Saturday, January 23, 1999

Top Iranian Official Warns U.S., Britain Over Backing MKO
April 26, 2003

TEHRAN, April 26 ( & News Agencies) - A senior Iranian official warned the United States and Britain Saturday, April 26, that any leniency shown towards the Iraq-based People's Mujahedeen would be unacceptable, asserting the armed opposition group should be dealt with as ‘terrorists’.

"Any leniency shown towards the terrorist MKO will not be acceptable to Iran," Hassan Rowhani, secretary general of Iran's Supreme Council for National Security, was quoted as saying by state radio, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

"The U.S. and British forces have to deal with the terrorist organization in line with United Nations (Security Council) Resolution 1373," Rowhani said, referring to the resolution prohibiting the support of terrorist groups.

Quoted by IRNA, Rowhani also complained that "the presence of U.S. and British forces in Iraq and the installation of a puppet regime there is not acceptable for Iran."

He added however that "Iran is not looking for any confrontation or conflict with the U.S. over Iraq."

Rowhani is the latest in a string of senior Iranian officials to voice alarm over a ceasefire deal between Washington and the People's Mujahedeen guerrillas - the main armed Iranian opposition group that has been using Iraqi soil to battle Tehran's regime for well over a decade.

The U.S. military has confirmed it had reached a ceasefire agreement with the Mujahedeen, which a spokesman for the group at a military base in Iraq told AFP last week included allowing the militia to keep its arms, stay in Iraq and continue to wage its armed struggle.

Officials at the U.S. Central Command war headquarters in Qatar have repeatedly refused to comment on the Mujahedeen's description of the deal.

The United States, like the European Union, has officially classed the People's Mujahedeen - which is believed to have thousands of soldiers in Iraq - as a "terrorist organization".

But reports of a deal have been seen as an early sign that Washington may want to recast the group as "freedom fighters", even though some of its camps were targeted by U.S.-British coalition warplanes during the war against Saddam Hussein's regime.

The movement was given sanctuary by Saddam in 1986 after being driven out of Iran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

No Resistance In Baqubah

Meanwhile, U.S. forces seized an airfield in the northeastern Iraqi city of Baqubah near the border with Iran Saturday along with a stash of missiles and dozens of people suspected of hiding weapons.

Officers with the 4th Infantry Division said U.S. troops detained 40 Iraqis but met no resistance as they moved into the airfield on the northern edge of the city in the early morning.

"This was not a military target but it will most likely become a forward operating base for us where we will push logistical assets," said Lieutenant Colonel Robert Valdivia.

Two men were also detained outside the airbase after Iraqi military assault rifles were found in their van. Intelligence officers said they appeared to be arms dealers.

Some soldiers reported seeing a vehicle mounted with a heavy machine gun fleeing from a village 15 kilometers (nine miles) outside the airport as the U.S. troops approached.

Local residents also pointed U.S. troops to a stash of 12 Iraqi missiles which apparently had been left there by Iraqi soldiers several weeks ago.

Valdivia said U.S. regular forces had not yet established control in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province where several paramilitary groups are believed to be competing for control.

"We did not meet any resistance but that does not mean there are not MKO or other non-compliant forces operating here in Baqubah," he said.

The Baqubah airport showed no signs of recent use but was littered with the remains of light and vintage aircraft including helicopters bearing the Iraqi flag which were bulldozed aside to make way for U.S. tanks and fighting vehicles.

More forces from the 4th Infantry's 2nd Brigade are expected to pour into the airfield in the coming days from where they will conduct operations throughout Diyala, between the Iranian border and the northeastern edge of Baghdad.

U.S. forces now control at least five air bases in the country. The Pentagon has denied press reports the United States is seeking a base for military operations in Iraq after an Iraqi government is established.

U.S. Deliberately Arrests Religious Figures

In a separate related development the head of the Iraq's main Shiite opposition group accused U.S. forces Saturday of arresting a number of leaders of the group's military wing, the Badr Brigade.

Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, who heads the Iran-based Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), said U.S. forces carried out a wave of arrests after last week's massive Shiite pilgrimage in the southern Iraqi city of Karbala.

"The U.S. was terrified after seeing the millions of Shiite people gathering in Karbala, so it started making arrests of religious figures, among them the leaders of Badr Brigade," Hakim said.

The group gave no further details, and did not say how many members of the Badr Brigade were detained.

In the past week, U.S. officials have accused Iran of sending agents into Iraq to undermine the U.S. presence there, possibly in the guise of members of the Badr Brigade, a several thousand-strong militia that has in the past received Iranian backing.

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi angrily denied accusations that Tehran was using the Badr Brigade as a proxy force, asserting that the militia was an "Iraqi movement and does not include any Iranian."