Iran exile advocates urge to retake Iraq’s Camp Ashraf

10 08 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009; 3:52 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Human rights lawyers on Monday urged the Pentagon to take control of an Iranian exile camp in eastern Iraq, accusing Iraqi security forces there of crimes and human rights violations against camp residents.

Residents of Camp Ashraf near the Iranian border say the Iraqi government killed 13 people and injured about 450 others when security forces moved into the facility on July 28, an incident that raises concerns about the dwindling U.S. influence in Iraq.

Camp Ashraf, home to the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) dissident group, had been protected by the U.S. military until the facility and its 3,500 residents were transferred to Iraqi jurisdiction last January.

Human rights lawyers from the International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf advocacy group accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of ignoring Baghdad’s assurances to Washington that camp residents would be treated humanely.
The lawyers and other advocates of the Iranian exiles say the Obama administration has largely ignored the issue and viewed the camp as a sovereign Iraqi matter.

Members of the U.S. Congress have raised similar concerns with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and criticized the Obama administration for an “inadequate response” to the July 28 clashes between Iraqi forces and Iranian exiles who feared they could be transferred to Iran.

“Iraqi forces … have now committed a number of grave crimes and breaches of international law,” the human rights lawyers wrote in an August 10 letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The letter urges the American military to take temporary control of camp security, calls for about 2,500 armed Iraqi security forces to leave the camp and asks the Obama administration to secure the release of 36 camp residents arrested by Iraqi police on charges of rioting.

“Anything less would constitute not only an abandonment by the U.S. of the norms binding as a matter of international law, but an open invitation to the Iraqis to commit further outrages,” the lawyers wrote Gates.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said the Defense Department has no authority to assume control of Camp Ashrafunder the bilateral security agreement that Washington reached with Baghdad late in 2008.

“However, we continue to remind the government of Iraq of their international obligation to treat those still residing in the camp as humanely as possible,” Morrell said.

Camp Ashraf advocates in Washington, including 10 people who said they were on a 12-day hunger strike in solidarity with relatives inside Camp Ashraf, showed video footage of the July 28 clashes during a Monday press conference.

Scenes depicted uniformed Iraqi security forces swinging clubs as they confronted camp residents, bloodied residents being carried away and military Humvees swerving erratically among crowds of people.

The PMOI is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Iraq and Iran. But the U.S. military awarded camp residents protected status after securing their agreement to reject terrorism and surrender their weapons in 2004.

(Reporting by David Morgan, editing by Jackie Frank)



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