Iraq Intensifies Efforts to Expel Iranian Group

By Ernesto Londoño and Saad al-Izzi
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

BAGHDAD -- For three years, thousands of members of a militant group dedicated to overthrowing Iran's theocracy have lived in a sprawling compound north of Baghdad under the protection of the U.S. military.

American soldiers chauffeur top leaders of the group, known as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, to and from their compound, where they have hosted dozens of visitors in an energetic campaign to persuade the State Department to stop designating the group as a terrorist organization.

Now the Iraqi government is intensifying its efforts to evict the 3,800 or so members of the group who live in Iraq, although U.S. officials say they are in no hurry to change their policy toward the MEK, which has been a prime source of information about Iran's nuclear program.

The Iraqi government announced this week that roughly 100 members would face prosecution for human rights violations, a move MEK officials contend comes at the request of the Iranian government.

"We have documents, witnesses," Jaafar al-Moussawi, a top Iraqi prosecutor, said Monday, alleging that the MEK aided President Saddam Hussein's campaign to crush Shiite and Kurdish opposition movements at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Moussawi said the criminal complaint would implicate MEK members in "killing, torture, [wrongful] imprisonment and displacement."

The group denied involvement in Hussein's reprisals.

"These allegations are preposterous and lies made by the Iranian mullahs and repeated by their agents," it said in a statement issued this week.

The case highlights the occasional discord between the U.S. and Iraqi governments on matters related to Iran. While the U.S. government has accused Iran of supplying Iraqi Shiite militias with sophisticated weapons that it says have been used to kill American troops, Iraq's Shiite-led government has expanded commercial and diplomatic ties with its majority-Shiite neighbor.

"This organization has always destabilized the security situation" in Iraq, said Mariam Rayis, a top foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, adding that the MEK's continued presence "could lead to deteriorating the relationship with neighboring countries."

MEK leaders dispute the prosecutor's allegations. They contend that Iran has infiltrated Iraq's political leadership while also supporting militant groups in an effort to keep the United States in a quagmire in Iraq. They also say the Iranian government wants to forestall a U.S. attack on Iran.

"The Iranian regime wants very much to prevent the winds of change," Behzad Saffari, a spokesman for the group, said in a recent interview at a Baghdad hotel. "Instead of fighting the Americans in Iran, [the Iranian government] is fighting them in Iraq. If we have to leave Iraq, it means the Americans are defeated. It means Iran has prevailed."

Maliki told officials from neighboring countries during a meeting in Baghdad on Saturday that Iraq should not become a battleground where other nations attempt to settle their disputes.


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