Iranian Exiles Accuse U.S. of Ignoring Pact to Protect Members in Iraq

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

PARIS, Aug. 11 -- An Iranian exile group accused the Obama administration Tuesday of betraying written U.S. promises to protect several thousand of its members confined in a camp north of Baghdad that was recently stormed by Iraqi forces.

The group, the Paris-based Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, demanded that the U.S. military immediately reassert control over the facility, Camp Ashraf, until it can be replaced by an international force under the aegis of the United Nations or at least a U.N.-commanded observer team to monitor the Iraqis.

"We must underline that the responsibility of the United States in this matter, moral as well as legal, is overwhelming," said Francois Serres, a French jurist who heads a committee of European lawyers and human rights activists representing the exiles and promoting their campaign for recognition.

Maryam Rajavi, who heads the Iranian Resistance Council, an umbrella group mounted by the MEK, expressed fears that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government might turn over Camp Ashraf's 3,400 residents to Iran now that the United States has returned a measure of sovereignty to Baghdad. Such a move would be tantamount to condemning them to imprisonment, torture and perhaps execution, in violation of the U.S. pledges, she added.

The accusations against the United States, made at a news conference, called attention to an unusual situation created by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in which the American military, for the past six years, has been protecting a disarmed Iranian guerrilla force considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

The Iranian exiles are remnants of a military unit armed and financed by the Sunni-dominated Iraqi government under President Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. The force was used as an adjunct of the Iraqi military and, as the war closed, mounted an attack on its own country that earned it widespread opprobrium among Iranians.

With Shiite Muslims now controlling Iraq -- including former Shiite rebels from southern Iraq who were armed and financed by Iran during the war -- Iran has sought the group's extradition as a display of newly neighborly relations.

Iraqi security forces launched an assault to gain control over the camp July 28, killing nine residents, injuring dozens and arresting 36, according to the MEK. U.S. soldiers stationed nearby watched what was happening but declined to intervene, the group said.

In Baghdad, 60 miles to the south, senior U.S. officials said they were surprised by the Iraqi raid but were no longer in a position to order the Iraqis to stop it. The operation occurred during a visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.

The U.S. military's stance, Rajavi and her attorneys said, may have made sense politically, but it disregarded written U.S. commitments to ensure the Iraqi government honored pledges to protect Camp Ashraf, including a statement from the U.S.-led coalition forces guaranteeing camp residents protection in exchange for a renunciation of violence. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad reiterated the commitments Dec. 28 as Iraqis prepared to assume increased security responsibilities, saying in a public statement that the embassy and U.S. military would work with Maliki to ensure "a smooth transition" and "a safe future" for the exiles.

"They failed to carry out their responsibility to supervise the Iraqis," Rajavi said.

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