A dozen tribal chiefs met leaders of the once powerful armed force after Tuesday's decision by Iraq's Governing Council to expel the "terrorists". 

US troops firmly control the MKO's huge compound about 100 km northeast of the capital.

"We are not authorised to talk to the press," one uniformed but unarmed member of the group said.

He did however hand out a statement from the People's Mujahedeen rejecting the expulsion.

Anti-Iran campaign 

The US-appointed Governing Council has said the Mujahidin must be kicked out forthwith and their assets seized.

The organisation, which ran an armed campaign against Iran under Saddam Hussein's protection, suggested the council did not have the legal right to take such a decision.

"The Governing Council unanimously decided to expel from Iraq by the end of the year the People's Mujahidin because of the dark history of this terrorist organisation"

Iraqi Governing Council statement 

"Such a statement has no executive guarantees and only paves the way for terrorist activities by the mullahs' regime against the Mujahidin in Iraq," a spokesman for the group said.

The Mujahidin said its "presence in Iraq as a country under occupation is in the context of the Geneva Conventions".

"Such a statement has been dictated by the ruling clerics in Tehran and has no bearing on that issue."

'Iranian puppets' 

Abbas al-Zawi, head of the Aza tribe, said the explusion order was "not just because it is a peaceful organisation", and accused the Governing Council of being a "puppet of the Iranian regime".

Namman al-Jabbari of the Al-Jobour tribe and Ahmad al-Sumedia of the Al-Sumeidi nodded in agreement and said they would organise a protest.

And Salem al-Zawi of the tribal council added: "The Mujahidin have never interfered in the internal affairs of Iraq. We have known them for 20 years and we have never found any terrorists here."

An official statement released in Baghdad on Tuesday said: "The Governing Council unanimously decided to expel from Iraq by the end of the year the People's Mujahidin because of the dark history of this terrorist organisation."

And a spokesperson from the occupation's Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) hit back at the Mujahidin's rejection of the ruling.

"This is a Governing Council issue and they are fully authorised to take this decision," he said.

'Postive move'

"Such a statement has no executive guarantees and only paves the way for terrorist activities by the mullahs' regime against the Mujahidin in Iraq"

MKO spokesman on the expulsion decision

With the US army the only force likely to be able to physically expel the Mujahidin, the spokesperson declined to comment on coordination between the Governing Council and the CPA to apply the decision.

An occupation military spokesperson said he had no details about the expulsion, but added: "We will confiscate their weapons. We don't know the time or the procedures (for confiscation)," but "they are now surrounded".

Meanwhile, Iran greeted the expulsion as "very positive" and said the Islamic republic would show "leniency" to low-ranking members wishing to give themselves up.

The Mujahidin, 4000-5000 of whom were disarmed at the sprawling camp following the March-April invasion of Iraq, have since September been considered prisoners by the US-led occupiers.

The group set up base in Iraq in 1986 and carried out regular cross-border raids into Iran, with which Iraq fought a bloody war between 1980 and 1988.

The Mujahidin, listed as a "terrorist" organisation by both Washington and Tehran, kept out of the invasion which overthrew Saddam's regime and struck a deal with US forces that saw them hand over all but personal weapons.