Last Iranian dissidents moved out of Iraq camp after violence

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 12, 2013 5:10 AM

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The last remaining Iranian dissidents in a camp in eastern Iraq have been transferred to a base in Baghdad pending resettlement abroad, the United Nations said on Thursday, less than two weeks after a bout of violence that killed 52 people there.

The dissidents belong to the Mujahadin-e-Khalq (MEK), which wants Iran's clerical leaders overthrown, and are no longer welcome in Iraq under the Tehran-aligned, Shi'ite Muslim-led government that replaced late Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.

The MEK fought on Saddam's side during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and was given a camp by the strongman who was toppled by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.

Earlier this month, 52 dissidents were killed in violence at Camp Ashraf, which the MEK blamed on Iraqi army and special forces acting at Tehran's behest. Baghdad said the accusation was baseless and that it would investigate what had happened.

"The tragic events of 1st September ... were a somber reminder of the necessity to conclude the final phase of the relocation process without further delay," acting U.N. envoy to Iraq Gyorgy Busztin said in a statement.

"Resettlement outside Iraq is now the priority, and it is urgent that countries ready to host the residents come forward to accept them, providing them a safe future outside Iraq."

Seven camp residents went missing during the violence and remain unaccounted for, the United Nations said. MEK says they were taken hostage by Iraqi forces and have been flown to Amara province from where they will be extradited to Iran.

Before the violence there were about 100 MEK Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf. Most of its inhabitants were relocated last year to a former U.S. military base in northeastern Baghdad known as Camp Liberty, which has come under attack twice this year.

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The U.S. State Department removed MEK from its list of terrorist organizations last year and the group is now seeking to recast itself as a mainstream opposition force.

The September 1 bloodshed occurred hours after a mortar bomb attack on the camp which MEK blamed on the Iraqi army. Two Iraqi security sources said that army and special forces fired on residents who had stormed a post at the camp entrance.

MEK, also known as the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran, led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Iranian Shah during the 1970s that included attacks on American targets.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Mark Heinrich)