Sunday, February 21, 1993

Iraq raises alarm over restless Iran

Chicago Tribune
February 21, 1993
By James Yuenger

BAGHDAD, Iraq — ... Baghdad is tolerating the existence of five military camps in the eastern Iraqi desert operated by an organization called the People’s Mujahedcen Khalq, with tens of thousands of expatriate Iranians under arms and sworn to conquer Tehran’s military forces someday.

The main facility, called Camp Ashraf, is in a sparsely populated area about 85 miles northeast of Baghdad and less than 45 miles from the Iranian border, Mujahedeen officials said.

How many troops the Mujahedeen maintains isn’t clear. Its officials won’t say but like to suggest there are as many as 100,000. Western intelligence sources estimated the number in recent years at 35,000 or fewer.

It is abundantly clear, however, that the organization is richly financed, tolerated by Saddam Hussein as a thorn in Tehran’s side, and in direct and personal touch with the Clinton administration.

A photo album in the Mujahedeen’s heavily guarded six-story headquarters in downtown Baghdad contains several pictures of one of its main officials, Mohammad Mohaddessin, at the Democratic Leadership Council’s black-tie dinner Dec. 8 in Washington.

The photos show Mohaddessin smiling, shaking hands and chatting with, among others, then-Presidcni-elect Bill Clinton and then-Sen. Al Gore (and their wives) as well as future Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, future Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and House Majority Leader Tom Foley (D-Wash.).

Also in the album is a Jan. 18 column by the conservative columnists Evans and Novak saying that Clinton had written a “private letter” in early December to the Mujahedeen’s leader, Massoud Rajavi.

The column said the Clinton letter hadn’t gone beyond a generic commitment to fostering democracy elsewhere as a tenet of his foreign policy.

Mohaddessin, in an interview last week in Baghdad, said that is precisely the Mujahedeen’s aim: to it-place the post-Khomeini government in Iran, violently if necessary, with a secular democracy.

“A focal problem for U.S. foreign policy is the major threat of Islamic militancy,” he said. “The USSR is gone, and Arab nationalism has run out of steam.”

“The regime in Iran has aggravated the possibility of replicating itself by providing financial and military support to fundamentalists in Algeria, Egypt, Sudan, even Turkey. Tehran is acting the way that Moscow did for Communists around the world.”

The Mujahedeen has been pushing that notion for years in a smoothly professional public relations operation that has offices in Washington, Europe and the Middle East. Journalists are familiar with its calls pointing out newswire articles unfavorable to the Iranian government...