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[casi] Another Miscalculation?

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 Jordan Times 14th September 2003

Mujahedeen ready to harass US, Kurds and Tehran

JALAWLA, Iraq (AFP)  Splinter elements within the People's Mujahedeen have
taken to the rugged mountains separating Iran and Iraq, and were preparing
to wage attacks against US troops, ethnic Kurds and Tehran, local officials
and military sources said.
But US commanders and local sources insist their capabilities are limited
after the bulk of Mujahedeen, also known by its Persian name
Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), hatched a deal with coalition authorities and
withdrew to nearby Camp Ashraf in April.
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Cantwell, commandant of Camp Ashraf, said the
4,000 MEK members in the former Mujahedeen base were consolidated, detained,
disarmed and were being screened for any past terrorist acts.
"All vehicles, arms and ammunition is under coalition control, they do not
even carry a bayonet," Cantwell, a Battalion Commander with the 324 Military
Police, said.
The MEK has been classified by Washington as a terrorist outfit but Cantwell
said this did not mean that each member of the MEK was a terrorist, hence
the screening process to determine each individual's legal status.
"It's about restraint of the use of force and compliance with the Geneva
Conventions, we're especially trained in that, and that's why we're here,"
Cantwell said.
He said the screening process and heavy restrictions on movement was taking
a toll on the Mujahedeen, who are only allowed routine shopping trips into
the town of Khalis under a heavy military escort.
"There's nothing here that's cushy and there is a fair degree of anxiety
among them about their future," he told AFP.
The MEK was a well-armed, secular fighting force that with backing from
Saddam Hussein had continued a guerrilla insurgency against the hardline
Islamic government in Tehran since the Iran-Iran war ended in 1988.
Their equipment included British Chieftain and Russian T-55 tanks.
One military source said the MEK had initially fled its bases along the
Iranian border in southern Iraq as the United States was preparing to launch
its March 20 invasion of Iraq from Kuwait.
The source, and members of the local branch of the Patriotic Union of
Kurdistan (PUK), one of the main political parties in the area, said about
5,000 rebels then converged on the two bases near Jalawla about 30
kilometres west of the Iranian border in late March.
Those bases are now empty of rebels, occupied solely by looters and scrap
metal merchants who moved in after the Mujahedeen shifted to Camp Ashraf.
Deputy chief of the PUK branch in nearby Saadhiyah, Abdul Al Karim Mahmoud,
said the Americans began bombing the bases at about the same time as Saddam
was being ousted from power on April 9.
"But the bombings were designed to frighten the MEK, not kill them, and then
there were long negotiations with the Americans and the MEK," he said.
He said eventually a deal was hammered out and most of the MEK agreed to
relocate to Camp Ashraf but more than 1,000 of the rebels refused to move,
kept their arms and headed into the mountains.
"Now they are fighting the Americans, the Kurds and the Iranians," he said.
"The PUK were against Saddam, the Mujahedeen were with Saddam and they
fought against the Kurds in the 1991 uprising. They refused to make peace
with us so now they are fighting against the Americans and the PUK," he
The military source, a senior officer based in the area, agreed.
"They had for a long time operated camps in southern Iraq, then pulled up to
the border area to the north and west of Baghdad before the US began its
invasion," he said.
He said all the camps in the south, like those in Jalawla, and near Baghdad
were empty and looted, except for Camp Ashraf which sits about 100
kilometres west of the Iranian border and 60 kilometres north of Baghdad.
There are some rebels still out there "but there is no way of telling
exactly how many," he said.
Washington announced on April 22 it had reached a ceasefire with the MEK and
the following day Mujahedeen officials said the agreement allowed the MEK to
keep its weapons and carry on its activities in Iran from Camp Ashraf.
But Cantwell said any such claims were non-existent by June when troops from
the 324 Military Police took control of Camp Ahraf and the MEK was
consolidated and "all weapons secured by MPs."
He declined to comment on current MEK strength or any operations the rebels
could conduct against the Americans, Iranian-government forces or the PUK.
"But I will say a substantial number have agreed to consolidate in one
camp," he said, "at Camp Ashraf."
Sunday, September 14, 2003

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