The United Nations on Tuesday appealed to the Iraqi government to push back a December 31 deadline to close an Iranian dissident camp north of Baghdad, warning of a growing risk of violence.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also renewed appeals to the international community to find a home for the estimated 3,400 Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf.
Amid heightened international concerns, the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council many “obstacles” remain to ending doubts over how to end the camp standoff.
The positions of the residents and the government “remain far apart,” Kobler told the 15-member council.
There is “a real danger of confrontation and even violence” because of the uncertainty over the camp, which has been home to members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) since the 1980s.
Iraq has insisted it must close by the end of the year. But the camp’s inhabitants refuse to move unless they are given UN protection.
At least 36 people at the camp were killed in clashes in April. Residents said they were attacked by Iraqi forces.
Kobler said the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is ready to start interviewing Camp Ashraf residents, but there is little hope of ending the dispute over the camp by December 31.
“I therefore appeal to the government of Iraq to extend this deadline in order to permit adequate time for a solution to be found,” Kobler said.
The envoy said any solution must suit the Iraqi government, which says the camp is a security threat, and the residents’ demands for a safe exit.
“Lives are at stake and must be protected,” Kobler said. “The government has a responsibility to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the residents. Any forced action that results in bloodshed or loss of lives would be both ill-advised and unacceptable.”
UN leader Ban Ki-moon appealed for countries to volunteer homes for the Camp Ashraf residents in a report to the Security Council for the meeting.
“In order to find a durable solution for the camp residents, it is essential that potential third countries indicate their willingness to receive them for resettlement,” Ban said.
Iraq’s UN ambassador, Hamid al-Bayati, also called for international help.
“I would like to assure the Security Council that my government doesn’t want to force anybody to go back to Iran,” he said.
But Bayati said the camp residents were preventing Iraqi forces and government officials from entering.
“We cannot allow any group inside Iraq which will attack neighboring countries, that will cause lots of problems,” he told the Security Council.
UN envoy Kobler also stressed the need for Iraq and Kuwait to make a new effort to normalize their relations. Iraq remains on the UN Security Council agenda because of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
Kobler said “little progress” has been made in the past two years and offered UN assistance.
New efforts are “needed to promote confidence between the two countries and facilitate solutions,” said Kobler The Iraqi ambassador said repairing ties was a “top priority” of the Baghdad government.
Iraq and Kuwait have not settled their border and Iraq still has to pay almost $20 billion in war damages. The two are also in dispute over a new Kuwaiti port that Iraq considers a threat to its sea access.