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Inside a group caught between three powers

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Militants who were once ready to die for the MKO, however, now have some advice for those who may want to apply the Afghan model to Iran by using the Mujahideen in the same way the Northern Alliance was used against the Taliban.

"I don't think the US can take advantage of this group," says Arash Sametipour, a former MKO militant recruited in the US. He survived his own attempts to kill himself with cyanide capsules and a hand grenade that blew away his right hand after botching an assassination attempt in Tehran in early 2000.

"When we were on clean-up duty [at Ashraf Camp], at 7 a.m. they played songs with words like 'At the end of the street, the Mujahideen is waiting - Yankee get out!' " recalls Mr. Sametipour, who speaks rapid-fire English with an American accent. He remains in prison in Iran, where he was made available at the request of the Monitor. "This organization does not like the US. It is a mixture of Mao and Marxism, and [leader Massoud] Rajavi acts like Stalin."

Ostensibly under US guard, the MKO still keeps its small arms. US officials said in November they were being screened for war crimes and terrorism. The Pentagon denies reports that the militants are able to freely roam or conduct attacks.

Reacting to the expulsion order earlier this month, the MKO claimed that the "vast majority of the Iraqi people" support their presence, and that the decision to shut them down "merely reflects the fantasies and illusions of the mullah's regime, which regards ... [us] as the biggest obstacle to its export of fundamentalism ... and theocratic dictatorship in Iraq."

MKO representatives could not be contacted for further comment. Both office and cellphone lines in Washington have been disconnected. The MKO office in Paris was unable to provide contact details for two senior officials it said were traveling in Europe.

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