Baghdad Blamed for Death of Former Camp Ashraf Resident

AP, BAGHDAD – An Iranian exile group representing residents of a refugee camp outside Baghdad alleged Monday that one of its members has died after Iraqi authorities prevented him from being hospitalized last month.

The allegation is the latest in a series of charges against the Iraqi government by the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran over what it sees as poor treatment at two refugee camps in Iraq.

Members of the NCRI’s Mujahedeen-e-Khalq militant wing, which until recently was labeled a foreign terror organization by Washington, began moving from their longtime home at Camp Ashraf in northeast Iraq to a new camp close to the Iraqi capital’s airport earlier this year.

The Baghdad-area camp, a former American military base known as Camp Liberty, is meant to be a temporary way station while the United Nations works to resettle the residents abroad. They are unlikely to return to Iran because of their opposition to the regime.

Behrooz Rahimian, the 56-year-old resident who died, was staying at Camp Liberty when he began complaining of chest pains on Nov. 25, according to a statement by NCRI spokesman Shahin Gobadi. He was taken to a Baghdad hospital, but Iraqi authorities intimidated doctors there, and he was soon taken back to Camp Liberty after being given medicine, the group alleges.

Rahimian died of cardiac arrest on Sunday, the NCRI said. The group blames his death on Iraqi officials’ refusal to keep him in the hospital, and it criticizes the United Nations mission to Iraq for not taking what it sees as sufficient steps to intervene.

Iraqi Human Rights Minister Mohammed Shiyaa al-Sudani told The Associated Press he would launch an investigation into the issue and “find out the problem if there is any.” He noted that there are monitors on site to ensure residents are receiving adequate treatment.

“Their claims are endless. We have two teams at Camp Liberty — one from the U.N. and another from my ministry — to offer them all the services they need according to the U.N.’s standards,” he said.

The U.N. is aware of Rahimian’s death, and its human rights monitors are trying to establish the facts in the case, Baghdad-based spokeswoman Anne Czichos said.

Iraq’s government is eager to have the MEK out of the country. The group, which is also called the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, opposes Iran’s clerical regime and carried out assassinations and bombings in Iran until renouncing violence in 2001.

Labeled by some as a cult, it fought in the 1980s alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war. Several thousand of its members were given sanctuary in Iraq by Saddam.

Iraq’s current Shiite-led government, which has close ties to Iran, considers the MEK a terrorist group and says its members are living in Iraq illegally. Iraqi security forces launched two deadly raids since 2009 on Camp Ashraf, a small city near the Iranian border that the exiles never wanted to leave.

The Obama administration took the MEK off the U.S. terrorism list in late September. Canada did the same last week.

By Adam Schreck – Associated Press