- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran, March 25 (UPI) — Head of the Iran-based Iraqi Shiite Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, Ayatollah Mohammad-Baqer Hakim, Tuesday warned coalition forces to leave Iraq as soon as Saddam Hussein is toppled or face the military resistance of the Iraqi opposition.

"Foreign troops must exit Iraq at the earliest," Hakim told a news conference, adding that the "Iraqi nation will resist by any possible means" if the U.S.-led forces opt to stay in the country.

Hakim stressed that only a "national government" would be acceptable in post-Saddam Iraq.

"The world does not approve of any colonialism or occupation, and we will take peaceful measures in this respect at the beginning but we will use force later," the ayatollah said, urging the Iraqi nation and military to prevent a "foreign dominance" of the country and to safeguard the infrastructures of Iraq.

When asked why the Iraqi people and military have not revolted against Saddam's regime, Hakim said that both the coalition forces and the Iraqi regime have ordered the people not to leave their homes or their lives would be in serious danger. Hakim claimed that a large number of his supporters, often referred to as the militia of the Badr Corps, are among those ready to act when they find it convenient.

Hakim, however, urged the United States to change its tactics or the war in Iraq, as he put it, would be prolonged unnecessarily.

On Monday the U.S. State Department said the Iraqi crisis has encouraged indirect contacts between the United States and Iran, two longtime adversaries. They are talking to each other through an intermediary — Switzerland — about a missile that landed on Iranian territory last week, the department said. It is still not clear who fired the missile and how it landed inside Iran.

Initial media reports said it was a U.S.-fired Tomahawk missile that missed its target and landed inside Iran. Later reports said that Iran was also looking into reports that this might have been an Iraqi missile aimed at U.S. troops based close to the Iranian border. Other reports said that Iraq might have purposely fired the missile to create a confrontation between Iran and the United States.

Those two countries broke diplomatic ties more than 20 years ago soon after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran when Iranian students captured the American Embassy in Tehran and took the entire staff hostage.

For many years, the countries had no contact but relations became less tense after the election of a reformist government in Iran in 1996. Since then, the two sides have established indirect contacts to discuss issues, such as the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, when Washington feared that al-Qaida members could have escaped into neighboring Iran to avoid capture.

Although Iran does not approve of the ongoing U.S.-led war in another neighboring country, Iraq, it has turned down a request for help from Iraq, with which it fought an 8-year war in the 1980s.

Since Iran, which is the world's only Shiite state, also has a considerable influence on the Shiite population of southern Iraq, U.S. officials have said they want Iran to stay neutral in this war.

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(Anwar Iqbal in Washington contributed to this report.)




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