The Washington Times - September 9, 2008, 11:37AM

This isn’t what the supporters of Iranian dissidents and refugees wanted to hear: the White House appears to be leaning towards transferring control of Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp inside Iraq, to the government in Baghdad.

“The United States is consulting with the Iraqi government concerning the ongoing transfer of security responsibility to Iraq and the expiration of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1790,” said a White House official, who spoke to the Washington Times on the condition of anonymity.


“The Iraqi government has given us its assurances that it would treat the residents of Camp Ashraf humanely in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, local laws, and international obligation,” the White House official said.

That will be no comfort to the hundreds of people who rallied in front of the White House yesterday, to call on President Bush to continue U.S. protection of Camp Ashraf instead of handing it over to the Iraqis.

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

Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Camp Ashraf was self-sufficient and not threatened by the Sunni-run government. But the new government is led by Shiite Muslims, just like the regime in Tehran, and Ashraf residents fear that Baghdad may help the Iranians go after dissidents.

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

The White House official said they had no information that Tehran is seeking to “repatriate” Camp Ashraf residents to iran. But in the same breath, the official said that that Washington is seeking assurances “that any repatriation would fully comply with international standards.”

In 2003, 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 Conventions.

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.