- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2012

Four hundred Iranian dissidents on Friday started relocating from Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, to a temporary home near the Iraqi capital’s international airport that they have compared to a concentration camp.

The Iranian exiles are members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which was designated a terror group by the State Department in 1997.

The Iranians have not been allowed to carry photographs of MeK leaders or some personal belongings, including special furniture and medical equipment, said Behzad Saffari, part of the group that is being moved to Camp Liberty.

“[The Iraqi authorities] are creating problems. The process has been painfully slow,” Mr. Saffari said in a phone interview Friday. “We are expecting things to be much worse.”

Iraqi authorities had taken more than four hours to process about 100 Iranians, according to Camp Ashraf residents.

A U.N.-brokered deal to extend a deadline and move Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty potentially avoided what the exiles and their supporters feared would be a massacre by Iraqi security forces.

The Iraqi government has set an April 30 deadline to close Camp Ashraf.

U.N. officials are monitoring the move.

“The residents do not have much trust in UNAMI,” said Mr. Saffari, referring to the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq.

A spokeswoman for Martin Kobler, a special representative of the U.N. secretary-general, said the Iraqi government bears the “primary responsibility for the security and the welfare of the residents of Camp Ashraf.”

“At the same time, the residents of Camp Ashraf also bear a responsibility to abide by the laws of Iraq,” said Radhia Achouri, the U.N. spokesperson.

On Jan. 31, U.N. officials certified that conditions at Camp Liberty meet international standards.

However, Camp Ashraf residents have said that conditions at Camp Liberty are similar to those at a prison.

“Ashraf was a city under siege, but Liberty is an actual prison,” said Mr. Saffari.

None of Camp Ashraf’s residents have visited Camp Liberty, but said they based their allegations on information for sources in Iran.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said U.S. officials will “regularly and frequently” visit Camp Liberty to monitor conditions.

• Ashish Kumar Sen can be reached at asen@washingtontimes.com.

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