Lawmakers probe State Department over Iranian dissidents

The Washington Times – By Ashish Kumar Sen – May 17, 2012

Lawmakers have pressed a top State Department official on whether the Obama administration believes that a group of Iranian dissidents in an Iraqi camp has given up their weapons.

Daniel Fried, special adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Camp Ashraf, where the dissidents are based, said the Defense Department had determined the camp “was largely disarmed” when it was under U.S. control.

The U.S. turned over control of the camp to the Iraqi government in 2009.

Mr. Fried testified Wednesday before members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

He declined to provide a more detailed response, citing that the issue is part of an ongoing court case. A federal court has ordered the State Department to respond to the dissidents’ request to be removed from the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

About 2,000 of Camp Ashraf’s more than 3,000 residents, who belong to the dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), have been transferred to Camp Liberty near Baghdad’s international airport under a deal brokered by the United Nations.

They surrendered their weapons in 2003 as part of a cease-fire agreement with U.S. forces.

A Justice Department attorney told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week that the U.S. government has no way of knowing that MEK is no longer a terror group since its members have never allowed a thorough inspection of the 15-square-mile Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad.

“No pistols, no rifles, no bazookas, no BB gun, no slingshot has been found in Camp Ashraf,” said Rep. Ted Poe, Texas Republican. “Where are the weapons that they say exist?”

U.S. and Iraqi officials have searched Camp Ashraf for weapons and have found only bayonets inside the female camp members’ lockers, which they were allowed to keep, said retired Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, a former senior commanding officer at Camp Ashraf.

“We had a very focused effort to search everywhere. … During my time there, I believed there were no weapons,” Gen. Phillips told The Washington Times.

He said he couldn’t say with certainty that there are still no weapons at Camp Ashraf, but he added that it would have been very difficult for the group to get any since they were being guarded by Iraqi military and security officers.

Camp Ashraf residents have demanded that their camp be searched for weapons before any more of them move to Camp Liberty.

“I hope this does not reflect a considered opinion,” Mr. Fried told the lawmakers.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican and subcommittee chairman, said the demand is reasonable since the Iraqis or the Iranians could plant weapons in Camp Ashraf after they leave.

Mrs. Clinton will decide on taking MEK off the terrorist list within 60 days from the date that all its members have vacated Camp Ashraf, Mr. Fried said.

The MEK, also known as the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, was responsible for terror attacks in Iran in the 1970s that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians, according to the State Department.

Britain and the European Union took MEK off their terror lists in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

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