With the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq this month, American officials fear further bloodshed if the exiles — who are backed by numerous prominent political figures in the United States — refuse to accept the deal.
“There is mistrust, if not hatred, between the MEK and many Iraqis,” said a senior State Department official involved in negotiations over the group’s fate. “The question is, does the MEK take a deal that is less than perfect, or reject it and get nothing?”
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatically sensitive negotiations, said the accord would allow the Iranian exiles to move from their remote enclave, known as Camp Ashraf, to the grounds of Camp Liberty, the former U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport. They could then apply for emigration to other countries while under constant watch by unarmed U.N. observers. The official said the Obama administration would separately provide “robust” monitoring of the camp but would not deploy U.S. troops there, as the MEK has requested.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton praised the agreement, saying in a statement late Sunday that the United States “welcome[s] this important step toward a humane resolution to the ongoing situation at Ashraf. The UN effort has our full support.”
Shahin Ghobadi of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the MEK’s political wing, cautioned late Sunday that “we are . . . waiting to see the official document . . . [for] clarifications for the residents of Camp Ashraf. We hope that it would officially include the minimum assurances so that it would be acceptable to Ashraf residents.”
“Of course, in what has been published,” the MEK spokesman added, “the Secretary General’s Special Representative has underscored that in any event, this is a voluntary and not a forcible relocation. Ashraf residents had repeatedly emphasized that they would in no way accept forcible relocation.”
If accepted by the MEK, the deal could spell the end of a years-long standoff over the fate of the controversial group, which the State Department has officially listed as a terrorist group because of its alleged role in the slayings of six Americans in the 1970s. To many Iraqis, the MEK is a hated cult, forever tied to Hussein and his oppression. But many powerful politicians and security officials in Washington view the group’s members as freedom fighters who deserve continued U.S. protection.