WASHINGTON — Lawmakers in Washington accused US and Iraqi leaders Wednesday of perpetuating appalling conditions for Iranian exiles housed near Baghdad, with one Republican comparing the facilities to Auschwitz.
The outrage over the conditions came as the US State Department expressed concern over Iraq’s threatened forced closure of Camp Ashraf, where 1,200 members of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) remain despite a UN-brokered accord to leave as a first step toward resettlement.
The Iraqi government has been locked in a bitter dispute with the MEK over plans to relocate them to Camp Liberty, a former US military base, and 1,900 people have already moved there.
But the rest have refused to move, and none have transferred since May, under steps toward all the exiles eventually being expelled from Iraq.
Several House members spoke at a session highlighting poor conditions at the camps, including Republican Dana Rohrabacher who decried the situation as “disgraceful.”
He cited deadly violence at Camp Ashraf, 80 kilometers (50 miles) northeast of Baghdad, which was set up in the 1980s, and horrific conditions at the newer Liberty facility, near the Iraqi capital’s airport.
“Doesn’t that look like Auschwitz?” Rohrabacher said, pointing to a large photograph depicting rows of white structures at Liberty.
“This looks like a concentration camp. We have sent people to a concentration camp.”
He also accused President Barack Obama’s administration of “betraying” the people in the camps by not working harder to resolve the dispute or the MEK’s status.
The group has been on the US terror blacklist since 1997, but says it has renounced violence and has asked Washington to remove it from the list — dozens of lawmakers signed a July 26 letter urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to do so.
The US government said the exiles must leave Ashraf if their group is to be removed from the list. The State Department in a statement urged “continued dialogue be pursued in place of forcible measures.”
Republican Dan Lungren expressed concern about the “abhorrent behavior” of the Iraqi government which he accused of mistreating the exiles.
“I’d like to see the United States take MEK off the terrorist list, and I’d like the people that are involved in the two camps to be treated humanely,” he told AFP.
Democrat Judy Chu called the camp conditions “outrageous” and said she was writing Clinton to urge her to help improve access to clean water and other basic necessities.
The MEK was founded in the 1960s to oppose the US-backed Shah of Iran, but took up arms against the country’s new clerical rulers after the Islamic revolution of 1979.