Iraq to expel Iranian rebels once it takes over camp from US
In June 2004, under the Geneva Conventions the United States granted “protected status” to 3,000 members of an Iranian opposition group interned in Iraq.
Listed as a terrorist organization, an US-led coalition disarmed these members of the People’s Mujahideen. Since 2004, they have been held in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad under the protection of the United States government.
On December 22, the Iraqi government announced their intent to expel the Iranian exile group. An expulsion, which has been long sought by the Shiite-led government, will become feasible once the U.N. mandate that regulates the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and gave the Iranian opposition group protected status expires at the end of the year (2008).
“Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie on Saturday traveled to the camp with several other government officials to deliver the message to members of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian opposition group that was closely aligned with deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein but has been under U.S. military protection since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
The government informed the group that it would soon assume responsibility for security at Camp Ashraf and that residents would be repatriated unless they find a third country willing to take them. The U.S. military currently protects Camp Ashraf, which is 40 miles north of Baghdad.
‘Staying in Iraq is not an option for them,’ the government said in a statement issued Sunday. The Iranian government has long called for the group’s expulsion.
The statement did not set a deadline for removing the MEK. Iraqi officials have pledged to treat the group’s members humanely but have made their disdain for the MEK clear. The delegation that visited the camp included officials of the Defense and Interior ministries as well as Iraqi intelligence officials.
The statement also said the group is barred from participating in political activities and ordered it to cease media campaigns.
The Shiite-led Iraqi government, which has close ties to Iran, has for years threatened to shut down Camp Ashraf because it regards the MEK, also known as the People’s Mujaheddin Organization of Iran, as a terrorist organization.”
The MEK was founded in the 1960s in opposition to the late shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. They were accused of carrying out several attacks in Iran, including some targeting U.S. officials.
When Iraq and Iran were at war during the 1980’s, the MEK relocated its headquarters to Iraq where they were embraced by Saddam Hussein who provided them with weapons and financial support.
According to the Kurds and Shiites, these rebels are guilty of suppressing the failed Kurdish and Shiite uprisings that followed the Persian Gulf War.
“Shortly after the 2003 invasion, the U.S. military persuaded the MEK to disarm and offered to protect the group. The arrangement was awkward because it tasked the U.S. military with sheltering a group that remains on the State Department’s terrorism list.
The group’s charismatic leader, Maryam Rajavi, is based in Paris, but France and many other countries have been reluctant to resettle the group’s members.
Also Sunday, Iraq’s Interior Ministry issued a statement calling the recent detention of ministry officials by a special unit that reports directly to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ‘a brazen act of political retribution.”
On New Year’s Day, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that he would expel the 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.”
Maliki made it clear that the PMOI is a terrorist organization and, therefore, cannot and will not operate in Iraq. Iraq officials are in fear that the PMOI will create a political crisis in contradiction with their constitution.
Maliki while making it perfectly clear that Iraq is no longer a home for the rebels, indicated that the rebels would be treated in accordance with international laws. Iraq will not force the rebels to return to Iran. They will instead give them the opportunity to either go back to Iran or another country.
“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.”