The United Nations has signed an agreement with the Iraqi government to move a group of Iranian exiles who have been living for years in a camp in northeastern Iraq.
Camp Ashraf has been home to around 3,400 Iranians who are hostile to the Iranian government. Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein allowed the rebel Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (aka People's Mujahedin) to set up the camp during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
In a December 25 statement, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq said the agreement establishes a process under which Iraq will move the residents to a temporary, unnamed location.
It said the UN's refugee agency will work with the exiles at that location to determine their refugee status, with the aim of eventually resettling them outside Iraq.
The statement described the agreement as seeking a "humanitarian and peaceful resolution of the situation," and said Iraq's government was committed to ensuring "the safety and security of the residents" at the new temporary location.
At least 30 people were reported killed in a raid on the camp by Iraqi security forces in April.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently agreed to extend into next year a deadline for the camp to close. The Iraqi government had earlier set a deadline of the end of this year.
U.S. forces turned the camp over to Iraqi security control in 2009, and the Iraqi government has repeatedly said it does not want the Iranian exile group on its territory.
The United States has welcomed the new agreement, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling it an "important step toward a humane resolution to the ongoing situation.”
The statement said Washington was "encouraged by the Iraqi government's willingness to commit to this plan," and said the U.S. expects Iraq to fulfill all its responsibilities in the pact, especially the parts calling for the safety and security of the camp's residents.
Clinton added that officials of the U.S. Embassy in Iraq would visit the new relocation site for the Iranians "regularly and frequently" to check on the progress of the initiative.
compiled from agency reports