Iraq Threatens to Expel Iranian Rebels

A U.S. Army soldier with an Iranian fighter belonging to the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq in 2003. The U.S. military has protected the camp, which lies 40 miles north of Baghdad, since 2003.
A U.S. Army soldier with an Iranian fighter belonging to the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq in 2003. The U.S. military has protected the camp, which lies 40 miles north of Baghdad, since 2003. (By Brennan Linsley -- Associated Press)
  Enlarge Photo    
By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 22, 2008

BAGHDAD, Dec. 21 -- Iraqi officials say they intend to expel members of an Iranian exile group living in a camp north of Baghdad that is protected by the U.S. military. The expulsion, which the Shiite-led government has long sought, is expected to become feasible once the U.N. mandate that regulates the presence of U.S. troops -- and which gave the Iranian opposition group protected status -- expires at the end of the year.

Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie on Saturday traveled to the camp with several other government officials to deliver the message to members of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian opposition group that was closely aligned with deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein but has been under U.S. military protection since shortly after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

The government informed the group that it would soon assume responsibility for security at Camp Ashraf and that residents would be repatriated unless they find a third country willing to take them. The U.S. military currently protects Camp Ashraf, which is 40 miles north of Baghdad.

"Staying in Iraq is not an option for them," the government said in a statement issued Sunday. The Iranian government has long called for the group's expulsion.

The statement did not set a deadline for removing the MEK. Iraqi officials have pledged to treat the group's members humanely but have made their disdain for the MEK clear. The delegation that visited the camp included officials of the Defense and Interior ministries as well as Iraqi intelligence officials.

The statement also said the group is barred from participating in political activities and ordered it to cease media campaigns.

The Shiite-led Iraqi government, which has close ties to Iran, has for years threatened to shut down Camp Ashraf because it regards the MEK, also known as the People's Mujaheddin Organization of Iran, as a terrorist organization.

The European Union and the U.S. State Department have also labeled the group a terrorist organization.

The MEK, which has about 3,500 members in Iraq, has strongly resisted the Iraqi government's expulsion efforts, saying members could be executed if they are forced to return to Iran. The group has aggressively lobbied U.S. and European lawmakers and has relentlessly sought sympathetic coverage in the Western news media.

The MEK was founded in the 1960s as an opponent of the late shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It was accused of carrying out several attacks in Iran, including some targeting U.S. officials.

The MEK moved its headquarters to Iraq during the 1980s, when Iraq and Iran were at war. Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein embraced the group, providing them weapons and financial support.

Kurds and Shiites have long reviled the MEK because they say the group helped suppress the failed Kurdish and Shiite uprisings that followed the Persian Gulf War.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company