Iran Stops Volunteers at Iraqi Border
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Iran is preventing its citizens from crossing the border into Iraq to fight for President Saddam Hussein, saying that would violate its neutral status.
``I tried to cross the border, but military forces blocked my way,″ Mohammad Kanani, 23, a fruit vendor from the border Ahvaz province, said Monday. ``I’m ready to sacrifice my blood to fight American and British occupiers. Courageous Saddam is standing up to them.″
Iranian military officials on the border said they were under orders not to let anybody through.
``We have prevented and will prevent anybody seeking to cross the border without authorization,″ a military officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has warned Iran that the United States would hold it responsible if any Iranian-sponsored forces crossed into Iraq. Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Iran was determined not to take sides in the war.
Iran is known to be ambivalent about the war. On the one hand, Tehran is eager to see the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein, whom it blames for an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s. On the other, Iran is loathe to see another neighbor _ after Afghanistan and Pakistan _ fall under American influence.
However, the war in Iraq has aroused the sympathies of the Arabic-speaking people of western Iran. Many such people regard themselves as Arabs first, Iranians second. Iran’s main language elsewhere is Farsi.
Pro-Saddam demonstrations were reported last week in Ahvaz and Abadan, a port city on the border with Iraq.
Abbas Heidari, an Arabic-speaking resident of Ahvaz, said he would wait for permission to cross into Iraq.
``I will not leave my brothers in Iraq alone if I am allowed to fight their American and British enemies,″ he said.
Heidari, a driver in his thirties, said Arabic-speaking Iranians routinely tuned in to Iraqi television, followed its news and sympathized with Iraqi war victims.
``Many Iraqis don’t fight for Saddam. They fight for their land. They want to keep their country clean from foreign occupation,″ Heidari said.