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Iranian opposition to be relocated in Iraq

Interim step before expulsion

By Kim Gamel
Associated Press / March 28, 2009
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BAGHDAD - Iraq plans to move members of an Iranian opposition group from a camp north of Baghdad to remote areas elsewhere in the country as it steps up efforts to rid itself of a major source of tension with Tehran, a top government official said yesterday.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has long sought to get rid of members of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States as well as Tehran.

Iraq's efforts have taken on new urgency as the US military has turned over responsibility for the camp's security to the Iraqis, raising concern about the residents' future.

National Security Adviser Mouwaffak al-Rubaie gave no time frame for the move and reiterated government promises not to deport or forcibly expel the exiles. But he warned that they must leave Iraq eventually.

"The residents should understand . . . that their days in Iraq are numbered and we are literally counting down," Al Rubaie told reporters at a news conference. "We will not use force . . . unless the residents use force against the Iraqi security forces."

But the Paris-based political arm of the mujahedeen denounced Iraq's plan and vowed that the camp's residents would never leave.

"It is setting the stage for a human catastrophe," the organization warned of Baghdad's plan, adding that any attempt to forcibly expel the camp's residents from Iraq or move them elsewhere in the country would constitute a violation of international conventions.

Hussein allowed the Iranian exiles to establish their base north of Baghdad in 1986 to launch raids into Iran. At the same time, many Iraqi Shi'ites fled to Shi'ite-dominated Iran. Some of them fought on the Iranian side against Iraq. But US troops disarmed the fighters and confined them to Camp Ashraf after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Al Rubaie said the group's removal was an important step in Iraq's efforts to improve relations with Iran.

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