Iranian militant group faces uncertain future in new Iraq
ASHRAF, Iraq, June 19 (AFP) - A militant Iranian exile group, which settled here during the rule of Saddam Hussein, faces an uncertain future following attempts to force them out of the new Iraq.
The People's Mujahedeen, which has carried out armed attacks to try to destabilise Tehran's Islamist government, counts about 4,000 members at its camp here, 115 kilometres (71 miles) northeast of Baghdad.
Thousands of people gathered in support of the Islamic-Marxist group, which settled here during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, this week as it commemorated the first anniversary of its leader's arrest in a Paris raid on June 17, 2003.
But some Iraqi Shiite Muslim leaders who are close to Iran's leadership are agitating to get rid of the group, considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and European Union.
Iraq's former Governing Council, dissolved on June 1 to make way for the caretaker government that is to take power at the end of the month, announced in late 2003 that it would expel the group but the plan was never put into practice.
Abdallah Hassan, governor of Diyala province, said he was "sure that the new government will support them"."I hope it will give them the same rights as Iraqis," he said, pointing out that the group opened a clinic offering free medical treatment in the province.
"If the new government wants to act against terrorism, it must have good relations with them," said Akbar Sepahbodi, a sympathiser who lives in France.
A huge portrait of Maryam Radjavi, the group's leader who was arrested in Paris last year, welcomes the guests for the ceremony at the camp's entrance.Dressed in combat uniform, the men wear caps, the women veils. Above a platform where about 20 sheikhs and leaders sat, is another huge picture of a smiling Radjavi holding a dove, the day the French authorities set her free.
"The fact that so many people came here shows their support for the Mujahedeen," said Ali Mohamadi, a supporter who lives in Rome, gesturing at the thousands of people present.
The Mujahedeen agreed to disarm in May 2003, following a deal made with the US-led coalition occupying Iraq. In exchange, the coalition agreed to offer their protection.
About 4,000 members live in the camp, where they dedicate themselves to their "political training" to become officials in a future Iranian state.
"After June 30, it doesn't matter whether it's the Americans or the Iraqis who support them, what matters is that the Mujahedeen continue to live here, said Akbar Sepahbodi.
"We want the United States not to support Iran and to take us off their list of terrorist groups," added Ali Mohamadi.A number of Iraqi sheikhs also came to support the People's Mujahedeen, which was put on the American and European terror lists after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"We won't let anyone attack them," said Sheikh Khamas Ibrahim Ali of the Az-Zawi tribe."After the fall of the regime, they put up checkpoints near the Iranian border to protect us. It's our turn to help them now," said Sheik Faizal Hom Ollawi, head of the Al-Nada tribe.
Tribal leader Ali Shommari, a Shiite from the central holy city of Najaf, said "thousands" of Iranian spies had infiltrated Iraq to stir up trouble for the group.
Intissar Mohammed, who runs a Baghdad orphanage, said she visited the camp to support Iranian women, adding that the Mujahedeen had helped fund her institution.