Iraq says working to expel Iranian rebel group

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Sunday that Iraq was trying to expel an Iranian rebel group, a key demand of Tehran, although the U.S. military said most of the group’s fighters had already signed a ceasefire.

The Mujahadeen e-Khalq (MEK) group is described by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations as the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“The presence of those terrorists is forbidden by the constitution and we are working to get rid of them,” Talabani said of the MEK at a news conference in Baghdad with visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The MEK is listed by the United States and European Union as a terrorist organization but its stand against Iran has won it some support from U.S. and European lawmakers, the Council on Foreign Relations says.

U.S. military spokesman Major Winfield Danielson said there was a group of about 3,360 MEK under “protected person status” at a refugee camp in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad.

“Though there may be some individual members still at large somewhere, I have seen no reports of any armed and organized MEK group still operating inside Iraq,” Danielson said in an e-mail to Reuters.

Danielson said some of those at the camp had chosen to seek refugee status within Iraq.

He said the MEK fighters at the camp had agreed to give up their arms in exchange for the protected persons status and had signed a ceasefire letter in April 2003, one month after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said after a later meeting with Ahmadinejad that Iraq would attempt to expel all of what he described as terrorist organizations, including al Qaeda, the MEK and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Turkey last week launched an eight-day incursion into northern Iraq aimed at PKK guerrillas and their bases in the remote, mountainous area.

Writing by Paul Tait; Editing by Sami Aboudi