Last updated: 15 December, 2011

Iraq: Decision to close Iran exile camp irreversible

Iraq’s decision to close a camp housing Iranian dissidents by year-end is “irreversible,” Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told AFP on Thursday, rejecting UN calls for a delay to avoid bloodshed.

Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, houses some 3,400 Iranian refugees hostile to the regime in Tehran. It is controlled by the People’s Mujahedeen, which Washington blacklists as a terrorist group.

“The decision we made is irreversible, especially because this organisation refused the visit of a UN representative to Camp Ashraf,” Maliki said.

“They’ve rejected the UN plan, which means this is a criminal gang and we cannot permit a criminal gang to remain here,” he added.

Saddam Hussein allowed the rebel People’s Mujahedeen to set up the camp when his forces were at war with Iran in the 1980s.

When Saddam was overthrown in the US-led invasion of 2003, the camp came under US military protection but US forces handed over security responsiblity to the Baghdad authorities in January 2009.

The Iraqi government says the camp is a threat to its relations with neighbouring Iran and is demanding that it close by December 31.

But last week the United Nations appealed for an extension to the deadline to allow more time for a solution to be negotiated with the camp’s residents who are refusing to move unless they are given UN protection.

The positions of the residents and the government “remain far apart,” the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, told the UN Security Council, appealing to the international community to find new homes for the exiles.

In Paris, an exile Iranian group challenged Maliki’s statement that UN officials were not allowed to visit the camp.

“Last week, UN representatives were able to enter Ashraf two times,” said Mohamad Mohadessine, an official of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group opposed to the Tehran regime.

“By these abject lies, Maliki does nothing other than prepare the terrain for a massacre of the residents of Ashraf and to counter muliple international apeals to delay the closing of Ashraf,” he added in a statement.

The camp has been in the spotlight since a controversial April raid by Iraqi security forces left at least 36 people dead and scores injured. Residents said the Iraqi forces attacked them.