Iraq to expel Iran rebels as it takes over camp from US
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday that he would expel an Iranian armed opposition group from the country after taking over their base from US forces.
"Based on taking over everything and in accordance with our constitution and our policies of opening up to our neighbours… our forces are going to take full control of the camp where the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) live," Maliki said.
Maliki was speaking to reporters on the sideline of a ceremony during which the United States handed over to Iraqi forces security control of the Green Zone, symbol of the American occupation of the country.
The PMOI "is a terrorist organisation and thus cannot operate in Iraq because it will create a political crisis in contradiction with the constitution," Maliki said.
"We will treat them based on the international laws. We will not force them to go back (to Iran) but we will give them the opportunity to either go home, or to another country," he added.
"(Staying in) Iraq will not be an alternative for them," Maliki said.
Maliki, who was speaking ahead of a visit Saturday to Tehran, told Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in March that he would take steps to ensure that Iraq was not used by "terrorists" from Al-Qaeda, or from Iranian rebel groups.
Last month the White House said it received assurances from Baghdad that the rebel group will not be expelled to a country where they may be persecuted, apparently excluding their return to Iran.
US forces confiscated the organisation’s weapons following the March 2003 US-led invasion, taking away some 300 tanks, many of which were subsequently given to the Iraqi armed forces.
Two years ago Iraq decided to restrict the movements of the estimated 3,500 PMOI members to their base at Camp Ashraf, near the Iranian border, where they have been held under a kind of US-supervised house arrest.
Described as a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union, the PMOI, which was founded in 1965, has many supporters in the US Congress and British parliament.
Group members fought alongside Iraqi forces in the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran and then settled in Iraq.