U.S. officials Monday urged an Iranian dissident group to accept a U.N. plan to move its followers to a new location within Iraq, a step that could end a long standoff between the group and the Iraqi government.
The group, known as the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran and regarded as a terrorist organization by the United States, Iran and Iraq, mounted attacks on Iran from Iraq before the 2003 downfall of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
The Iraqi government has said that it intends to close down Camp Ashraf, home to an estimated 3,000 Iranian dissidents north of Baghdad, by the end of this year, leaving less than two weeks to try to work out a solution.
As described by the U.S. officials, the U.N. plan would move the residents to a location near the Baghdad airport, where the United Nations would monitor them and process them for possible resettlement as refugees.
Resettling the dissidents will not be easy given that some may be afraid to return to Iran, where they could be viewed as enemies of the state, while others may be regarded as terrorists by the United States or other nations.
In the 1970s the group, which is also known as the Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK), led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets.
“After a long time of stalling and, I am afraid, not terribly constructive (stands), the MEK has recently appeared ready to engage,” said a U.S. official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
The official described the new MEK stance, which he said had emerged in recent days, as a good thing and urged the group, to be “realistic” in their negotiations over the U.N. plan.
“It is possible, even now, with very little time remaining, for all the sides to come together but all the sides need to work (toward) that,” he said. “The MEK, having just recently started to engage, needs to get in all the way in a constructive fashion.”
Shahin Gobadi, as spokesman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a group that includes the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran, said its minimum conditions for moving those Camp Ashraf had not yet been met.
“Any relocation from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty without agreement on these minimum guarantees would be tantamount to forcible relocation and internment of the residents of Ashraf and would thus be unacceptable,” he said in a statement, referring to a former U.S. military base northeast of the Baghdad airport.
U.S. officials declined to say exactly where the Camp Ashraf residents might be moved, saying only that it could be to a camp near the airport.
The future of those living at Ashraf became uncertain in 2009 after the United States turned the camp over to Iraq’s government, which considers its residents a security threat.
Amnesty International says the Iranians there are subject to harassment by the Iraqi government and denied access to basic medicine. More than 30 were killed in a clash with Iraqi security forces in April.