- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

An Iranian opposition group said yesterday that it had captured four Iranian Revolutionary Guard commanders in the eastern Iraqi city of Mandali.The claim came amid White House demands that Iran not interfere in Iraq as it struggles toward democracy after years of brutal dictatorship.”We’ve made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside organization’s interference in Iraq’s road to democracy,” said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. “Infiltration of agents to destabilize the Shi’ite population clearly fall into that category.”The People’s Mojahedin of Iran claimed it had captured the four commanders of the Iranian 3rd Brigade after a skirmish in the area that lies east of Baghdad along the Iranian border.The group, also known as the Mujahideen Khalq, claimed yesterday that Iran had sent 14,000 Revolutionary Guards, “mercenaries,” clerics and intelligence agents into Iraq in an effort to insert its Islamic style of government into Iraq’s power vacuum.Citing a report sent by the Revolutionary Guards to the office of Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Mujahideen Khalq said many of the Iranians were in the southern Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf.The U.S. State Department has designated the Mujahideen Khalq as a terrorist group. “This action is in line with Khamenei’s evil designs to take advantage of the religious sentiment of Iraqi Shi’ites,” the group said in a statement.U.S. officials at the Pentagon and Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said they were not aware of such a large infiltration by Iranian fighters.”I don’t have any information on that at all,” said Maj. Brad Bartelt, contacted by telephone at Central Command in Qatar.A Pentagon spokesman confirmed that the U.S. military had no indication that Iran has or was sending Revolutionary Guard forces into Iraq. The Revolutionary Guard was established in Iran to protect the Islamic revolution and enforce Islamic codes. One U.S. intelligence official said there was a possibility that some Iranian intelligence officials were in southern Iraq, as the border between the two countries is porous. But the official said there were no reports of Iranian Revolutionary Guards crossing the border or having a presence in Najaf or Karbala.But a senior Republican aide who works on the issue said U.S. concerns about Iranian paramilitary units and military crossing the border into Iraq, and the problems that would pose in a postwar period, have been noted in U.S. intelligence reports.The aide added that information provided by the Mujahideen Khalq during the past month on Iranian links to the Badr brigades — the armed wing of the Tehran-based Iraqi Shi’ite opposition — and religious clerics in Iraq has been consistent with information received from U.S. intelligence sources during the past month.Iran’s majority Shi’ites share close religious, but not ethnic, ties with Iraq’s Shi’ites, and they are keen to see people in place in Iraq who they can trust and work with.”They are sending covert operatives to Basra and Najaf and Karbala because there is a struggle for the soul of the Shi’ite community,” said Rajan Menon, international affairs analyst for the Council on Foreign Relations. That has some lawmakers and officials concerned. “The theocracy in Iran is so domineering, not at all open — they see this as a ripe opportunity for them to take over a country,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican.One of Iraq’s largest political groups that opposed Saddam Hussein’s regime is the Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The group, which is based in Tehran, enjoys close ties with Iran and has been invited by the United States to join in postwar reconstruction talks.Top SCIRI officials recently publicly returned to Iraq’s holy city of Karbala, where they called on the United States to leave Iraq now that Saddam has been ousted.Based in military camps along the Iran-Iraq border, the Mujahideen Khalq is the armed wing of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, formed to oppose Iran’s former ruler, the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The group helped overthrow the shah in the 1979 revolution.Shortly after the revolution, the group clashed with the clerical mainstream and was expelled in 1980 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It is now mainly based in Iraq, where it constitutes the only armed group that opposes the Islamic regime in Tehran.The Mujahideen Khalq, which started off with a Marxist-Islamist ideology, sided with Iraq in the brutal Iran-Iraq war and is accused of collaborating with Saddam’s forces. Tehran has since vowed to take the group out at any price.

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