Iranian group: Health care blocked at Iraq camp

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 2:32 PM

Members of an Iranian opposition group claimed Friday that Iraqi authorities are limiting their access to outside health care at a camp in northern Iraq where they have been under watch since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The charges are the latest complaints about conditions at Camp Ashraf, which was raided by Iraqi security forces in July in a melee that reportedly left 11 people dead and dozens injured.

Iraqi officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the accusations by the Iranian group, the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which used Iraq as a base for years under Saddam. But one Iraqi lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwan, said it appeared that authorities were "tightening controls" on the camp.

Ashraf remains a quandary for officials in Baghdad and Washington. The nearly 3,500 Iranian exiles would face almost certain arrest if they returned to their homeland, but Iraq's Shiite-led government does not want to continue to host them and risk souring their important relations with Shiite power Iran.

Ashraf was guarded by U.S. forces until it was transferred to Iraqi control last January. Since then, members of the Iranian faction have made claims about a host of alleged abuses and pressure tactics by Iraqi authorities.

A doctor in the camp, Jawad Ahmadi, told The Associated Press that Iraqi forces are cutting off supplies of medicine and access to outside medical specialists. Ahmadi said there are a total of 10 physicians in the camp, but they lack supplies and the expertise to deal with patients being treated for problems such as bladder cancer and reconstructive surgery for a shattered pelvis.

"These people are suffering," he said. "We can do little more for them with what we have."

Ashraf's residents are very reluctant to leave the camp because of fear of being detained and possibly threatened with deportation. In October, Iraq returned 36 Iranian exiles to Ashraf after holding them since the raid in July. At the time, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said the men remain under a deportation order and authorities were "looking for a country that is willing to accept them."

Iraqi officials have said the exiles will not be forcibly returned to Iran, where the Islamic leadership considers the People's Mujahedeen, or MEK, an enemy of the state.

The United States lists the MEK as a terrorist organization, though one that has provided the Americans with intelligence on Iran. The European Union removed it from its terror list this year.

In Spain, a judge this week asked Iraq if it is investigating the July violence in the camp _ a first step toward a possible probe by the judge himself.

Judge Fernando Andreu is acting under Spain's universal justice doctrine, which allows grave crimes alleged to have been committed in other countries to be prosecuted there, so long as certain conditions are met. One such caveat is that the country where a crime allegedly occurred is not holding _ or already carried out _ an investigation of its own.

In Baghdad, the U.S. military said Iraq is starting plans to purchase a $49 million surveillance system for strategic portions along the borders with Syria and Iran.

Iraq's government has accused insurgents linked to Saddam's former Baath Party of crossing into Iraq from Syria to wage attacks, including twin bombings in October that killed at least 155 people in central Baghdad. U.S. commanders also have worried about cross-border aid from Iran to Shiite militias in Iraq.

The surveillance system, which includes infrared sensors and possibility for radar and other upgrades, is expected to begin operations in June along 174 miles (286 kilometers) of the Syrian border _ more than one-third the total length _ and 249 miles (402 kilometers) along the Iranian frontier, or less than half the length. The specific locations of the planned monitoring system were not given in the military statement.