UNITED NATIONS -- The United Nations has appealed to Iraq to delay its planned December 31 closing of a controversial settlement of exiled Iranians inside its borders.
Camp Ashraf, which is located some 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, is the headquarters of the exiled Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, aka People's Mujahedin of Iran), an organization opposed to the current government in Tehran.
Speaking after a meeting of the Security Council, the UN's special envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler, said the deadline didn't provide enough time to find new homes for the more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents who live at the camp. He said he had asked the Iraqi government to "extend the deadline in order to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found."
"Nobody should be forced to do anything," Kobler said. "Nobody should be forced to return to their home country, but do it on a voluntary basis. And every solution we are going to find must have the agreement of Camp Ashraf residents."
Iraq's UN ambassador, Hamid al-Bayati, said the Iraqi government "doesn't want to force anybody to go back to Iran."
But he also suggested that Baghdad would not delay the camp's closure, telling Security Council members that the relocation decision "is going to be implemented by the end of the year."
The United States in 2009 turned the camp over to Baghdad, which considers its residents a security threat.
Washington and Tehran both consider the MKO a terrorist organization, despite its removal two years ago from the European Union's list of terror groups.
Kobler echoed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's most recent report on Iraq, which asked the international community to allow resettlement by the camp's residents, many of whom fear persecution if they return to Iran.
Amnesty International says camp residents have endured harassment by the Iraqi government and been denied access to medical help.