Iranians seek U.S. help for dissidents in Iraq

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By Paul M. Krawzak

September 9, 2008

Iranian immigrants from San Diego County joined others from across the nation yesterday, taking to the streets of Washington, D.C., to warn
of a humanitarian catastrophe if the United States gives up protection of Iranian dissidents in Iraq.

San Diego residents such as Amir Emadi fear that a deal is in the works to transfer control of Camp Ashraf, a protected enclave near Baghdad,
from the U.S. military to the Iraqi government.

“If that were to happen, considering the presence of and influence of agents of the Iranian regime in Iraq, our loved ones will not see the light of
day,” he said.

Emadi, a legal U.S. resident who is studying at San Diego State University, has parents and other relatives living in the camp.

American troops have protected the site since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But now, U.S. officials are in discussion with the Iraqi government to
transfer security to the Iraqis.

Iraq’s leaders have threatened for more than a year to expel the dissidents, who said they face certain torture or execution if returned to Iran.

Efforts to seek comment from a representative of the Iranian government were unsuccessful.

The camp dates back to the 1980s, when the People’s Mujaheddin of Iran, or MEK, sought refuge under President Saddam Hussein in Iraq.
The organization, which seeks to overthrow the fundamentalist regime in Iran, has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States
since 1997.

But U.S. military officials said the group has provided valuable intelligence on Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and target American
troops in Iraq.

Residents of the camp voluntarily gave up their weapons to U.S. forces in 2003. The next year, the U.S. military declared the group “protected
persons” under the Geneva Conventions.

As demonstrators waved MEK flags, held up signs and marched yesterday, Homa Salehi pulled out her wallet.

Salehi, a floral designer in San Diego, showed a picture of a nephew who lives in Camp Ashraf.

“We are asking the United States to continue the protection of Ashraf,” she said.

Several congressmen have taken up the group’s cause, including Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego.

Last month, Filner warned Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, that transferring control of the camp to the Iraqi
government “would be an obvious breach of U.S. obligations under international law.”

He said if governance changed hands, residents of the camp “would become a target of Iranian-sponsored aggression, violence and slaughter.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, also has expressed concern.

Hunter “will encourage U.S. negotiators from the executive branch to address the status of those dissidents with their Iraqi counterparts,” his
spokesman said.

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