The Washington Times - September 8, 2008, 03:06PM

Several hundred people rallied today in front of the White House to call on the U.S. military not to hand over control to the Iraqi government of a refugee camp that is home to Iranian dissidents.

“U.S. take action! Ensure Ashraf protection,” the rally-goers chanted, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with signs and flags.

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They held signs that said, “Stop Tehran’s plan to massacre Ashraf residents.”

At the rally in Lafayette Park speakers urged the Bush administration to keep Camp Ashraf, which is 60 miles from Bagdhad and 50 miles from the Iranian border, under U.S. military control.

About 3,500 members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian opposition party, are in exile inside Camp Ashraf.

But Iran has stepped up pressure on the Iraqi government to expel dissidents from the camp and send them back to Iran.

Camp Ashraf has existed since the mid-1980’s, and was an independent entity inside Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein, who was a Sunni Muslim unfriendly to the Shiite-led Iranians.

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, PMOI handed over its weapons to the U.S. military and accepted its protection. The U.S. government in 2004 recognized Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Geneva Convention.

But Iraq is now led by a Shiite-dominated government, however, and many advocates and family members of those inside Ashraf now fear that with the Bush administration readying itself to hand over control of large parts of Iraq, Ashraf may be overlooked or cast aside.

“I have faith that they know the right thing to do, but it can go either way, and that’s the scary part,” said Afagh Azadeh, 21, a senior at Marymount University, whose mother, Sudahbeh, is a resident of Ashraf.

An organizer with the U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents (USCCAR) said that they do not know what the long-term solution is, but that while U.S. forces are in Iraq, they should be the ones protecting Ashraf.