Iraq vows to expel Iranian opposition group

BAGHDAD (AFP)- Iraq vowed on Sunday to oust members of the main armed Iranian opposition group from its soil, just days before Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is due on a trip to Tehran.

The announcement was made during a visit by a government delegation to the camp in Iraq where about 3,500 members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) are based.

"The Iraqi government is responsible for their security and it continues to implement its plans to shut down the camp and to either deport its population to their country or to a third country," it said in a statement after the visit led by Iraqi national security advisor Muwaffaq al-Rubaie.

"Remaining in Iraq is not an option for them," the statement added.

After being thrown out- of Iran in the 1980s, members of the PMOI sought refuge abroad, notably in Iraq where they established Camp Ashraf in the province of Diyala.

The group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States, has been holding demonstrations outside UN offices in Geneva protesting against their expulsion from Iraq.

Militants at Camp Ashraf last month sent an open letter to US President George W. Bush about their situation.

Maliki is due to visit neighbouring Iran and Turkey from December 24, his fourth visit to the Islamic republic since taking office in 2006.

In March, Maliki told visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that he would take steps to ensure that Iraqi territory was not used by "terrorists" from Al-Qaeda, or from Iranian rebel groups.

The PMOI was founded in 1965 with the aim of replacing first the shah and then the clerical regime in Iran, and has in the past operated an army inside Iran.

It was financed by Saddam Hussein to carry out attacks against the regime in Tehran but was disarmed by the US military after the 2003 invasion.

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