June 26, 2017

US hails efforts to relocate Camp Ashraf

REUTERS

WASHINGTON – The United States late on Wednesday welcomed renewed efforts to relocate residents of a camp in Iraq that has housed members of an exiled Iranian opposition group for years.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland noted the “safe arrival” of the sixth convoy of about 400 residents of Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya, a former US military base once known as Camp Liberty.

“We call on the Camp Ashraf leadership to continue this progress by cooperating with the expeditious relocation of the approximately 800 remaining residents at Camp Ashraf,” she added, noting Wednesday’s convoy was the first of its kind in over three months.

A US official said the camp could be completely empty “before the end of September.”

Iraq has been locked in a dispute with the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, also known as the Mujahedeen E Khalq (MEK), over plans to relocate them to Camp Hurriya. Camp Ashraf is located 80kms from Baghdad. Hurriya is just outside the Iraqi capital.

Under a December 2011 agreement between the United Nations and the Iraqi government, Baghdad was due to transfer the refugees from Ashraf to Hurriya. About 2,000 of the refugees have been transferred but the relocation of 1,200 others stalled in early May.

Earlier this month, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said evacuations had resumed, but again asked Washington to remove the MEK from its terror blacklist.

The MEK was founded in the 1960s to oppose the US-backed shah of Iran but took up arms against the country’s new clerical rulers after the Islamic revolution of 1979. The group, which has been on the US terror blacklist since 1997, says it has renounced violence and has repeatedly asked Washington to remove it from the list.

The United States has asked the MEK to leave Ashraf for Hurriya and then Iraq altogether before it can be removed from the terror blacklist.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein welcomed the exiles to Iraq during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war and they have lived at the camp ever since.

But it became a mounting issue for Iraqi authorities after US forces handed over security for the camp in January 2009, amid pressure from Teheran to hand over members of the militant group.