TEHRAN, Iran -- Iranian reformers reacted angrily Monday to accusations by the country's elite military corps that the reformists are "pawns" in a possible U.S. plan to invade Iran.
The accusations by the Revolutionary Guards came as the government has been drumming up public outrage against the United States. Reformers have joined in the anti-U.S. protests, wary of being seen as linked to the country considered Iran's greatest enemy.
The wave of anti-U.S. sentiment was sparked when President Bush earlier this month expressed support for the reform movement. That was seen as U.S. meddling in the power struggle between reformists and hard-liners opposed to political and social change.
On Saturday, the Republican Guards, who are under the direct control of hard-line supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said reformists are "challenging values of the (1979 Islamic) revolution" and are "being pawns at the time of possible military invasion" of the United States against Iran.
The guards claimed the United States was preparing a "direct military attack" on Iran by increasing its presence in the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq, and that reformists' "liberal" and "secular" policies were "creating hopes for America of having allies inside Iran."
Reformist leaders defended themselves Monday, saying they oppose foreign involvement in Iranian politics and that it was irresponsible for the elite militia to speak about politics.
"Intervention of the guards in factional politics in favor of conservatives is illegal, irresponsible and harmful to the country's interests," said reformist lawmaker Rajabali Mazrouei.
Hard-liners are accusing reformists of "being allies of America" in a bid to maintain their power in Iran, Mazrouei said.
"We (reformists) oppose comments by foreign governments in support or opposition to any political faction in Iran. Foreign governments should not interfere in Iran's internal affairs," Mazrouei said.
Despite the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Iran's reform movement has been stifled by unelected conservative clerics who rule key state institutions, including the judiciary.
Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the president and leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest reformist party, said the guards' statement damaged its image in the eyes of Iranians.
"The guards have a crucial role in defending the country's territorial integrity ... the statement reduces the guards at the level of a political group involved in factional disputes," the reformist daily Hambastegi quoted Khatami as saying.
Washington says Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism, a claim that Tehran rejects.