UN envoy urges extension for Iranian dissident camp in Iraq

Photo: UN envoy urges extension for Iranian dissident camp in Iraq / Iran

The UN special envoy for Iraq asked the Security Council Tuesday to urge the Iraqi government to keep an Iranian dissident refugee camp open, despite plans to close it by the end of the year, dpa reported.

Baghdad has announced plans to close the Camp Ashraf compound operated by the People's Mujahidin of Iran (PMOI) in Diyala province by the end of December, following a military raid earlier this year that killed dozens of people.

Martin Kobler, the UN Special Envoy for Iraq, said he needed an extension from Baghdad to allow the UN "time and space to resolve the humanitarian situation at the camp," and find a "peaceful and durable" solution for the more than 3,400 people, including many families, living there.

"The international community will have to take the residents in their own countries, and we urge the residents to seriously consider the proposal," Kobler told reporters.

Kobler added that the UN cannot force the camp's residents to return to their own country. The Mujahidin members have been fighting Tehran for years from their base at Camp Ashraf and Tehran had put pressure on Baghdad to close it.

The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, was founded in 1965 to oppose the government of the shah in Iran. In 1981 it started an armed campaign against the new Islamic government that came after the shah.

In the mid-1980s, at the height of a war between Iraq and Iran, Iraq's then-president, Saddam Hussein, allowed the group to use a military base near the border with Iran.

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US military disarmed the group and was responsible for providing it with protection in light of massive sectarian violence that tore apart the country for years after the invasion.

In the summer of 2008, that responsibility was handed over to the Iraqi army.

The US troop withdrawal, to be completed by the end of December, has increased the camp's vulnerability.

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