EU urged to help Iranian dissidents in Iraq

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2011 10:24 AM
EU urged to help Iranian dissidents in Iraq

The European Union should urge Iraq to drop its plan to close a camp of Iranian dissidents and prevent a "massacre" of its residents, a prominent EU parliamentarian said Wednesday.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has said Camp Ashraf, which houses more than 3,000 members of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, must be closed by the end of this year.

"EU foreign ministers ... must denounce the deadline imposed by Maliki to close Ashraf by the end of this year and they must condemn any forcible displacement of Ashraf residents inside Iraq," said Struan Stevenson, the head of the European Parliament's panel for ties with Iraq.

The camp, in Iraq's eastern Diyala province, houses Iranians dedicated to the overthrow of the Iranian government. Members of the group won refuge at Ashraf decades ago during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who saw them as a convenient ally against Tehran.

Since Saddam's fall in 2003, the exiles have become an irritant to Iraq's Shiite-led government, which is trying to bolster ties with Iran. A deadly April raid on the camp by Iraqi forces drew international criticism of Baghdad's treatment of the group.

"The government of Iraq is continuously working on its plan to attack Ashraf and massacre the residents," Stevenson told a meeting of supporters of the exile organization. Maryam Rajavi, the head of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island, also attended the meeting.

The conference was held a day before a meeting of EU foreign ministers expected to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

The United States, like Iran, considers the People's Mujahedeen a terrorist organization. The European Union removed it from its terror list in 2009.

EU officials say the bloc has very little leverage over Iraq, and would not want to be seen as interfering in its internal affairs.

About a third of Camp Ashraf residents want to return to Iran, which has promised amnesty, said an EU official who could not be identified under standing rules. About 900 others are believed to have citizenship, work permits or other documents from third countries, and the U.N. will resettle the rest, he said.

Iraq wants to try several dozen of the dissidents' leaders, the official said. It accuses them of collaborating with Saddam during crackdowns on Iraqi Kurds and Shiites.