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Iraq’s threat to close MeK camp worries White House

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**FILE** Iraqi police stand guard outside the camp of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, northeast of Baghdad on Dec. 9, 2011. (Associated Press/People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran)

The Obama administration is worried about a threat from the Iraqi government to forcibly shut down a camp for Iranian dissidents north of Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein allowed the dissidents to establish their paramilitary base in Iraq; however, the group has fallen out of favor with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which is close to Iran.

Falih al-Fayadh, Iraq’s national security adviser, on Tuesday said the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK) must move out of Camp Ashraf immediately or be forced to leave.

The State Department urged the Iraqi government to remain “patient and flexible” and seek a voluntary arrangement for relocating the former rebels, who were disarmed by U.S. troops after the overthrow of Saddam in 2003.

“The United States is concerned by the government of Iraq’s reference on July 31 to the possible closure of Camp Ashraf by involuntary relocation of its residents,” Patrick Ventrell, the State Department’s acting deputy spokesman, said in a statement on Wednesday.

The MeK, also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), was designated by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997 when former President Bill Clinton was trying to open talks with the Iranian government.

A U.S. federal court in June ordered Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to decide within four months on removing the MeK from the U.S. terrorist list. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it would remove the resistance from the terrorist list, if Mrs. Clinton fails to meet the deadline.

Iraqi authorities and the MeK is locked in a protracted battle over a plan to relocate the Iranian exiles from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya, a former U.S. military base near Baghdad’s international airport.

So far, about 2,000 of Camp Ashraf’s more than 3,000 residents have been transferred to Camp Hurriya under a deal brokered by the United Nations. But the relocation has stalled over what the dissidents say are substandard living conditions at Camp Hurriya.

Mr. Ventrell disputed such claims.

“Allegations of dire humanitarian conditions at Hurriya are inconsistent with observations made by U.S. government officials who have visited Hurriya, as well as reporting from U.N. monitors,” he said.

“Based on these reports, and other information, it is clear that the quality of life at Hurriya exceeds accepted humanitarian standards,” he added.

Mr. Ventrell said the “continued intransigence of the residents’ leadership in placing preconditions and making demands prior to any agreement to relocate further Ashraf residents is unacceptable.”

He urged the MeK to resume cooperation with the relocation process since the Iraqi government has delivered a cargo convoy of goods as demanded by the Iranian dissidents on July 15.

The Camp Ashraf leadership is not to blame for the situation, said Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a political coalition that includes the MEK.

“The problem is that the government of Iraq receives all of its orders on Ashraf from the Iranian regime, refrains from implementing the simple and practical plan to meet the minimum humanitarian needs of the residents and it is planning for the third massacre in Ashraf,” he added.

About the Author

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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