- The Washington Times - Monday, May 12, 2003

CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq — Surrounded by U.S. tanks, an Iranian opposition group under orders to surrender agreed yesterday to turn over its weapons and submit to the demands of U.S. forces, Army officials said.

Representatives of the Mojahedin Khalq operating near Baqubah, 45 miles northeast of the capital, struck the agreement after two days of negotiations with U.S. forces. Their capitulation was reported by the U.S. Army’s V Corps headquarters in Baghdad.

“V Corps has accepted the voluntary consolidation of the Mojahedin Khalq forces and subsequent control over these forces,” V Corps said in a statement last night. It said the process would take “several days” to complete.

It added, “When this process is completed, it will significantly contribute to the coalition’s mission to set the conditions that will establish a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq.”

The Mojahedin Khalq’s well-armed force, which for years fought Iran’s Islamic rulers from Iraq with the backing of Saddam Hussein’s regime, posed a potential challenge to the U.S.-led coalition’s authority as Iraq’s military occupier.

Military officials at V Corps, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the group had agreed to “voluntarily hand over all their weapons” including sidearms. They will be permitted to retain their uniforms.

The Mojahedin Khalq’s weaponry will be consolidated into one area, its members in another. They will be “protected by American forces,” one military official said. A rival armed group backed by the Iranian regime is active in the area, and there have been fears the two would clash.

Any travel by members of the Mojahedin Khalq, including into Baqubah to purchase food, will be “under escort,” the United States said.

The V Corps statement did not use the word surrender, and the military officials said they would not describe the capitulation in those terms. The officials said members of the organization would not be classified as prisoners of war but under a status “yet to be determined.”

Yesterday’s capitulation, which appeared nonetheless to be a surrender in everything but terminology, underscores the U.S. desire to be the unquestioned and unchallenged armed force in Iraq a month after the fall of Saddam’s regime.

Its announcement of the Mojahedin Khalq developments was accompanied by a warning to any groups that might assert authority in postwar Iraq.

“Groups who display hostile intent or refuse to cooperate with the authority of the coalition will be subjected to the full weight of coalition military power,” V Corps said. “These groups are urged to submit to the authority of the coalition immediately.”

The Mojahedin Khalq, or People’s Warriors, is the military wing of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella body said to unite Iran’s diverse opposition groups.

Before Saddam’s ouster, the group helped train his elite Republican Guard units, according to the U.S. military. It has several camps near Baqubah, not far from the Iranian border.

The confrontation between the group and the U.S. military that escalated Friday came three weeks after a truce between the Iranians and the Army, which American officials had called a “prelude” to surrender.

Under the April 15 truce, the Mojahedin Khalq could keep its weapons to defend itself against Iranian-backed attacks but had to stop manning checkpoints it had set up, with armed fighters in khaki uniforms behind sandbagged emplacements and jeeps mounted with machine guns.

In the past, Washington deemed the Mojahedin Khalq a terrorist organization. Iran’s clerical government has said it was hypocritical of the United States to describe the group as terrorist, yet sanction its existence.

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