American Forces Reach Cease-Fire With Terror Group
By DOUGLAS JEHL with MICHAEL R. GORDON
ASHINGTON, April 28 — American forces in Iraq have signed a cease-fire with an Iranian opposition group the United States has designated a terrorist organization, and expect it to surrender soon with some of its arms, American military officials said today.
Under the deal, signed on April 15 but confirmed by the United States Central Command only today, United States forces agreed not to damage any of the group's vehicles, equipment or any of its property in its camps in Iraq, and not to commit any hostile act toward the Iranian opposition forces covered by the agreement.
In return, the group, the People's Mujahedeen, which will be allowed to keep its weapons for now, agreed not to fire on or commit other hostile acts against American forces, not to destroy private or government property, and to place its artillery and antiaircraft guns in nonthreatening positions.
The accord is apparently the first between the United States military — which in early April was bombing the group's Iraqi camps — and a terrorist organization, and it raises questions about how consistently the Bush administration intends to apply a policy that had vowed to crack down on terrorist groups worldwide.
The Iranian group, which is led by a woman and has an estimated 10,000 members in Iraq, has no known ties to Al Qaeda, but its members killed several American military personnel and civilian contractors in the 1970's and supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
It has carried out dozens of bombings that were aimed at Iranian military and government workers, but that also killed civilians.
It was added to the State Department's list of terrorist organizations in 1997.
An American military official said the group could provide intelligence regarding Iranian government activities both in Iraq, and in Iran itself.
A spokesman for the Central Command, in Doha, Qatar, who was responding to a reporter's inquiry, issued a three-sentence statement today that provided the basic outlines of the cease-fire.
A senior military officer said he expected the accord to be followed in the next few days by a formal capitulation agreement, and he indicated that the group would eventually have to give up some of its arms.
The accord with the People's Mujahadeen reflects a pragmatic approach to a security problem for an American military that already has its hands full trying to stabilize Baghdad and other areas of Iraq. But it raises the issue of how to square the accord with the administration's antiterrorism policy.
A State Department official said tonight that the deal was not inconsistent with the broader effort against terrorism. The official said the agreement with the group, which operated with support and protection from Saddam Hussein's government, would help the United States learn more about Iraq's ties to terrorism and the nature of its former government.
"You can't get information out of a dead man," the official said. He said the decision to call a halt to American bombing and other attacks against the group did not reflect any change in its terrorist status. "It's a cease-fire," he said, "that's all it means."
As recently as last week, senior Pentagon officials described the group as a vicious entity that had served as a de facto security organization for the Iraqi government. At the same time, however, supporters of the People's Mujahadeen, including dozens of members of Congress, have portrayed the decision to label the group as terrorist as one that was taken by the Clinton administration largely as a positive gesture to the Iranian government, which regards the People's Mujahadeen as a serious foe.
A senior American officer said several approaches, or "courses of action" were being considered by the United States government as to what to do about the group and its weapons over the long run.
Asked why American commanders would sign a cease-fire with a terrorist organization, a Central Command spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owens, said he had no further information. He noted that the State Department was responsible for decisions about the status of terrorist groups.