Ahmadinejad and his Iraqi counterpart condemn an Iranian opposition group under U.S. guard northeast of Baghdad.
BAGHDAD” The presidents of Iran and Iraq today harshly condemned an Iranian opposition group here which has ties to U.S. neoconservatives and remains under the shelter of American forces.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who arrived here today on a historic visit, blasted the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, as munafiqin, or hypocrites. The term refers to an account in the Koran of a group who pretended to follow the Prophet Mohammed’s teachings only to betray Muslims.
Talabani, appearing with Ahmadinejad at a press conference, repeated the insulting word and added, "The presence of this terrorist organization is prohibited according to the constitution and we are seeking to get rid of them soon."
The armed opposition group, which sometimes goes by the abbreviations MKO, MEK or PMOI, fought the Iranian government during the 1980s, when it received shelter from Saddam Hussein. Both Europe and the U.S. State Dept. list the group as a terrorist organization.
But as tensions between the U.S. and Iran have mounted, some in Washington have cultivated ties with the group and advocated using them to destabilize the Tehran government. Numbering up to 3,000, they remain under U.S. guard at their former base northeast of Baghdad.
Before the press conference, Ahmadinejad strode up a red carpet and into the Iraqi presidential compound today for the start of what may be the first-ever visit by an Iranian head of state to Iraq. The deposed late Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi fled briefly to Iraq in 1953 amid political turmoil in Tehran.
Iran and Iraq fought a brutal eight-year war during the 1980s that left up to 1 million people in both countries dead and maimed. The United States accuses Iran of meddling in Iraq’s political affairs and violence.
But there was no sign of lingering animosity during today’s lavish arrival. Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, smiled broadly as he guided his guest from a dark sedan into his compound in Baghdad’s Karada district. Iran sheltered many leaders of the current Baghdad government during Hussein’s rule.
"We welcome them and all who helped the Iraqi people during the hard days when the Iraqis were displaced and deprived from all human rights," Talabani said at the press conference, which was aired live on Iraqi television. "We think that this visit will produce good results and the preliminary discussions have had good results."
Ahmadinejad, a divisive figure in his home country and internationally, steered clear of controversies during his first appearance. Iranian officials say the primary purpose of the visit is to enhance economic ties between Iran and Iraq. Since Hussein’s ouster five years ago, trade between the two countries has reached about $8 billion a year, and Iran recently announced a $1 billion loan to Iraq.
"It seems that the Iraqi people are passing through critical circumstances," Ahmadinejad told reporters. "But according to our knowledge with the Iraqi people we know that they have huge natural and human abilities and they will overcome these circumstances."
In a striking departure from other high-profile visitors to Iraq, Ahmadinejad did not use a helicopter to come into the center of the city from the airport. Instead, his convoy used the airport road, once notorious for bombs and other attacks and heavily patrolled by U.S. forces. He also did not head into the heavily protected Green Zone, going instead to Talabani’s home outside the fortified area.
A military band played rousing anthems as Ahmadinejad shook countless hands on his way into the building. Amid the stern-looking security men who surrounded the entourage, there was a notable omission: U.S. troops, who usually form the bulk of protection forces for high-profile guests in Iraq.
This time, the U.S. military made clear it would not be involved in protecting the Iranian president, who denies White House claims that his country has provided lethal bombs as well as training and financing to Shiite militias in Iraq.
Iraq’s government has also accused Iran of fomenting violence here and has indicated that the topic will be up for discussion during Ahmadinejad’s two-day visit.
"This should be presented at the table and discussed and negotiated," the Iraqi government spokesman, Ali Dabbagh, said recently when asked what would be on the agenda. "This is something that worries us in Iraq. We need to find a way to stop all this," he said, referring to alleged arms smuggling over the Iranian border.
Talabani, who visited Tehran in June, will host Ahmadinejad. The Iraqi president’s ties to Iran stretch back to the 1980s, when he and other Kurds as well as Iraqi Shiite Muslim political parties and militias sought refuge there and fought alongside Iranian forces against Saddam Hussein’s army. On Saturday, on the eve of Ahmadinejad’s visit, Talabani met with both the U.S. and British ambassadors to Iraq.
By Tina Susman and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers, March 2, 2008