News / Middle East

US Urges Iranian Dissidents in Iraq to Move to Transit Center

Iraqi Army soldiers stand guard near burned trailers at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, Iraq, April 8, 2011 (file photo).
Iraqi Army soldiers stand guard near burned trailers at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, Iraq, April 8, 2011 (file photo).

The Obama administration is urging a group of Iranian dissidents living in northeastern Iraq to make a decision about moving to a new transit center near Baghdad as part of a U.N.-backed process of resettling them in third countries.

U.S. State Department official Daniel Fried says U.S. and Iraqi officials discussed the proposed transit center move with a representative of the Iranian dissidents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq on Monday. In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, Fried said the officials told the Camp Ashraf representative that the Camp Hurriya center near Baghdad airport is ready to receive the dissidents and has been declared habitable by U.N. experts.

Camp Hurriya is a former U.S. military base that was known as Camp Liberty. Fried says the decision about the move is up to the Iranian dissidents, a group of 3,400 people affiliated with the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) or MEK.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government considers their presence in the country as an affront to Iraqi sovereignty. It signed an agreement with the United Nations in December to move the dissidents from Camp Ashraf to a temporary location where the U.N. refugee agency will process their refugee claims to help them resettle in third countries of their choosing.

Fried is the Obama administration's special advisor on Camp Ashraf. Last week, he and U.N. envoy Martin Cobler were in Europe to try to persuade EU nations to accept the Iranian dissidents. Fried said Washington supports the resettlement of the dissidents for humanitarian reasons.

The United States and Iran both officially consider the PMOI to be a terrorist group.

PMOI members first moved to Camp Ashraf in the 1980s at the invitation of then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The group is dedicated to the overthrow of Iran's Islamic government and sided with Saddam in his 1980 - 1988 war against Tehran. The PMOI also carried out bombings and assassinations against the Iranian government in that period, but says it renounced violence in 2001.

Camp Ashraf came under American military protection after Saddam's ouster in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. U.S. forces handed over security responsibilities for the site to the Iraqi government in January 2009.

Iraqi troops raided the camp in April 2011 in an operation that the United Nations said killed 34 people. Iraq's government said the troops confronted stone-throwing protesters resisting an operation to reclaim land from the camp and return it to farmers. The PMOI said the raid was an unprovoked Iraqi military assault with armored vehicles against unarmed civilians.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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