Amnesty blasts Iraq over treatment of Iran exiles

AP News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2009 2:04 PM

Amnesty International on Friday warned that Iraq's plans to move an Iranian opposition group to a former desert detention camp in the country's remote south would put them at risk of arbitrary arrest and torture.

Iraq's Shiite-led government has taken an increasingly hard line toward the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, not wanting to risk its warming relations with its powerful Shiite neighbor Iran.

The exiles had been hosted for years by Saddam Hussein, who allowed the Iranians to establish a base for launching raids into Iran during the two neighbors' eight-year war. After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the group was put under watch.

Iraq announced plans Thursday to move the roughly 3,500 residents from their camp in northeastern Iraq to the desert south. In July, Iraqi security forces raided Camp Ashraf and touched off riots that killed 11 people.

Amnesty International said it feared the "forced removals of the residents of Camp Ashraf would put them at risk of arbitrary arrest, torture or other forms of ill-treatment and unlawful killing."

The Iraqi plan calls for moving the exiles to a remote outpost in Neqrat al-Salman, about 200 miles (120 kilometers) west of the southern city of Basra. It was used for decades as a detention center where Saddam banished political opponents.

"Whatever measures the Iraqi authorities decide to take with regard to the future of Camp Ashraf, the rights of all its residents must be protected and guaranteed at all times," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, a deputy director with Amnesty International.

The U.S., which has listed the People's Mujahedeen as a terrorist organization, has expressed concern that moving the group could result in violence.

"The expectation is not that they're going to expel the ... Camp Ashraf residents, but that they would try to move them _ forcibly move them to a different location in Iraq, and that, too, could lead to bloodshed," Jeffrey Feltman, the assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs, told a Foreign Affairs subcommittee in the House of Representatives on Oct. 28.

Iraq's government has said moving the exiles is necessary because of their historical relations with Saddam's regime and _ it claims _ with members of al-Qaida.

The government has accused al-Qaida and members of Saddam's banned Baath Party of carrying out Tuesday's bombings in Baghdad the killed 127 people.

Violence has dropped overall in Iraq, but insurgents have continued to target security forces and civilians.

On Friday, a two-pronged bomb attack south of Baghdad that was apparently designed to ambush bystanders killed at least six people, a police official said.

The first bomb went off with no casualties in the village of Qaragoul, about 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Baghdad, the official said. Then, as people gathered, a nearby car bomb exploded, killing at least six people and wounding 20, he said.

Among the dead were two policeman, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give information to media.

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Associated Press Writer Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.