A U.N. envoy on Thursday offered to broker the peaceful closing of a camp for Iranian exiles in Iraq where residents and U.S. lawmakers say an Iraqi military crackdown may be imminent.
An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who calls the residents of Camp Ashraf “terrorists,” said Iraq’s Cabinet will consider extending its deadline for closing the compound beyond Dec. 31.
U.N. envoy Martin Kobler offered to mediate between camp residents and Mr. Maliki’s government at a news conference in Baghdad.
“There [are] a number of problems that still have to be solved. This needs time, this needs space,” he said.
“The situation, as it is, is not satisfactory, neither to Camp Ashraf residents nor to the government nor to the international community.”
He said he would seek to start talks after the weeklong Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, which begins Sunday.
Camp Ashraf is inhabited by 3,400 members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, an Iranian opposition group that the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997.
The camp, located north of Baghdad, has become a major irritant for the Maliki government, which is trying to improve relations with neighboring Iran. Supporters of the Mujahedeen dispute the terrorist label and accused Mr. Maliki of caving to pressure from Iran.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said that the Iraqi deadline leaves too little time for the United Nations to process requests for refugee status from the camp’s residents, who fear they will be persecuted if they stay on in Iraq and executed if they are deported to Iran.
Late Monday night, Iraqi troops and police entered the camp with sirens blaring in what residents said was an attempt to intimidate them.
On April 8, the Iraqi army attacked the camp killing 36 residents, including eight women. More than 300 others were wounded.
In recent conversations with their Iraqi counterparts, U.S. officials have expressed concern for the safety of the camp’s residents.
The U.S. turned over control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government in June of 2009. At the time, the Iraqi government had provided the United States with written assurances that it would treat Camp Ashraf residents humanely, in accordance with Iraqi laws and its international obligations.
“In addition, the government of Iraq stated that it would not transfer residents of Ashraf to a country where they might have reason to fear persecution for their religious or political beliefs or where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be tortured,” said Noel Clay, a State Department spokesman in Washington.
“We continue to urge the government of Iraq, at the very highest levels, to honor its commitments to treat the residents of Ashraf humanely.”
On Wednesday, nearly three dozen members of Congress sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to prevent a fresh wave of violence at Camp Ashraf.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.