used them to ward off looters," Wahab said. "To attack a foreign embassy is a criminal act and a breach of diplomatic immunity."
Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, confirmed Thursday that troops entered the diplomatic compound.
"That happened in a part of Baghdad where we lost a soldier," he told reporters.
McKiernan said seven Palestinians and a Syrian were detained, adding that he did not know how many had diplomatic status. Troops seized four AK-47s, four hand grenades, and a .38 caliber pistol, he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said officials were still looking into the alleged raid.
"You're going to have to check with the people from CENTCOM in order to get whatever more details you might. So I really can't confirm anything about the events or even that they occurred," he said.
Wahab said the soldiers used shotguns to blast open office doors, though he said all were unlocked or had keys in them.
Many of the doors in the building bore the marks of combat boots and several had their locks shot off. An embassy safe appeared to have been opened after the door hinges had been broken off, and file cabinets were standing open with all of their contents removed.
An official photo of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was smashed on the floor.
Wahab said the soldiers took away two embassy flags. He said the troops had told staff that the mission did not have permission for its automatic weapons.