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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Iraqi Shiites flee, await Saddam’s fall

Thousands of Iraqi Shiites who fled into Iran to escape repression by Saddam Hussein are poised to return home if the dictator is dethroned, with some bringing extra baggage: strong anti-American sentiment.
Paramilitary units of Iraqi expatriates are already posted in their home country, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned last week that they will be considered just another U.S. enemy if they enter the fray.
The Iran-based guerrillas, called the Badr Corps, have openly deployed in the Kurdish territories of northern Iraq and have been crossing back and forth into southern Iraq since 1980, when Iran and Iraq began an eight-year war.
Abu Islam, spokesman of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, denied that Iran-based forces have entered Iraq since the current war began, but said Badr guerrillas are based throughout that country. Some are even officers in Iraq’s regular army, he said Sunday.
Iranian government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying, “Tehran does not allow any military activities on its (Iraq) border in favor or against any of the belligerent parties.”
The Badr Corps’ numbers swelled in 1991, when Saddam crushed a Shiite uprising in southern Iraq in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. The group claims to have 10,000 fighters and has said for years that it has spread guerrillas throughout Iraq in anticipation of a revolution.
Unlike the two million Afghan refugees in Iran, where life is vastly better than in their bombed-out country, the roughly 200,000 Iraqi expatriates seem eager to return to their homeland post-Saddam.
“The Iraqi refugees overwhelmingly say if Saddam Hussein falls, they will go back immediately,” said Bruno Jochum, head of the Doctors Without Borders humanitarian mission in Iraq. “On the one side, they will be pretty happy to see the current regime fall but they are absolutely against any American administration.”
Apparently worried that the Shiite rulers of Iran are seeking to extend their influence in Iraq, where a majority of people are Shiites, Rumsfeld warned Tehran on Friday to stay out of the war.
He said any combatants entering Iraq not under U.S. control “will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces. This includes the Badr Corps, the military wing of the Supreme Council on Islamic Revolution in Iraq.”
The Supreme Council — the biggest Iraqi opposition group — is based in Tehran and headed by the exiled Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, who has said the U.S.-led coalition forces were welcome in Iraq as long as they didn’t impose a government on the country.
Another Supreme Council spokesman on Saturday also denied Rumsfeld’s assertion that the Badr Corps is “trained, equipped and directed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard.” Mohsen Hakim, a Supreme Council official in northern Iraq, said his group has been trying to oust Saddam for two decades, while the U.S. effort is relatively recent.
“We, as representatives of the Iraqi nation, do not need the U.S. permission or coordination for dismissing the oppressor regime of Baghdad. This is a right that has been officially recognized at the international level,” said Hakim, according to IRNA.
The group, on its Web site, says it has formed secret cells across Iraq and has taken credit for a number of attacks, including a Sept. 24, 2001, assault on a Baghdad district headquarters of Saddam’s Baath Party that killed two officials. The earliest incarnation of the Badr Corps is generally believed to have been behind a failed 1980 assassination attempt on Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.
Along with his warning to Iran, Rumsfeld also threatened unspecified action against Syria, accusing the country of shipping Saddam military supplies, such as night-vision goggles.
Syria, which has condemned the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, is the home of Saddam’s socialist Baath Party and southern Iraq is the birthplace of the Shiite form of Islam. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of modern Islamic extremism and hatred of the West, spent some of his exile in southern Iraq.
Iran and Syria have longer track records than Iraq of state-sponsored terrorism aimed at the United States. Though Iran is experiencing a struggle between moderates and Islamic hardliners, the country has a history of launching car bombings and kidnappings aimed at Americans.
Iraqi Shiites are accommodated fairly well in Iran, where they mostly live in a border region across from the Iraqi city of Basra, scene of some of the war’s fiercest fighting.
Generally, the camps resemble small towns of 5,000 to 15,000 people. “You have a health center, electricity, water,” Jochum said.
Basra was one of the cities briefly held by Shiite rebels during the 1991 uprising in which the Badr Corps claimed to have played a major role.
Many Shiites from southern Iraq harbor bitter feelings against the United States for encouraging the uprising, then failing to provide air support for the rebellion. Human rights groups say thousands of Shiites were slaughtered in Saddam’s reprisals.
During the current fighting, U.S. officials say Iraqi forces are preventing civilians from fleeing into Iran. Jochum confirmed that no Iraqis apparently have been able to get out of the country.
Though Iran has said its border is closed to refugees, Jochum said the government has built huge camps just inside the border stocked with provisions.
Iran is the only Middle East country that has agreed to abide by the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees: It houses more people registered as refugees than any other country in the world. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees, Iran in 2001 hosted 2.56 million foreigners classified as refugees, roughly five times more than the United States. Many of the refugees are from Afghanistan.
If the current war establishes a democratic system in Iraq, the country would likely become an economic magnet for the region because of its oil wealth and the billions of dollars scheduled for development and reconstruction.

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