February 22, 2018

Vigil over Iran shifts from UN to the White House

By JOHN HEILPRIN – Nov 17, 2008
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Iranian demonstrators ended a 65-day vigil outside U.N. headquarters Monday and headed to Washington to seek assurances the United States will continue protecting a disarmed militia in Iraq that opposes Iran’s government. Across from the U.N., demonstrators held signs, chanted and made speeches until Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern about the Iranian dissidents living at Camp Ashraf northeast of Baghdad, which the Americans may hand over to the Iraqis. Now, they are converging on a park across from the White House. “It’s now time to focus on the U.S.,” said Nasser Rashidi, head of the National Coalition of Pro-Democracy Advocates, a Virginia-based Iranian-American human rights group. For more than two decades the camp has housed members of the Mujahedeen Khalq, also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, thrown out of Iran in the 1980s. They became allied with Saddam Hussein’s regime, which helped fund the group’s attacks against the Iranian regime.

Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Americans disarmed several thousand of the group’s members and promised to protect them at Ashraf. The U.S. and European Union list it as a terrorist group, though some of its members have provided intelligence on Iran and its nuclear program.

“They cannot express their voice about anything,” said Moslem Filabi, a former wrestler on the Iranian national team. He said it was his duty to speak for others as a declared national hero, having represented Iran at three Olympics before leaving Iran in 1982. Neither U.S. nor Iranian officials provided any immediate comment Monday. But earlier this year some members of U.S. Congress wrote U.S. military leaders to urge continued protection for Camp Ashraf. Last week, Ban told the Security Council, the U.N.’s most powerful body, that the U.N. political mission in Iraq is closely monitoring the camp.

Its residents are protected by the U.S.-led multinational force, and since July 2004 the U.S. has recognized the camp’s residents as “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions. But Iraq’s government wants to take “full control of the camp in the near future,” Ban said. Because of that, he said, the U.N. wrote Iraq to ensure it will “protect Ashraf residents from forcible deportation, expulsion or repatriation.”

Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Hamid al-Bayati said Iraq’s government wants Camp Ashraf cleared out but won’t force the refugees to return to Iran. “We will allow those would like to go voluntarily back to Iran to go back, but we would like others to go to other countries,” al-Bayati said. “But we don’t want to keep Mujahedeen Khalq in Iraq.”