Friday, March 24, 2000

Iraq Builds Base for Rebels Fighting Iran, U.S. Contends

Iraq Builds Base for Rebels Fighting Iran, U.S. Contends

New York Times
March 24, 2000

Iraq has spent tens of millions of dollars in recent months to build a military headquarters for an Iranian opposition group that the Clinton administration considers a terrorist organization, senior administration officials said today.

As evidence, the officials declassified a satellite photograph of the complex, which covers 2.4 square miles and is in the Iraqi city of Faluja, about 40 miles west of Baghdad. The officials said the Iraqis had used profits from the illegal sale of oil to build the complex for the exclusive use of the People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian military and political movement whose goal is to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The photo is to be made public by the State Department on Friday in an effort to counter critics who say the sanctions imposed after the gulf war cause widespread suffering in Iraq. The administration will argue that President Saddam Hussein is smuggling oil to support terrorism and does not deserve relief from the sanctions.

''This is a propaganda campaign,'' a senior administration said about issuing the photo. ''There's no question this is what we are doing here. This is part of our effort to show the world the danger Saddam would pose if the controls on the access to his oil revenues were lifted.''

Not coincidentally, at an open meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday on the humanitarian situation in Iraq, the United States will argue in favor of keeping tough sanctions against Iraq, as well as finding ways to ease the Iraqi people's suffering.

Administration officials insist that the new evidence against Iraq is not related to the speech by Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Friday in which Dr. Albright announced the easing of some sanctions against Iran to allow exports of Iranian carpets, caviar, pistachios and dried fruits to the United States.

But the satellite photo is quite likely to be welcomed by at least some Iranian officials, who praised the United States when it designated the People's Mujahedeen as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.

It was created in the 1960's as an armed Islamic opposition movement against Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi and fought in guerrilla operations that forced his overthrow. But the People's Mujahedeen was also avowedly socialist and was cut out of the power structure built by the ayatollahs.

The group turned against the new government and continues to wage an armed struggle against the Iranian state from Iraq, which provides the group with financial and logistical support and military equipment. The People's Mujahedeen remains the most powerful opponent of the Islamic Republic, attacking targets in Iran and assassinating Iranian officials. It is generally believed to have 15 to 20 bases in Iraq.

The Mujahedeen complex near Baghdad, which is not yet operating, was begun in late 1998 on the site of an Iraqi military area and is said to include lakes, farms, barracks and administrative buildings that can accommodate 3,000 to 5,000 people, administration officials said.

One official described the site as a ''headquarters which will be used to coordinate Mujahedeen activities throughout Iraq and elsewhere.''

The officials declined to say how they could be certain that the site was intended for Mujahedeen use, citing the need to protect intelligence sources.

Washington has used declassified satellite imagery for years in its campaign against Iraq, showing photos that it says prove that it is rebuilding factories that could make chemical weapons or missiles and building sprawling palaces.