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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 15:39 GMT
Iraqi opposition 'moves troops in'

Villagers in northern Iraq say an Iranian-backed opposition group has begun moving troops into the area.

Residents of Meydan said they had seen a large number of trucks bringing Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) soldiers from Iran in recent days.

They said the Sciri forces had come to the village, which is on the road from the Iranian border, but then moved on to other parts of the Kurdish-controlled enclave of northern Iraq.

A Reuters news agency reporter in Meydan says he saw at least 200 of the Shia Muslim soldiers, who were wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles.

However, Sciri has denied a report that it has sent about 5,000 of its troops into the enclave to prepare for a possible US-led war.

Opposition meeting

Quoting unnamed Iranian officials, London's Financial Times newspaper reported on Wednesday that Sciri's leader, Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, had his troops into northern Iraq with the aim of securing the frontier.

Mr al-Hakim's Badr Forces, believed to number about 10,000, are thought to have been equipped and trained by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Meanwhile, Iraqi opposition leaders were due to hold a meeting in the Kurdish enclave on Wednesday.

They are attempting to forge a united front which could play a leading role in a post-President Saddam Hussein Iraq.

Opposition leaders have expressed alarm that Washington may replace Saddam Hussein with a transitional military administration before the creation of a civilian government.




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