A poster of MEK leader Maryam Rajavi and her husband Masoud Rajavi at Ashraf Camp north of Baghdad. AFP file photo
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region—The last 280 members of the dissident Iranian group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) departed their Iraq camp on Friday and were relocated to Albania, the group said in a statement.
Also known as People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), the MEK was temporarily based at Camp Liberty near Baghdad’s international airport under the supervision of the Iraqi security forces since 2012.
MEK leaders took Iraq as their base of operations during the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s after they fell out with the clerical rulers of Iran following the 1979 revolution.
The transfer process from Camp Liberty was supposed to take “few weeks or few months”, the group said, but because of Iran’s “plots and threats” and its “mercenaries” it lasted over four years and a half.
Iran’s ambassador to Iraq said last month that the last batch of the MEK members would be leaving Iraq in less than two months, adding that the delay had been due to pressure from the US and its allies.
The MEK camps in Iraq came under attack immediately after the US invasion and the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Its leaders long accused Iran of organizing the attacks through local militia groups.
The Iranian state-run Press TV said the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) had confirmed the transfer of the camp’s residents from Iraq to a third country.
US republican senator John McCain who is seen as an MEK supporter welcomed the development, saying it was a delivery on a commitment made by the United States in 2003 “to protect thousands of members…. [of the] organization”.
McCain added that “Given the history of the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on these residents” the group should receive international protection under the 1951 Geneva Convention.
The temporary Camp Liberty also came under repeated mortar attacks since 2012, which led to the death and injury of dozens of MEK members.
In one incident a Shiite militia thought to be close to Iran claimed responsibility.
Iran considers the group a terrorist organization and blames it for thousands of deaths since the group took arms against Tehran including the bombing of a gathering of Islamic Revolutionary leaders in 1981 that killed 75 people, among them Ayatollah Beheshti, the second-in-command to Ayatollah Khomeini.
The group was also treated as a terrorist organization by the US until it was removed from the list by the State Department in 2012.
The MEK has established a self-styled parliament in exile under the umbrella of National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of five groups dominated by the MEK.
The Paris-based MEK leader Maryam Rajavi is the group’s president-elect for a transitional period with a “mandate to oversee the peaceful transfer of power to the Iranian people following the regime's overthrow.” It aims to establish a “secular democratic republic in Iran”.