- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

KANICHNARA, Iraq The fighters say they are Iraqi patriots who came to Kurdish northern Iraq to fight off foreign invaders but the green telephone at their camp has a sticker identifying it as the property of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
They drive the beige Nissan Patrols favored by the Iranian military and speak Farsi, the language of Iran. They are Shi'ite warriors of the Badr Brigades the military wing of an Iraqi opposition group based in Iran and supported by that country's Islamist leadership. And their presence is further complicating an already dangerous ethnic and military mix in Iraq's volatile north.
The group, the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, took part in a failed uprising against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
The Badr Brigades have recently expanded their military presence in the autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, according to officials of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which rules the region's eastern half.
They say the Iraqi Shi'ite militia placed three new sparsely populated military encampments in the region.
Mola Bakhtiyar, a member of the Patriotic Union's 13-member leadership council, said 500 to 600 Badr Brigade troops entered northern Iraq in the past few weeks and more were on the way as part of the Iraqi opposition's agreement at a London conference in December to place all their forces on high alert.
Word of the camp at Kanichnara in northeast Iraq, about 35 miles southeast of Sulaymaniyah, as well as two others in Patriotic Union-controlled sections of northern Iraq, was first reported in the latest issue of the weekly Hawlati, an independent Kurdish newspaper.
The Supreme Council, the largest organization representing Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslim population, is led by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, a follower of the late Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The brigades are equipped and supported by Iran and estimated to number from 5,000 to 30,000 soldiers. Any expansion of the brigades into northern Iraq could have consequences for U.S. wartime and postwar planning.
The United States has been planning a northern front with the likely help and troops of Turkey, a proposal that has enraged Kurds who have a long history of violence with the Turks.
The Kurds have warned that any interference by the Turks could cause other countries in the region, notably Iran, to intervene.
The Supreme Council and its brigades play an active role in the Iraqi opposition. They hold about a third of 65 seats on an opposition steering committee that is expected to guide the postwar transition, and six seats on a leadership committee.
But the United States has expressed serious misgivings about the Islamist group's role in a future Iraq. The United States and Iran have had no formal diplomatic ties since Iranian radicals stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
At an Iraqi opposition conference in northern Iraq, the Supreme Council denounced the United States, its past failure to support the Iraqi opposition and its plans for a period of U.S. military governance.

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