The departing head of the U.N. mission in Iraq on Monday bluntly disputed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's account of their farewell meeting, saying he did not embrace the government's efforts to deport a group of Iranian exiles by the end of the year.
The public disavowal was rare for the U.N. office in Baghdad, which goes to great lengths to avoid engaging in political disputes.
At issue is a group of several thousand Iranian exiles who live at the remote Camp Ashraf in Iraq's eastern Diyala province. The Ashraf residents were formally allied with Iraq's Saddam Hussein in resisting Tehran's clerical regime, and have been a thorn in al-Maliki's side as he bolsters ties with Iran.
A deadly April raid on the camp by Iraqi forces drew international criticism of Baghdad's treatment of the group, and al-Maliki responded by pledging to deport the Ashraf residents by the end of the year.
U.N. monitors have been among the only people the Iraqi government has allowed to go inside the camp since the April raid. But they have made very few, if any, public comments about the raid or the government's plan to deport the Ashraf residents.
In a statement after they met to say goodbye Sunday, al-Maliki said U.N. envoy Ad Melkert affirmed U.N. support on a bevy of matters, "including the issue of Camp Ashraf and the necessity of implementing the Cabinet's decree to deport its residents outside Iraq by the end of this year."
In one of his last acts after two years as envoy to Iraq, the mild-mannered Melkert flatly said that was not true.
"The U.N. continues to advocate that Camp Ashraf residents be protected from forcible deportation, expulsion or repatriation," Melkert's office said in a statement Monday. It said Melkert reiterated the position during his meeting Sunday with the prime minister.