Iraq said on Wednesday it wants thousands of the terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) members at a camp north of Baghdad to leave the country, although it does not plan to expel them by force.
Iraqi forces take over responsibility for Camp Ashraf, home to 3,500 MKO terrorists, on Jan. 1 as part of a bilateral deal governing the presence of US troops who guarded the camp in the past.
The US embassy said this week some US troops will remain at the camp to help Iraqi authorities protect it after it passes to Iraqi control, but the MKO members say they fear Baghdad may still try to shut it and drive them out.
US forces declared the MKO terrorists “protected persons” after the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam. Baghdad and Washington both consider the exiles to be a terrorist group.
“The Iraqi government will deal with the people in this camp in a humane way and according to internationally adopted standards, the Iraqi constitution and Iraqi laws,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement.
“The government of Iraq does not have any intention to expel the people of this organization or force them to leave Iraq. But it calls on those people to find another place outside Iraq in any state that may accept them as refugees, or for those who wish to return to Iran to go of their own free will,” it said.
“Iraq is no longer a suitable place for them because the Iraqi constitution does not permit dealings with an organization classified as a terrorist group.”
Meantime, a senior Iraqi official said Iraq has decided to shut down the Camp Ashraf as soon as possible, expel the MKO members from Iraq and close their file forever. Political advisor of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Mohsen Al-Hakim told the Islamic republic news agency that Baghdad considered the MKO as a terrorist group.
Most of its members are based in Ashraf Camp north of Baghdad. According to Al-Hakim, continued presence of the terrorist group in Iraq would be against Paragraph 33 of the Resolution 687 of the United Nations Security Council.
It would also be against the Iraqi Constitution, decisions made by the country’s presidency council and approvals of the Iraqi parliament, added the advisor.
The Paragraph 33 of the UN Security Council resolution, approved in April 3, 1991, required the government of Iraq to expel all terrorist groups that are present in the country.
The MKO members have two options of either returning home or leaving for another country but they cannot remain in Iraq any longer, Al-Hakim said stressing that the terrorist group was legally in an unclear situation as its members are neither considered refugees nor prisoners of war.
According to reports by human rights advocates, former members of MKO who returned home were living in good conditions, Al-Hakim added.
The advisor stressed that the grouplet has been barred from conducting all political, social and media activities on Iraqi territory. He added that an Iraqi battalion was currently in charge of providing external security of Ashraf Camp while its internal affairs are undertaken by the foreign nationals department of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.
The MKO, whose main stronghold is in Iraq, is blacklisted by much of the international community, including the United States.
The MKO is on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations subject to an EU-wide assets freeze, and has been designated by the US government as a foreign terrorist organization. Yet, the MKO puppet leader, Maryam Rajavi, who has residency in France, regularly visits Brussels and despite the ban enjoys full freedom in Europe.
The MKO is behind a slew of assassinations and bombings inside Iran, a number of EU parliamentarians said in a recent letter in which they slammed a British court decision to remove the MKO from the British terror list. The EU officials also added that the group has no public support within Iran because of their role in helping Saddam Hussein in the Iraqi imposed war on Iran (1980-1988).
Many of the MKO members abandoned the terrorist organization while most of those still remaining in the camp are said to be willing to quit but are under pressure and torture not to do so.
A May 2005 Human Rights Watch report accused the MKO of running prison camps in Iraq and committing human rights violations. According to Human Rights Watch report, the outlawed group puts defectors under torture and jail terms.
The group, founded in the 1960s, blended elements of Islamism and Stalinism and participated in the overthrow of the US-backed Shah of Iran in 1979. Ahead of the revolution, the MKO conducted attacks and assassinations against both Iranian and Western targets.
Leaders of the group have been fighting to shed its terrorist tag after a series of bloody anti-Western attacks in the 1970s, and nearly 30 years of violent struggle against the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In recent months, high-ranking MKO members have been lobbying governments around the world in the hope of acknowledgement as a legitimate opposition group. The UK initiative, however, has prompted the European Union to establish relations with the exiled organization now based in Paris. The European Court of First Instance threw its weight behind the MKO in December and annulled its previous decision to freeze its funds.
The group started assassination of the citizens and officials after the revolution in a bid to take control of the newly established Islamic Republic. It killed several of Iran’s new leaders in the early years after the revolution, including the then President, Mohammad Ali Rajayee, Prime Minister, Mohammad Javad Bahonar and the Judiciary Chief, Mohammad Hossein Beheshti who were killed in bomb attacks by MKO members in 1981.
The group fled to Iraq in 1986, where it was protected by Saddam Hussein and where it helped the Iraqi dictator suppress Shiite and Kurd uprisings in the country.
The terrorist group joined Saddam’s army during the Iraqi imposed war on Iran (1980-1988) and helped Saddam and killed thousands of Iranian civilians and soldiers during the US-backed Iraqi imposed war on Iran.
Since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the group, which now adheres to a pro-free-market philosophy, has been strongly backed by neo-conservatives in the United States, who also argue for the MKO to be taken off the US terror list.
The MKO has been in Iraq’s Diyala province since the 1980s.