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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In the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, some Pentagon officials saw the MEK as a potential weapon against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Repeated calls by Iraqi officials since 2004 to disband the camp have until now been ignored.Skip to next paragraph
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But with the complete withdrawal of US forces from Iraq this week, options for the MEK have narrowed.
"From their first day in Iraq, [the MEK] accepted to be a tool of the intelligence and security of the former regime, especially against Iran," Saeed Al-Jayashi, a representive of Iraq's former National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie, told the recent Baghdad meeting of Iraqi officials, tribal sheikhs, and Iranian families of those in Camp Ashraf.
"Any terrorist group that wants to stay in the country is not looking for safe haven, but a base for terrorist attacks," said Mr. Jayashi. "Western societies talk about human rights; I ask them to save these people from unfair separation from their families, and the strange life in this camp."
"How shall we talk to the Iraqi victims of this organization? We should stand in one line to deport them," he added. "Their choice is to go to Iran or choose another country; you can't stay in Iraq."
Several such meetings, and a string of anti-MEK protests in Baghdad and at the Ashraf gate, project the same message.
"No to an extension. Yes to deporting the terrorist group," reads one banner. Family members holding framed portraits wore bibs emblazoned on the back: "Free our children."
Between speeches, one man wearing Iraqi tribal dress stood up and shouted: "These criminals are not from us! We have no connection with them."
A male quartet took to the stage, with a song about MEK "hypocrites" causing thousands of deaths, who were "embracing each other over our bodies."
A declassified FBI report from 2004 similarly found – with data corroborated by French and German wiretaps – that MEK cells in the US, Europe, and Camp Ashraf were "actively ... planning and executing acts of terrorism."
The MEK denies those charges, and has enlisted dozens of top-ranking former US officials and four-star generals – many of them paid tens of thousands of dollars in speakers fees – to make its case to get off the US terror list, and for protection of those at Camp Ashraf. They say Ashraf's residents are anti-regime "freedom fighters."