Reuters: The leader of an Iranian dissident group in Iraq said on Wednesday that 400 members were ready to move from their camp outside Baghdad to a new location as a goodwill gesture aimed at resolving a stand-off with the Iraqi government.
WASHINGTON Dec 28 (Reuters) – The leader of an Iranian dissident group in Iraq said on Wednesday that 400 members were ready to move from their camp outside Baghdad to a new location as a goodwill gesture aimed at resolving a stand-off with the Iraqi government.
Maryam Rajavi, who heads the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran, or PMOI, said the move was based on assurances from both U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative for Iraq, that their safety and security would be respected.
Rajavi said the 400 residents would travel from Camp Ashraf, about 40 miles (65 km) north of Baghdad, to the sprawling former U.S. military base known as Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport “at the first opportunity.”
“The relocation of the first group of residents is, at the same time, a test of the Iraqi government’s attitude toward the commitments it has given to the United Nations and the United States,” Rajavi said in a statement emailed to Reuters from her headquarters in Paris.
The future of the 25-year-old Camp Ashraf became uncertain in 2009 after the United States turned it over to Iraq’s government, which considers its residents a security threat.
Iraq announced this month it was extending a year-end deadline to close Camp Ashraf by six months to allow more time for the United Nations to mediate resettlement of its more than 3,000 residents.
Resettling the dissidents will not be easy given that some may be afraid to return to Iran, where they could be viewed as enemies of the state, while others may be regarded as terrorists by the United States or other nations.
In the 1970s, the group, which is also known as the Mujahadin-e Khalq, or MEK, led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets.
The United States continues to include the PMOI on its official blacklist of terrorist organizations. The group says it has renounced violence.
Amnesty International says the Iranians at the camp are subject to harassment by the Iraqi government and denied access to basic medicine. More than 30 were killed in a clash with Iraqi security forces in April.
On Sunday, just days after the resettlement deadline was extended, two mortars hit Camp Ashraf in a sign of continuing tensions over the encampment. (Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Peter Cooney)