Top U.N. official in Iraq ‘misled’ world on camp for Iranians

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Dispute over living conditions

Known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MeK, the dissidents sought the overthrow of Iran’s theocratic regime in the early 1980s, and Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein gave them refuge at Camp Ashraf, a base near Baghdad. After Saddam’s overthrow in 2003, U.S. military forces disarmed the dissidents, who renounced violence in 2001.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran, has sought to shut down Camp Ashraf, which Iraqi forces have attacked several times with deadly results. The dissidents fear that Mr. al-Maliki will turn them over to Iran, where they expect they would be imprisoned, tortured or executed.

The U.N. brokered a deal with Iraqi leaders to move the dissidents to Camp Liberty.

Mr. Boumedra, the lead U.N. official in talks with the Iraqis to close Camp Ashraf, said he advised Mr. Kobler not to accept a memorandum of understanding that came out of those talks because the Iraqis were dismissive of international human rights standards.

“I told him there are certain values of the United Nations on which we cannot compromise. Yet we did compromise,” Mr. Boumedra said.

He said Mr. Kobler replied: ” ‘Tahar, why are you so negative?’ So, protecting human rights is negative?”

The relocation has stumbled primarily over conditions at Camp Liberty.

After weeks of stalemate, the MeK leadership, which is based in Paris, announced Saturday that it was ready to move another 400 residents from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty as a “goodwill gesture.”

U.S. and U.N. officials who have visited Camp Liberty say conditions there meet international humanitarian standards.

“The U.N. has insisted that Camp [Liberty] meets basic humanitarian standards as a precondition to the transfer of the residents and its involvement in the process,” Mr. Kotler said. “The camp does meet these standards and is ready and equipped to receive the remaining residents of Camp Ashraf.

“There has been continuous progress in the work to further improve the living conditions” at Camp Liberty, he added.

A State Department official, who spoke on background, said officials from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad make weekly visits to Camp Liberty.

“We are aware of the MeK claims considering the conditions at Camp [Liberty]; however, while there are some ongoing issues, the residents’ basic humanitarian needs are met,” the official said.

The ongoing issues include setting up a water treatment facility and the transfer of residents’ personal belongings to Camp Liberty.

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About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.


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