With deadline looming to close MEK's Camp Ashraf in Iraq, what next?
Camp Ashraf, home to militants opposed to the Iran regime who are also unpopular in Iraq, faces year-end closure. Some fear there could be violence and even suicide, but there are signs of a negotiated settlement.
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American officials have expressed fears that the leadership of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK/MKO) – which US government reports frequently describe as a cult – may order the massacre of their followers, rather than permit the peaceful disbandment of Camp Ashraf, which would deprive the MEK of one of its most powerful assets.
But Maryam Rajavi, the MEK's self-styled "president elect" of Iran, said today the group accepted "in principle" a UN plan – if there were "minimum" US and Western guarantees of safety – to relocate members to a former US base near Baghdad airport for individual processing and possible resettlement as refugees.
In Iran, the MEK are widely despised as traitors for fighting alongside Iraqi forces in the Iran-Iraq War. In Iraq, few also have sympathy for the group, which Mr. Hussein deployed to help crush a popular Kurdish uprising in 1991.
"How shall we accept the killers of our sons?" asked Adnan al-Shamani, a Shiite lawmaker speaking at a recent government-sponsored conference in Baghdad to protest the MEK presence.
The decision to close the camp was "supported by the majority of parliament and the majority of the Iraqi people," said Mr. Shamani. "No one has the right to impose their will on Iraqi land, except Iraqis."
A negotiated solution?
United Nations and US officials appear to have made some progress in talks with Mrs. Rajavi, who is based in Paris.
Her husband and MEK leader Massoud Rajavi went into hiding in 2003, though several former Ashraf residents claim to have seen him at the camp as recently as 2007, and that he continued to address them by video link until seven months ago.
"After much regrettable stalling, the MEK finally seems ready to engage seriously," a US official told the Inter-Press Service, a news agency, in Washington. The MEK has backed off from "maximalist positions" in recent days, the official said, but "we're still hearing talk about martyrdom and dying."
The risks of violence are high, and come from both sides. Clashes erupted at Camp Ashraf in April, leaving 34 MEK members dead, when Iraqi forces took control of a portion of the sprawling site. The MEK has a long anti-American history, and as a revolutionary group killed at least six US military advisers in Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution.