MEK status on blacklist hinges on Iraq camp closure

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 29, 2012 4:44 PM
MEK status on blacklist hinges on Iraq camp closure

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday the Mujahadin-e Khalq's help in closing its Camp Ashraf base in Iraq will influence whether the Iranian dissident group is dropped from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

In the 1970s the MEK, also known as the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, or PMOI, led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets.

The United States continues to include the MEK on its list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs). The group says it has renounced violence.

The MEK, which calls for the overthrow of Iran's clerical rulers and was supported by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, took refuge at Camp Ashraf, 65 km (40 miles) from Baghdad, during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

With Iraq's Shi'ite majority newly empowered following Saddam's fall in 2003, Baghdad has forged closer ties with its Shi'ite neighbor Iran, and the group is no longer welcome.

Iraq on February 18 evacuated an initial batch of 400 Iranian dissidents of the 3,000 at Camp Ashraf as a first step towards expelling their entire group from Iraqi territory.

The dissidents are being moved first to a "transit site" at a vast former U.S. military base in Baghdad.

Resettling the dissidents permanently will not be easy given that some may be afraid to return to Iran, where they could be viewed as enemies of the state, while others may be regarded as terrorists by the United States or other nations.

"Given the ongoing efforts to relocate the residents, MEK cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf, the MEK's main paramilitary base, will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK's FTO status," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told U.S. lawmakers.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Anthony Boadle)