January 23, 2018

Rockets strike Iran dissident camp in Iraq


At least two rockets struck a camp in central Iraq housing Iranian dissidents Sunday evening, a senior army officer said, as Baghdad and the UN signed a pact aimed at resolving the residents’ status.

Sunday’s deal had been welcomed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and came after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said his government would extend a year-end deadline for the removal of the camp residents from Iraq.

“Two rockets landed on Camp Ashraf last night,” an Iraqi army colonel said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The casualties are unknown because we are forbidden from entering the camp.”

It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets.

The group which occupies Camp Ashraf, the People’s Mujahedeen, said in a statement that four rockets struck their base at 8:00 pm (1700 GMT) on Sunday evening, and accused groups loyal to Iran of being behind the attack.

Also on Sunday, Iraq and the UN signed a pact under which Baghdad will resettle members of the People’s Mujehedeen and provide security while the UN determines their refugee status.

The United Nations said in a statement that it and the government of Iraq had “signed today a memorandum of understanding for a humanitarian and peaceful resolution of the situation of the residents” of the camp.

It said Iraq will relocate them to a “transit location for a process of refugee status determination by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a necessary first step for their resettlement outside Iraq”.

Iraq had committed to “ensure the safety and security of the residents at the new location”, said the statement.

The agreement was signed by UN envoy Martin Kobler and Iraqi National Security Adviser Falah al-Fayadh.

It did not give the location to which the residents would be moved or provide a timeline, but Maliki has said the camp will now close in April, rather than at the end of this year.

Clinton in a statement said the deal marks an “important step toward a humane resolution to the ongoing situation at (Camp) Ashraf.”

She added that US embassy officials would visit the new site “regularly and frequently” in support of the UN plan.

Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein allowed the rebel People’s Mujahedeen to set up the camp during the war with Iran in the 1980s.

When Saddam was overthrown in the US-led invasion of 2003, the camp came under US military protection, but American forces handed over security responsibilities for the site to the Baghdad authorities in January 2009.

The camp, home to around 3,400 residents, has been back in the spotlight since a controversial April raid by Iraqi security forces left at least 34 people dead and scores injured.