The United States on Friday again urged members of an exiled Iranian opposition group to leave their long-time base in Iraq, saying a move could facilitate their removal from a US terror blacklist.
Under a deal between the United Nations and Iraq, some 3,000 members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, also known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), are to relocate from their long-time base Camp Ashraf to a new location, Camp Liberty.
But although about two-thirds of the refugees had decamped, the process has now stalled and no new relocations had happened since May 5.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “has made clear the MEK’s cooperation in a successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf will be a key factor in her decision regarding the MEK’s status,” Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, told reporters during a conference call.
“The secretary thus retains the discretion to either maintain or revoke the designation (as a terrorist group) in accordance with the law.”
The leftwing People’s Mujahedeen was founded in the 1960s to oppose the shah of Iran, but took up arms against the country’s new clerical rulers after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The group, which has been on the US terror blacklist since 1997, says it has now renounced violence and has asked Washington to remove it from its list of terrorist organizations.
The MEK had agreed to move from Camp Ashraf, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, to Camp Liberty, just outside the capital, as a step towards leaving Iraq altogether.
Late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had allowed the Mujahedeen to set up Camp Ashraf after he launched the 1980-88 war with Iran in which the group reportedly fought alongside his forces, and provided financial backing.
Baghdad extended its original deadline of closing the camp by the end of 2011, and now says it must be emptied by Ramadan, which starts on July 20.
“The Iraqi government and the UN continue to encourage” the MEK to relocate, Benjamin said, highlighting a message the US has tried to hammer home in recent weeks.
A US district appeals court has ruled that Clinton must make a decision on whether to delist the MEK by October 1.
“The MEK seems to have misinterpreted the June 1 order,” Benjamin insisted.
“The MEK leaders appear to believe that the Secretary (of State) has no choice now but to delist them. That conclusion is quite wrong.”
Shahin Gobadi, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance for Iran, the broad grouping that includes the Mujahedeen, said in an email to AFP that the relocation from Camp Ashraf “has nothing to do with” the MEK’s listing.