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    Iraq allows Mojahedin to stay a wee bit longer

    and boot all members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq out.

    Instead, Iraq said it will shut Camp Ashraf sometime in January and insisted that all its residents must leave the country by April. It promised not to deport anyone to Iran.

    It isn’t clear, however, that the new timetable is workable.  No one has yet agreed publicly to accept any of the 3,400 Mojahedin at Camp Ashraf, although Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, is trying to get each of the 27 EU members states to agree to take some of them.

    Furthermore, it also is not yet clear whether the Mojahedin will agree to the move and cooperate with the UN in processing its members to be scattered around the world.

    A spokeswoman for the exiles responded positively to elements of the Iraqi plan but insisted that the US and UN guarantee their safety by providing troops. There are no more US troops in Iraq and the chances that any will return to guard the Mojahedin approach zero.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said US embassy staff from Baghdad would visit the new site “regularly and frequently,” but offered no round-the-clock protection.

    Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made the announcement of the extension only days after saying closure of the camp on December 31 was “irreversible.”  He said of the Mojahedin last Wednesday:  “We don’t want to hand them over to Iran. We don’t want to kill them. We don’t want to oppress them. And we don’t want to starve them. But their presence in Iraq is illegal and illegitimate.”

    The Iraqi government had vowed to shut the camp completely by the end of December. That raised concerns that forcibly removing them would result in violence, and the United Nations has been trying to broker a deal.

    Iraqi spokesman Ali ad-Dabbagh said the government had worked out a plan to move up to 800 of the residents to an old American base near Baghdad Airport by the end of December. That facility was called Camp Liberty by the Americans.

    Ad-Dabbagh said the rest of the residents would be relocated as soon as possible in January. Once they have all moved, Camp Ashraf would be closed. He said all the camp’s residents would then be relocated outside of Iraq by no later than April.

    The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) wants to interview each member of the group individually—and outside the presence of the Mojahedin leadership—at Camp Liberty.  Camp Liberty is to be run by the UN and Iraqi government, not by the Mojahedin-e Khalq as at Camp Ashraf.  It isn’t clear the organization will agree to that either.

    Ad-Dabbagh said the plan calls for camp residents who are citizens of countries other than Iran to move to those countries. But most of the residents have only Iranian citizenship, so homes in other countries would have to be found for them as refugees. He repeated what Iraqi officials have said dozens of times—that no one will be forcibly sent back to Iran.  A forcible would clearly violate international law.

    Little is known about what goes on inside Camp Ashraf. The Iraqi government generally does not allow journalists to visit.  And the camp managers have kept the Iraqi government at bay, running the camp on their own while surrounded by Iraqi soldiers.

    The road to Camp Ashraf is heavily guarded with signs warning people against taking photographs. The Iraqi Army keeps people from getting too close, and all that’s readily visible of the camp are towers from which Iraqi troops monitor the inhabitants.

    The residents complain that they don’t get proper medical treatment or enough fuel in the winter. They have spoken of a blockade, with food deliveries blocked.  And they accuse the Iraqi government of harassing them through hundreds of loudspeakers stationed around the camp, blaring insults and threats around the clock.

    Iraqi guards outside Camp Ashraf say it is the residents, not the Iraqi troops, who hurl insults with loudspeakers. They also contend that the residents regularly attack the soldiers with stones. The guards say the residents have regular access to medical care, and that the only items withheld are possible poisons and explosives.

    The State Department was asked about all the reports of Iraqi mistreatment of Camp Ashraf.  Last Friday, it issued a statement describing  what it knows:

    “Embassy personnel and other international organizations who have visited Ashraf in recent days have not seen evidence of a blockade.  Our understanding is that over the past few months, there has been tension regarding fuel and other deliveries as the government of Iraq has begun to monitor and inspect deliveries more closely as the end of the year approaches.  We are not aware of any reports on limiting food or water.  Fuel deliveries have been more of a concern, and we look to the government of Iraq to deal with this issue in a responsible manner.”

    Adding to the story of Camp Ashraf, some rockets were fired into it Sunday evening.  Iran’s Fars new agency said that was a false report and quoted an Iraqi official as denying there had been any attack.  But an Iraqi Army colonel told Western news agencies at least two rockers had struck the camp.  He said he knew nothing about any casualties because his men could not enter the camp.  A Mojahedin statement said four rockets had landed inside the camp.

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