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Iraqi opposition leaders to meet in Iran

By MODHER AMIN - UPI  8/1/2002

TEHRAN, Iran, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- An Iran-based Iraqi opposition group has invited leaders of five rival groups to meet in Tehran prior to a meeting planned for Aug. 9 in Washington on the country's future, a top official at the group's office said Thursday.

Ayatollah Mohammad-Baqer Hakim, the head of the main Shiite opposition group, the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is one of six men invited to the meeting co-hosted by U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith.

The other leaders on the list are Sharif Ali bin Hussein of the Constitutional Monarchy Movement, Ayad Allawi of the Iraqi National Solidarity, Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Massoud Barezani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Jalal Talebani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

A source close to Hakim told United Press International that the ayatollah, after carefully considering the U.S invitation, has "definitely decided not to personally take part in the meeting." However, the official who did not want to be named, confirmed that his group would, instead, send a delegation to Washington. The source added that visa formalities for the three exiled opposition heads are underway. Iran has already exempted the two Kurd leaders from getting entry visas to the Islamic republic.

Although closely linked to Iran, a host country that has voiced opposition to a possible U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hakim has, at times, welcomed would-be strikes targeting what he usually calls a "terrorist regime" in his country.

The same source also said that, to reach a consensus on the matter, all Iraqi Shiite groups residing in Iran have now gathered in the Iranian holy city of Qom, 80 miles south of Tehran, to discuss how to participate in the upcoming meeting in Washington.

Iran has been host to the Supreme Assembly and other smaller Shiite groups since the beginning of Iran and Iraq's eight-year war in 1980.

The presence of opposition groups in each country has acted as a major stumbling block to the normalization of relations between the neighbors.

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