CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar – A cease-fire and surrender by an Iranian opposition group operating inside Iraq could come within days, U.S. Central Command said Thursday.
Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, deputy operations director at Central Command, said coalition forces had for some time been targeting bases in Iraq of the Mujahedeen Khalq, which the United States and European Union consider a terrorist group.
"There is work that's ongoing right now to try to secure some sort of agreement that would be a cease-fire and capitulation," Brooks told reporters. "That work is ongoing and will most likely unfold within the coming days."
American officials say the Mujahedeen Khalq had several thousand fighters supported and directed by Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. They are also accused of staging attacks inside Iran in a bid to overthrow the Tehran leadership.
The State Department says the group, also known as the People's Mujahedeen Organization, is the same as the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
The Mujahedeen Khalq has been a thorn in the side of Iran, and Iranian officials have said they would consider U.S. attacks on the group a positive signal.
While Washington considers Iran part of its "axis of evil," it does not view the National Council of Resistance of Iran — with its links to the violent acts of the Mujahedeen Khalq — as the solution. Other Iranian opposition groups are working peacefully within Iran to reform the government.
As U.S. attacks intensified, the Mujahedeen Khalq has claimed in recent days that members of the pro-Iranian Badr Brigade have crossed into Iraq from Iran and taken up positions. It also has claimed Iranian government forces have come into Iraq to attack it.
The Badr Brigade is the military wing of the Iran-based anti-Saddam group the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
On Thursday, The Independent newspaper of Britain reported that heavily armed members of the Badr Brigade were holding sway in the town of Baqubah, about 25 miles northeast of Baghdad and 50 miles west of the Iranian border.
The newspaper quoted residents as saying the Badr gunmen had recently appeared, with some reporting a few of the men had Iranian accents. Others said the gunmen had crossed over into Iraq before the war started and emerged as soon as Saddam was ousted, the report said.
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, headed by headed by Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, is the largest Iraqi Shiite opposition group. It has opposed U.S. plans to install a U.S.-headed interim authority in Iraq, and boycotted a meeting this week in the southern city of Ur where about 80 Iraqis and exiles chosen by the United States to discuss the future government of the country.
U.S. Marines had entered Baqubah last weekend in their drive toward Tikrit, hometown of Saddam and the last major city wrested from Iraqi control.
When asked Thursday about the presence of the Badr Brigade in Baqubah, Brooks said there were no problems in the town.
"We don't have any indications that there are problems in Baqubah at this point, but that will be one of many locations that will be visited by coalition forces as time goes on," he said.
Brooks said U.S. troops had thought they might find American POWs in the town, and suggested the POWs had recently been there. "We may have been very close at that point in time," he said.
The seven POWs, who have said they were moved around frequently during their capture, were found Sunday further north near Samarra, on the road to Tikrit. Central Command reported last weekend that Marines of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force had met "minimal resistance" on the road to Baqubah.