CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq – Disarmed Iranian rebels and their families defied Iraqi police instructions on Tuesday for them to leave a border camp the government has ordered closed, an AFP correspondent reported.
Police toured the camp reminding residents over loudspeakers of the deadline set by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki for their departure for alternative accommodation in southern Iraq but they refused to leave.
Maliki wants the former fighters of the People’s Mujahedeen, which fought with Saddam Hussein’s regime against Iran in the 1980-88 war, to move to the new camp with their families as a first stage towards leaving Iraq.
But People’s Mujahedeen representative Mehdi Farahi told Iraqi officials residents would not leave Camp Ashraf, where they were installed by Saddam’s regime 80 kilometres (50 miles) north of Baghdad in 1985.
“Any attempt to expel us forcibly will lead to the same clashes and confrontations as those of July 28 and 29,” he said, referring to violence at the camp this year in which the group says 11 people were killed.
“The manner in which the Iraqi government is acting is contrary to international law,” he added.
Iraqi police were out in force and an AFP correspondent saw few residents on the camp’s well-tended streets.
One of the camp’s leaders, Shahriar Kia, said the People’s Mujahedeen had invested more than 200 million dollars in Ashraf and residents were determined to resist the orders to move to Neqrat al-Salman, a desert camp 350 kilometres (220 miles) south of Baghdad where Saddam used to send opponents of his regime.
Bakak Saraz, who has lived in Ashraf virtually since it was first set up, told AFP: “They want to chase us out of here so that they can kill us but we would rather die in Ashraf than go to Salman.”
Washington, which disarmed the Iranian rebels after the invasion of 2003 and placed the camp residents under its protection, said on Friday it expected the Baghdad government to act legally and humanely in relocating camp residents.
“The government of Iraq has assured us that they would not deport any of these citizens to any country where they would be having a well-grounded fear of being treated inhumanely,” said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly, in allusion to Iran.
But Iraqi army Colonel Bassel Hamad insisted the security forces had behaved correctly throughout.
“We respected all the human rights; there was no transgression,” he told reporters.
“The decision came according to a central decision from the Iraqi government. They live on Iraqi ground and there are local laws, and I don’t think there is a pressure made by Iran on the Iraqi government to make this decision.” he said.
A statement from the Iraqi prime minister announcing the camp’s closure was released last Thursday.
“We have taken the decision to get them (the People’s Mujahedeen) out of Iraq … and the process of their moving to Neqrat al-Salman is a step on the way of taking them out of the country,” Maliki said.
“Their presence in Ashraf represents a danger because of their historical relations with certain political groups, notably with the remains of the former (Iraqi) regime and members of Al-Qaeda.”
The People’s Mujahedeen was founded in 1965 in opposition to the shah of Iran and subsequently fought the clerical regime that ousted him in the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The group, which has been blamed for bombings and other attacks inside Iran in the past, is anathema to the Tehran regime which derides its members as “hypocrites.”
Philip Frayne, spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad, said on Tuesday the United States had “no obligation, and no right … to provide protection to the residents of Ashraf.
“We still expect the Iraqi government to treat them humanely, in accordance with its laws and international obligations, and not to forcibly deport them to any country where they have a fear of torture or persecution,” he said.