Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Iraqi Government Steps Up Campaign to Isolate MEK

McClatchy News
June 17, 2008

... Separately Tuesday, the Iraqi government stepped up its campaign to isolate and eventually deport members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian militant group based north of Baghdad whose chief agenda is to overthrow the Shiite Muslim theocracy in neighboring Iran.

The MEK, as the group is commonly known, will no longer be able to meet with Iraqi officials, foreign visitors or journalists at their camp near the Iraqi city of Khalis if U.S. and Iraqi authorities enforce an Iraqi government order issued Tuesday. The controversial order, which labels the MEK a terrorist organization, also calls for U.S. troops to cede authority of the group's Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi military.

MEK members follow a blend of Marxist and Islamist ideologies, are blamed for a string of deadly attacks inside Iran and once enjoyed the protection of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who waged a bloody, eight-year war with Iran. The ouster of Saddam and the rise of pro-Iranian Shiite leaders have left MEK members in a precarious situation: they are no longer safe in Iraq, they fear persecution and torture if they return to Iran..

The International Committee of the Red Cross categorizes MEK members in Iraq as "protected persons," and has told the Iraqi government that members are not to be "deported, expelled or repatriated" by force. For now, Camp Ashraf is protected by U.S. forces.

The State Department lists the group as a terrorist organization, though some members of Congress and several European lawmakers have championed the group as a valuable partner in efforts to curb Iran's growing influence in the region.

In the past, Iran has made amnesty offers in which MEK members living in Iraq could return to Tehran with the promise that they would not face persecution. Few members accepted the deal and hundreds still remain in Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad.

An MEK spokesman, reached by telephone at Camp Ashraf, dismissed the order as unenforceable under international law.