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Iranian opposition group in Iraq surrenders to U.S. forces

MANSURIYAH, Iraq—Leaders of an Iranian exile army that operated in Iraq for more than two decades surrendered to U.S. forces on Saturday and agreed to place their troops and equipment in camps under coalition control.

The well-armed Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK), with some 6,000 members, was the last organized armed force in Iraq and a potential challenge to the authority of the U.S.-led coalition. Members of the group had spent more than two decades fighting against Iran's Islamic government with support from Saddam Hussein.

Since the fall of Saddam's regime, the MEK had settled into empty Iraqi army bases and set up checkpoints in the Iran-Iraq border region.

The agreement reached Saturday disbanded the MEK as a fighting forces and instructed its members to cooperate with coalition forces.

"They will no longer be a viable military organization, and they are no longer capable of launching strikes into Iran," said Col. Fred Rudesheim, commander of the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade and a participant in the talks.

MEK leaders agreed to turn over their weapons and stay with their troops in camps under the control of the U.S.-led forces near the Iranian border. American officials will interview them in the camps, and they will only be allowed to leave the camps with an escort.

The agreement did not outline their final status.

"We avoided discussing their status," said Rudesheim. "We told them that was a decision that would have to be made by people above our command."

The capitulation agreement was reached after two days of negotiations between MEK leaders and commanders of the 4th Infantry Division and V Corps. Much of the negotiation centered on the wording of the document. The MEK did not want to call it a surrender document, saying that would be seen as a victory for their enemy in Tehran. In the end the agreement was called an "instruction" to MEK leaders.

The U.S. State Department put the group on its terrorism list in 1997 after a series of car bombings in Tehran and assassination attempts on Iranian officials.

V Corps had been monitoring a secret April 15 cease-fire between the MEK and American special forces. The MEK was abiding by the case-fire and cooperating with coalition soldiers, officials said.

The MEK was equipped with tanks and pick-up trucks fitted with machine guns. Some of the military equipment was in excellent condition, including 19 British-made Chieftain tanks.


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.