Friday, June 06, 2003


New York Times (Web Edition)

JUNE 6, 2003

[Excerpts from a weekly column written expressly for by Michael R. Gordon, The Times' chief military correspondent.]

FALLUJA, Iraq, June 6 - The road home for the Spartan Brigade is through Falluja...
I went along with them as they pulled up stakes in the Iraqi capital and headed west. Almost immediately, the mission became an excursion into the complex politics of postwar Iraq.

The American soldiers who advanced into the heart of the Iraqi capital in April soon found themselves face to face with an Iranian resistance movement as they sought to sort out living arrangements for the soldiers in this dirt-poor and looted region. By the end of my first day here, I had meandered through an underground bunker complex, enjoyed a fine Iranian meal and heard a lecture on repression in Iran from a member of the resistance movement who had earned a university degree in Wichita, Kan...

The Spartan Brigade was like a band of nomads. They took the furniture, light fixtures, anything to make their stay in Falluja more bearable...

But what were the new quarters? As the brigade arrived, it turned out that it would be setting up camp in a compound built by the Mujahadeen Khalq, an Iranian resistance group that the Clinton administration put on its terrorist list but that asserts it does not support terror attacks against the United States and wants to make common cause against the Iranian government.

This group had quite a story to tell. I heard it from Amir Ghassemi, who had received the university degree, in mechanical engineering, in Wichita. He said his brothers and a sister had been arrested and executed by the Khomeini regime for handing out leaflets after the shah was ousted. He has been a member of the Iranian resistance movement for 16 years.

The resistance movement assumed that it could stay on the sidelines during the American-led attack on Iraq and had sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell indicating that it had no intention of opposing the American invasion. The United States bombed their bases anyway.

After the war, the United States concluded an agreement with the group, which resulted in the handing over of its tanks, artillery and other weapons. They are stored at a camp under American supervision. Thousands of the group's fighters and supporters live at a camp at Ashraf, north of Baghdad.

But at the sprawling compound here, where the Spartan Brigade was setting up Camp, the American military presence was their immediate concern. The compound was the resistance movement's rear logistics base and includes a 100-bed hospital for women, including female fighters, that had been stripped bare by looters after the war. It also has an underground bunker system that is outfitted with a filtration system, a precaution that they say is against an Iranian missile attack.

The movement says it spent $15 million building the complex, using funds donated by Iranian businesspeople within Iran and in exile. The compound was abandoned after the Americans bombed part of it during the war to topple Mr. Hussein, but now the Iranians want to move hundreds of its women here.

The Spartan Brigade's commander, Col. David Perkins, met with a woman who is one of the Iranian group's military commanders to discuss arrangements for using the compound. The Iranians surprised the Americans by serving a chicken dinner. The resistance movement seemed prepared to accept the Americans, but made the point that it was their compound and that they eventually expected to get it back.

I left with a handful of leaflets about the Iranians' cause and bedded down for the night with the 1-64 Armor...

It was just another day in Iraq.