Iraq on Monday night took a further step to expel hundreds of Iranian dissidents who received support from Saddam Hussein but who are no longer welcome as relations improve between the Shi’ite-ruled neighbours.
The Iraqi government aims to evict the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which opposes the clerical rulers of neighbouring Iran and fought with Saddam’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
On Monday night buses moved 400 residents from Camp Ashraf – built under Saddam and which remained under the protection of U.S. forces – to a former U.S. military base in Baghdad, said Uday al-Khadran, mayor of the nearby town of Khalis.
The Iraqi government moved similar numbers of Ashraf residents to the temporary processing centre at Camp Liberty on February 18 and March 8 as part of its plans to expel them from the country.
There are now about 1,200 PMOI members at Camp Liberty and 2,000 still at Camp Ashraf. They say they fear for their safety now that U.S. troops have withdrawn from Iraq.
Residents agreed in February to move to the new camp, where the United Nations intends to process them for refugee status in other countries, but they complain that the conditions at the new base are dire. They say they have not been permitted to bring many of their personal belongings.
Behzad Saffari, a resident who moved to Camp Liberty last month and acts as a legal adviser there, said one of the new arrivals died of heart failure overnight shortly after the journey, after enduring 48 hours without sleep.
"At the movement it is a prison, with the saturation of police forces and no freedom of movement," Saffari said via telephone, since Camp Liberty is off limits to journalists.
He said others due for relocation were refusing to move to Camp Liberty until Iraqi police were withdrawn from the camp.
There is no suggestion that PMOI members will be sent back to Iran but finding refuge outside Iraq is made more complicated because the United States lists the group as a terrorist organisation. The PMOI carried out attacks decades ago including against U.S. targets but says it has long since renounced violence and shares the West’s opposition to clerical rule in Iran.
The European Union removed the PMOI from its terrorist blacklist in 2009 after being ordered to do so by a court.
(Reporting by Peter Graff in Baghdad and a Reuters correspondent in Baquba, Iraq; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Ben Harding)