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Iraq plans to remove Pentagon's proxy force

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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and other top Iraqi officials are calling for the eviction of an anti-Iranian militant group that is reportedly orchestrating attacks and collecting intelligence inside Iran on behalf of the Department of Defense.

The group, known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK or MKO), "is interfering in social and political issues as if it's an Iraqi organization," Maliki told reporters at a recent press conference. "It's a terrorist organization and the presence of this group in Iraq contradicts the constitution," he said, calling for the group's eviction.

Although the Iraqi leader neglected to mention the United States, his position is at direct odds with current and former military and White House officials who view the MKO as a potential 'democratic' alternative to the present Iranian regime.

Furthermore, the Iraqi Prime Minister's stance could jeopardize a covert operations program reportedly being directed by the Department of Defense against Tehran. The Pentagon is reportedly running the MKO in Iran's oil-rich province of Khuzestan -- which has been the subject of numerous attacks and terrorist bombings over the past year -- and in the opium-smuggling border province of Sistan-Baluchistan, where suspected US/MKO operatives attacked and killed several Iranian officials just this March.

The prime minister's recent comments on the MKO were reiterated by Iraq's Deputy Interior Minister for Security Affairs, Salam al-Zawba'i, who announced a "comprehensive plan, which requires approval of the government to expel the MKO from the country by the year's end."

The Iraqi official also said that the MKO "seeks to hatch plots against the Iraqi nation." Although he did not cite any specific examples, there are many in Iraq, including parliamentary leaders, that have accused the US of sponsoring MKO terrorist bombings -- not just in Iran -- but in Iraq as well.

The recent announcements by Iraqi officials come in the wake of blossoming negotiations between Iraq and Iran, the latter of which has been calling for the MKO's eviction since the beginning of the 2003 invasion.

If the plan goes through, it may bring the reported US/MKO operations to an end, although it wouldn't be the first eviction notice the MKO has received. The provisional Iraqi Governing Council expelled the militant group back in 2003, but despite the order, approximately 3,800 members of the group remained in the country under the watch of US forces -- presumably so they could be used in future operations against Tehran.

The MKO were supposedly being confined to a US military-run compound northeast of Baghdad, but by January of 2005 the group was reportedly "launching raids" from Camp Habib in Basra on behalf of the US, and had also been given permission by Pakistani President Pervez Musharaff to operate from Pakistan's Baluchi area, according to US officials who spoke to UPI.

US-sponsored MKO militants are suspected of carrying out the string of terrorist bombings that killed at least 12 people and injured 90 others in Iran just prior to the country's elections in 2005. They also attacked and killed 22 Iranian officials in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan this March, according to US government officials who spoke to the online publication Raw Story.

The MKO has a long history of violence and has been listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, making it illegal for anyone in the United States to provide material support to the group. The Treasury Department has also labeled the MKO and its affiliated groups as "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" entities, "effectively freezing all [of their] assets and properties and prohibiting transactions between U.S. persons and these organizations."

Despite their terrorist status, the MKO has conducted a fairly successful lobbying campaign in Washington, DC, garnering support from the Pentagon, the White House, influential foreign policy groups, and several members of Congress.

The Iran Policy Committee (IPC), which has been described as a "spin off" of the highly influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), serves as the MKO's primary support group in Washington.

Maintaining the bold slogan, "Empowering Iranians for Regime Change," the IPC is urging US officials to step in and counter the Iranian regime's influence in Iraq.

"Iran's attempts to bulldoze and beguile Baghdad into evicting the Iranian resistance," IPC member Bruce McColm recently said, "must be resisted by Washington."

Fellow IPC member and retired Marine, Lt. Col. Bill Cowan, went even further: "The United States should put Iran on notice that we are going to threaten its regime in the worst way possible -- from within: Tell Tehran that we will be providing money, assistance, and advice to empower Iranian resistance movements."

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Devlin Buckley is a freelance journalist.
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