August 20, 2017

US ambassador tries to allay fears about Iranian dissidents in Iraq

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE

WASHINGTON — Christopher Hill, the US ambassador to Iraq, sought Thursday to reassure lawmakers who fear for the safety of more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents in a camp in Iraq.

Hill, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the US government would work to ensure that 36 People’s Mujahedeen members arrested after a deadly Iraqi raid on Camp Ashraf in July are not repatriated to Iran.

About two dozen relatives of camp residents, including some of the 11 who died in the raid, sat in on the testimony in Washington. Some went up to Hill afterward to personally ask him to protect the residents.

Hill vowed to keep pressing the Iraqi government, which the Mujahedeen alleges answers to Tehran, to live up to assurances to treat the residents humanely and make sure they are not repatriated to Iran.

Washington sought the assurances from Iraq when it gained sovereignty over the camp northeast of Baghdad on January 1, following the expiry of a UN mandate that had given US forces responsibility for the camp.

“We’re interested in the preservation of their human rights,” Hill told Congressman Ted Poe who joined other committee members in expressing concern for the camp residents.

“We’re interested in the fact that they should not be forcibly repatriated to Iran. It is therefore my view that the Iraqi government respects our concerns in this regard and will work with us on those,” Hill said.

“That said, they do want to exercise sovereignty over their own territory. But that sovereignty should not come at the expense of human rights or repatriation,” Hill said.

“So, Mr Congressman, I can assure you we will continue to be very vigilant on this matter,” Hill added.

Poe had expressed skepticism about Iraq’s intention to live up to its assurances. “It doesn’t appear that they have been treated humanely if 11 of them were murdered and 36 others were arrested,” Poe said.

Majid Roshani, spokesman for the US Committee for Camp Ashraf residents, said his group is urging the United States to deploy troops temporarily around the camp until a UN body can be set up there to serve as an intermediary between residents and the Iraqi authorities.

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