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Inside a group caught between three powers

Mujahideen-e Khalq, an Iraq-based group founded to fight Iran's regime, may be expelled from its base this week.

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The day Masumeh Roshan had been praying for finally came in late September, when the Iranian mother traveled to Iraq to visit her only son - a teenager she says was lured into ties with terrorism.

But the joyful reunion soon dissolved into tears at Ashraf Camp, where US troops are guarding some 3,800 militants of the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organization (MKO) - the only armed opposition to the ruling clerics of Iran.

Ms. Roshan's militant son, they said, could not leave.

The case of those holed up in Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad, remains a quirky piece of unfinished business left over from the American campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. It continues to leave a trail of broken lives.

Officially, both the US and Iran label the MKO a terrorist group. The US-appointed Iraq Governing Council concurs: Citing the "black history of this terrorist organization" and its years of working closely with Mr. Hussein, it has ordered the expulsion of the MKO from Iraq by the end of this year.

But the MKO's fate is unclear. While the Iraqis want it disbanded, the politically savvy group still has support among some congressmen and Pentagon officials, who see it as a potential tool against Iran, a country which President Bush calls part of an "axis of evil."

Some MKO tips have led to recent revelations about key aspects of Iran's clandestine nuclear program, though many others have proven unreliable. Long a diplomatic hot potato - which Tehran has offered to solve, by exchanging MKO militants for Al Qaeda players now in Iran - the MKO continues to complicate US-Iran-Iraq relations.

Lives on the line

But for those rank-and-file members trying to escape MKO control, resolving the status issue is an urgent need. Ms. Roshan says she hardly recognized the gaunt visage of her 17-year-old boy, Majid Amini, at Ashraf Camp.

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