`Iraq signs death warrant on Iran exiles`

Camp Ashraf has been in the spotlight since an April raid by Iraqi security forces left 34 people dead.

Updated: Nov 19, 2011, 10:44 AM IST

Brussels: Iraq has served a virtual "death warrant" on some 3,400 Iranian dissidents exiled in a camp north of Baghdad, the head of the European Parliament`s delegation for relations with Iraq said on Friday.

MEP Struan Stevenson said the Iraqi embassy in Brussels had sent a letter to the European Parliament tantamount "to a virtual declaration of war on the UN and international community and a death warrant" for residents of the Ashraf camp.

Iraq wants a year-end closure of the camp but more than 100 parliamentarians along with rights groups have urged a postponement to give time to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others to screen and resettle residents.

The embassy note, obtained by a news agency, reiterates that "the Iraqi government is committed to its decision to close Camp Ashraf by the end of 2011".

It says the dissidents are "terrorists" and denies they have refugee status or can claim protection under the Geneva Convention.

Stevenson said the note "clearly opposes attempts by the UNHCR to interview the residents and provide them with refugee status”.

The camp, an accident of history that has become a thorny international problem, has been in the spotlight since an April raid by Iraqi security forces left 34 people dead and scores injured, triggering sharp condemnation.

It was set up when Iraq and Iran were at war in the 1980s by the People`s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and was later placed under US control until January 2009, when US forces transferred security for the camp to Iraq.

The PMOI has been on the US government terrorist list since 1997 -- though removed from the EU list -- but has received support from leading US figures in its battle to obtain international supervision of Camp Ashraf`s closure, timed to take place as US forces pull out of Iraq.

Stevenson said the Iraqi embassy letter was "a blatant effort to set the stage for the massacre of Ashraf residents, clearly at the behest of the Iranian regime”.

A letter co-signed by all of Parliament`s political groups, with the exception of the Greens, urged EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to step in to obtain a delay in the camp`s closure.

A foreign policy advisor for the Greens, Sabine Meyer, said the party was not involved as it perceived the PMOI as being a "sectarian" group that "manipulates and holds hostage" the camp`s residents.

"Iraq has the right to reclaim this camp which is on its territory," she said. "Some of the Mujahedeen leaders aided and abetted Saddam Hussein and should be judged for crimes against humanity."