- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2012

Iranian dissidents at a camp north of Baghdad allege that the Iraqi government is preparing a “concentration camp” to which they are to be relocated under a United Nations-brokered plan.  

Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad International Airport, has been picked as a temporary home for more than 3,000 Camp Ashraf residents - former Iranian resistance fighters sheltered in Iraq since 1986.

But the camp has been reduced to a fraction of its original size and is surrounded by tall concrete walls and is monitored by surveillance cameras and police - all violations of the U.N. deal with the Iraqi government, said Shahriar Kia, a Camp Ashraf spokesman.

“This is clearly not only a concentration camp, but a prison,” he said in a telephone interview.

Radhia Achouri, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, told The Washington Times that Camp Liberty fails to meet U.N. standards.

“The government of Iraq is yet to complete the preparation of Camp Liberty in accordance with the international humanitarian criteria specified in the [U.N. agreement],” she said in an emailed response to questions from The Times.

Ms. Achouri said Camp Ashraf residents will move to Camp Liberty only after “the U.N. is satisfied, upon verification of the camp, that these humanitarian criteria are met.”

The Iraqi government had set a Dec. 31 deadline to close Camp Ashraf. Last month, it agreed to extend the deadline to the end of April, by which time it wants all Camp Ashraf residents to leave Iraq.

In December, Martin Kobler, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for Iraq, struck the deal with the Iraqi government to move Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty. The leadership of the resistance movement, known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), agreed to relocate 400 residents as a goodwill gesture.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accuses the MEK of being a terrorist group and wants to close the camp. The U.S. State Department designated the MEK as a terrorist organization in 1997, but American forces disarmed the resistance in 2003 after invading Iraq to topple dictator Saddam Hussein.

In the past couple of weeks, the Iranian exiles have reported rocket attacks on Camp Ashraf. The Iraqi government also has announced arrest warrants for 126 residents.

Mr. al-Maliki’s critics, including Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, accuse the prime minister of acting at the behest of the Shiite regime in Iran, which has pursued the resistance for decades.

“It was purely an Iranian decision to transfer [the Iranian exiles] from Camp Ashraf,” Mr. Mutlaq said in a phone interview.

“There is no reason to transport them to another location inside Iraq when we are looking to move them to other countries. It doesn’t make sense. We feel ashamed that they are suffering in our country,” he added.

Iraqi government spokesmen did not answer their phones or respond to emailed requests for comment from The Washington Times.

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