US lawmakers meet with Iranian exiles in Paris



Paris: With its militant wing no longer a terror organization as far as the US government is concerned, an Iranian opposition group hosted a US House delegation for the first time and briefed the lawmakers on the fallout of a deadly rocket attack at a refugee camp in Iraq.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran, a France-based Iranian opposition group, gave a raucous welcome at a Paris hotel to the four representatives yesterday, with rhythmic clapping and chants of "Thank You!"

But the talks focused on a Feb 9 rocket attack at a refugee camp in Iraq that houses many of members of Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, the group's militant wing. Seven people died and dozens were wounded, the exile group said.

US Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, accused Iraq of breaking its promise to help protect the 3,100 refugees who now live on the former American military base known as Camp Liberty. He said he hopes the attack will help accelerate international efforts to resettle them abroad, while issuing a warning to the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"Put everybody on notice and I think I speak for our whole delegation. ... If there is another attack on these helpless refugees by the government, obviously cleared by the government of Iraq, we will move in the United States Congress and put forward a resolution not only just condemning the act but declaring Prime Minister Maliki and his government state sponsors of terrorism," Rohrabacher told reporters.

Iraq's Shiite-led, pro-Iranian government considers MEK a terrorist group and wants the international community to speed up the resettlement of the refugees elsewhere. NCRI officials say only a handful of refugees have been resettled.

The refugee camp is meant to be a temporary way station while the United Nations works to find host countries for the refugees. They are unlikely to return to Iran because of their opposition to the Islamic regime. Before being moved to the Baghdad area camp, members of the MEK lived in another camp, called Ashraf, in northeastern Iraq itself the hub of deadly violence in the past.

The MEK, which is also called the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, opposes Iran's clerical regime and has carried out assassinations and bombings in Iran. It fought in the 1980s alongside Saddam Hussein's forces in the Iran-Iraq war, and several thousand of its members were given sanctuary in Iraq by Saddam. The group renounced violence in 2001 and the Obama administration took the MEK off the US terrorism list in September.

PTI