BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – The Shi’ite-led Iraqi government told nearly 3,500 opposition Iranians living in exile in Iraq on Sunday that it planned to close their camp and they had to leave the country.
A delegation headed by National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told the Iranians, who have lived for two decades at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad, that the government was taking over responsibility for their security from U.S. troops.
They told the Iranians the government “…is keen to execute its plans to close the camp and send its inhabitants to their countries or other countries in a non-forcible manner, and that staying in Iraq is not an option for them,” the government said in a statement.
The Iranians, who include members of the exiled opposition People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), have lived in the sprawling township 70 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad for around 20 years.
The Iraqi government, which is friendly toward Shi’ite Iran, regards the Iranians as terrorists. The PMOI is also listed as a terrorist group in the United States and in Europe.
U.S. forces have protected the exiles since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 after persuading the Iranian group, also known as the Mujahideen e-Khalq, to disarm.
The U.S. military seized and destroyed more than 2,000 tanks, armoured personnel carriers and other weaponry at the time. The group had been protected by Saddam Hussein, who welcomed them as fellow enemies of the Iranian ayatollahs.
The PMOI began as a leftist-Islamist opposition to the late shah of Iran but fell out with Shi’ite clerics who took power after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Its leaders fear many of them will be executed if they are forced to go back to Iran. Tehran has long demanded they be expelled from Iraq.
The United Nations has had trouble finding other countries to accept the Iranian exiles as refugees because of their militant background but has urged Iraq to respect their rights.
In the statement released on Sunday, the Iraqi government said people in the camp had been told that carrying out activities whether legal or illegal “against any neighbouring country, is a dangerous issue.”
Iraq will treat those in the camp “in accordance with Iraqi law, Islamic values and international order,” the statement said.
Amnesty International has urged Iraq and the United States to regard members of the rebel group as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The 1949 pact bans the extradition or forced repatriation of people who could face torture or persecution.