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Iraq Might Force Out Iranian Militants

July 20, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri Maliki on Wednesday accused a militant Iranian opposition group of meddling in his country's affairs and suggested that it could face expulsion from Iraq, where it has been based for 20 years.

The Iraqi leader said the Mujahedin Khalq, which is dedicated to toppling Iran's Islamist government, had become too involved in Iraq's political and social issues.

"It is interfering as if it is an Iraqi organization, despite the fact that it is considered to be one of the terrorist organizations and its presence in the country contradicts the constitution," Maliki said at a news conference.

In response to a question, he said that government communications with the group had been banned and that a committee had been established "to find out the procedures related to their existence here" and to determine which countries would be ready to accept them as refugees.

The United States has listed the Mujahedin Khalq as a terrorist organization, although some U.S. officials have praised it as a tough opponent of the Iranian government.

The group was believed responsible for the slayings of several U.S. soldiers and civilians working on defense contracts in Iran in the 1970s, when Washington backed the shah. The Mujahedin Khalq also supported and may have aided the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, during which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.

Tehran strongly opposes the group and has pressured Baghdad's Shiite-led government, dominated by parties with long-standing ties to Iran, to clamp down on its activities in Iraq.

A Mujahedin Khalq statement Wednesday said that its members had a right to protection under the Geneva Convention and that their safety was the responsibility of U.S.-led forces.

"Any action against the [Mujahedin] represents nothing but the demands and wishes of the theocracy ruling Iran that have been conveyed to the Iraqi prime minister," the statement said.

A spokesman for the group said earlier that it had not been informed by Baghdad that it may have to leave Iraq, whose government has improved ties with non-Arab Shiite Iran.

The Mujahedin Khalq, which has carried out attacks in Iran, was believed to have received support from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose troops fought the Islamic Republic in the 1980s. But the group's fortunes changed after a U.S.-led invasion toppled Hussein in 2003. It handed over its weapons after the U.S. bombed its bases.

Its estimated 4,000 members in Iraq are based at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad. It has many supporters in Europe and North America and operated openly in France until 2003.

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