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Possible sanctions breach as Iran Quds chief spotted in Iraq - U.N.

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - United Nations sanctions monitors have said photographs taken inside Iraq appear to confirm that the head of Iran’s elite military Quds Force, one of Iran’s most powerful people, has been in the country in violation of a U.N. travel ban.

Qassem Soleimani, chief of the force which is an overseas arm of the Revolutionary Guards, has been subject to an international travel ban and asset freeze by the U.N. Security Council since 2007.

An Iranian general said in September that Soleimani was in Iran’s western neighbour and was playing a critical role in the fight against Sunni Islamic State militants.

A seven-page report by the U.N. Panel of Experts on Iran, seen by Reuters on Monday, said Soleimani “has been photographed and videoed on a number of occasions, allegedly in Iraq.”

“One photograph reportedly shows him near the city of Amerli in northern Iraq after Iraqi forces re-took the city from ISIL (an acronym often used for Islamic State),” it said. The report included a photo purporting to be of Soleimani in Iraq.

Iran is supporting Iraqi government forces and Shi’ite militia against the militants, who have seized large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory.

Washington designated Soleimani’s Quds Force as a supporter of terrorism in 2007. The European Union did the same in 2011. Western governments and Israel accuse it of arming various militant groups across the Middle East.

U.N. member states are required to deny entry to blacklisted individuals. Diplomats at Iraq’s U.N. mission did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

The experts’ report also said it had received no new reports of nuclear sanctions violations by Tehran since the end of March, though it added “this may reflect caution on the part of States to engage with the panel at a time when the (nuclear) negotiations are ongoing.”

Iran and major world powers agreed last month to extend negotiations on a long-term nuclear deal through the end of June 2015 after the two sides failed for the second time this year to reach an agreement that would lift sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iranian nuclear activities.

Iran denies Western allegations it wants the capability to produce atomic weapons and has vowed to skirt sanctions wherever possible.

In its report, the panel said Iran’s illicit procurement of banned nuclear technology appears to have continued.

But the International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iran has complied with the terms of an interim nuclear deal reached a year ago which formed the basis of the talks now under way to reach a comprehensive agreement.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by David Storey and James Dalgleish