Al-Hayat - media denied access to MKO bases in Iraq


Al-Hayat reports on Iranian armed opposition group's base in Iraq

Text of report by London-based newspaper Al-Hayat on 12 May

The Americans and Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization [MKO] are imposing a blackout on the security arrangements that have started to be implemented
in Al-Ashraf Camp where the largest Iranian opposition group has hundreds
of armoured and mechanized vehicles in Iraq.

Officials manning a checkpoint at the camp entrance where two US Abrams tanks and two military jeeps were stationed refused to allow us into the camp or take photographs.

An MKO official who manages the checkpoint where all the organization members' weapons had disappeared said: "The orders we have since the morning is to ban correspondents from entering."

Despite the constant efforts by correspondents who had arrived at the  camp, the MKO members manning the checkpoint refused to let them in, claiming each time that the military commander's orders included not talking to them and no meetings with any official spokesman.

The US 2nd Armoured Division deployed at the air base in Ba'qubah, only four kilometres from Al-Khalis, entered Al-Ashraf Camp three days ago in a step that aimed at neutralizing the heavy weapons of the MKO, which has stored all its equipment and armoured vehicles in this camp that was regarded as the organization's principal one of the three camps it still has in Iraq.

A first sergeant in the tank positioned at the entrance told Al-Hayat: "This place is not safe. There is fire from armed persons who pass in speeding vehicles."

Four US military jeeps entered the camp while Al-Hayat was trying to negotiate to meet an official spokesman. The platoon commander greeted Lieutenant Zini, the MKO officer in charge of the checkpoint, and thanked
him for "his high level of professionalism."

The armoured force commander said it was possible to enter the camp in the afternoon "when the soldiers we sent this morning inside leave." This
suggested that the MKO and Americans were not keen to let the press witness the measures being taken inside Al-Ashraf Camp where seizure of the MKO's weapons means the end of a long period of freedom that its members had enjoyed in Iraq since they entered it in 1985 to become one of the main military units that supported the former Iraqi regime.

At the air base in Ba'qubah, Capt Valker, the 2nd Armoured Division's public affairs officer, avoided meeting the correspondents. After letting a convoy of them, which included Al-Hayat, to enter, he closed the camp's gate. Capt Chris Romero, the official in charge of civilian affairs, came to assert that the public relations officer was not present and "busy" and pointed out that "I do not know anything" and that "things will become clearer later on."

US sources that Al-Hayat spoke to said the reason for the blackout is the
mutual agreement between the Americans and the MKO not to humiliate the Iranian opposition group or to present control of its main base as a surrender.

The MKO is a bargaining card in the deliberations between Washington and Tehran over the new regional arrangements that the United States wishes to impose in the Middle East. The US administration believes that the Hezbollah's role in Lebanon, which has Iranian support, should be curtailed and it should be prevented from influencing developments in the conflict with Israel.

Source: Al-Hayat, London, in Arabic 12 May 03