Iraq council to expel Iran's Mujahadeen Khalq

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Iraq has decided to expel Iranian opposition forces.

The Iraqi Governing Council decided unanimously to expel an estimated 4,000 members of the Mujahadeen Khalq. Since June, the Mujahadeen, a holdover from the former regime of Saddam Hussein, has been confined to a base in eastern Iraq.

Under the decision, the Mujahadeen would be expelled by the end of 2003. Iraqi officials said Mujahadeen combatants would decide their next destination but assessed that many would return to Iran, which has offered amnesty.

The Mujahadeen fought U.S. troops in the war that toppled the Saddam regime in March 2003. At one point, the Mujahadeen had 15,000 soldiers with hundreds of main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery and helicopters, Middle East Newsline reported.

"The Governing Council unanimously decided to expel from Iraq by the end of the year the People's Mujahedeen because of the dark history of this terrorist organization," the IGC said.

The statement said the group's offices would be closed and its weapons and money confiscated. The IGC said the confiscated assets and weapons would be used for a fund to compensate Saddam's victims.

On the eve of the U.S.-led war, the Mujahadeen arsenal included 160 Soviet-origin T-54 tanks, 36 British-origin Chieftains, 155 mm artillery and Mi-17 helicopters. The troops and weapons had been spread over 16 bases throughout Iraq.

In April, the Mujahadeen reached a ceasefire agreement with the U.S. military and two months later formally surrendered. Since then, about 4,000 Mujahadeen have remained at the Ashraf base about 70 kilometers northeast of Baghdad. Quietly, many of the Mujahadeen combatants were used by the U.S. military for coalition security duties.

Western diplomatic sources said the IGC decision to expel the Mujahadeen was initiated by the United States, which has been negotiating a reconciliation accord with Iran. The sources said the accord called for the surrender of Mujahadeen combatants in exchange for the Iranian extradition of 70 Al Qaida operatives detained in Iran. The Bush administration has denied such a deal.

The IGC decision appears to reflect the resolution of a dispute within the Bush administration over the fate of the Mujahadeen. The Defense Department had opposed a State Department proposal for cooperation with Teheran to tranfer the Mujahadeen to Iran.

"We clearly have always said and consider the Mujahadeen Khalq a terrorist group," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. "They have been subject to cantonment or restriction by the U.S. military to make sure that they can no longer carry out their activities."

The administration decided that Iran's cooperation was vital to implement a U.S. exit strategy from Iraq. A U.S. official said the White House agreed with the State Department to dismantle the Mujahadeen force. At the same time, the administration agreed with the Pentagon that Mujahadeen insurgents would not be surrendered to Iranian authorities.

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