TEHRAN - Iran may have condemned the war raging just over the border in Iraq, but it is nevertheless hoping that the US-led coalition forces will knock out the leading Iranian armed opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen.
"The Mujahedeen are a terrorist group," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said Sunday in a rare public sign of what Iran hopes to gain out of the war on Iraq.
"No government that would have the support of the Iraqi people after the fall of Saddam Hussein will allow this group to remain active in Iraq," he said.
The People's Mujahedeen, based on Marxist and Shiite principals, was instrumental in the overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1979 but was later forced out of the country by the Islamic regime and set up camp in Iraq, where it boasted several bases and thousands of fighting men.
Iranian opposition groups, both Kurd and Shiite, are hostile to the group, which has allied itself to Saddam since the mid-1980s and is classified as a terrorist organisation by Iran, the United States and the European Union.
The People's Mujahedeen has been blamed for numerous assassinations and attacks in Iran. During the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran, which claimed the lives of around a million people, the Iraqi authorities recognised the Mujahedeen as the legitimate representatives of Iran.
The Iranian authorities are now hoping that the United States, which Tehran has often referred to as the "Great Satan" and which in turn has placed Iran in its "axis of evil", will soon put the Mujahedeen out of action.
Both countries regard the group as terrorists.
The fate of the People's Mujahedeen "is closely linked to that of Saddam Hussein," Iran's Intelligence Minister Ali Yunessi said before the start of the current war in Iraq.
Last week he accused them of "cosying up to the Americans by making them think they're on their side, and at the same time trying to make Saddam Hussein believe there is a danger from Iran."
Some diplomats here say that Tehran was given assurances that if Iran did not get involved in the war in Iraq that the Mujahedeen would be sidelined in whatever regime takes over when Saddam is gone.
But other diplomats doubt that the United States would make such a deal, and point out that the Mujahedeen would be targeted anyhow simply because they were allies of Saddam.
Foreign Minister Kharazi said Sunday that "the policy of the coalition is not to allow the Mujahedeen to have a base in Iraq after the fall of Saddam".
But he insisted that this "does not mean that we have negotiated with the coalition on the issue of the Mujahedeen".
Many of the Mujahedeen are reported to have defected to save their skins.
Intelligence Minister Yunessi last week called on them to "abandon your movement's terrorist leaders and return to Iran", adding that the "Islamic Republic will forgive those who repent".
But the Mujahedeen leaders will get no such tolerance.
"The fate of those who cooperated closely with Saddam ... will certainly be the same as his," Interior Minister Abdolvahed Moussavi-Lari has warned.