Diplomats get rare view into Iraq’s Camp Liberty

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BAGHDAD — Iraq offered foreign diplomats a rare glimpse Tuesday of a camp that is the new temporary home of an Iranian exile opposition group that has had a long-running feud with Baghdad, winning from the envoys cautious praise of the conditions there.

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK) opposed the move to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. base on the outskirts of Baghdad, from another camp in Iraq. They say it is an intolerable prison. Iraq says it is up to international standards.

The back-and-forth bickering feeds into a wider, decade-long dispute between the MeK and Iraq over the fate of the former guerrilla movement.

Iraq considers members of the MeK to be terrorists and wants them to leave the country. The MeK, also called the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, wants to move back to its old home at Camp Ashraf, northeast of the capital.

Foreign diplomats who visited the dusty complex of former U.S. housing containers described the conditions as acceptable. Some said the conditions there looked good compared to those in other refugee camps.

Women inside the Liberty refugee camp on the outskirts of Baghdad watch as foreign diplomats tour the facilities. The diplomats found the conditions better than what most refugees endure. (Associated Press)

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Women inside the Liberty refugee camp on the outskirts of Baghdad watch ... more >

“I wouldn’t choose to live here, but when we talk about refugees and what their living conditions are all over the world, this should be considered exceptional,” said Ramon Molina, the Spanish Embassy’s deputy chief of mission.

“It is not very good, but it is not bad also, said Pakistani diplomat Saif Khwaja. “The people who are living here are not from Iraq, and the Iraqi government is bearing the burden of these people.”

The MeK dissidents complain that they are not allowed to leave and they live without reliable electricity, air conditioning or water supplies.

“This is not a place to live in. This is not a camp. This is only a prison,” said Liberty resident Homa Roboby, 28. “They are trying to make a life here that is intolerable.”

The MeK opposes Tehran’s clerical regime, and several thousand of its members were given sanctuary in Iraq by dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, which is bolstering its ties with Iran, says MeK members are living in Iraq illegally.

The group also is designated as a terrorist group by the U.S., but Washington is weighing whether to take it off the list — a decision that is expected to be made in upcoming weeks.

Camp Liberty was designed as a compromise way station for the U.N. to speed the exiles out of Iraq peacefully. Iraqi security forces have launched two deadly raids since 2009 on the MeK’s longtime home at Camp Ashraf, an inclusive minicity the exiles never wanted to leave.

At Liberty, the exiles live in cramped portable housing units left behind by the U.S. military, which occupied the base until it withdrew its troops from Iraq in December.

They receive medical attention in a former first-aid station. And they eat in a former U.S. dining hall complete with flat-screen TVs that looks very much as the military left it — with the addition of fresh flowers on tables.

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