Iraq's foreign minister says a military raid that the UN says killed 34 people was aimed at taking back land from the control of Iranian exiles, but he admits that Iraq no longer wants them in the country.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told RFE/RL on April 18 that the camp, which is run by members of Iran's banned Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (aka People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran) -- which seeks to overthrow Iran's clerical leaders -- is prohibited by the Iraqi Constitution.
Some 3,500 Iranians currently live at the camp and Zebari said the April 8 raid by Iraqi military forces was necessary because the camp's presence in Iraq was "unacceptable."
Entrance gate of Camp Ashraf
"This was a military operation intended to take control of part of the territory [under the Mujahedin-e Khalq's control]. The Ashraf camp is not a small camp, it is 50 [square] kilometers large, and the Iraqi military extended its authority over about 20 kilometers of the camp," Zebari said.
"No country in the world will tolerate any organization to undermine its sovereignty to defy its authority and to act as if [they are] liberated territories or a state within a state."
Zebari called the deaths "unfortunate" but denied that the aim of the raid was to send camp members back to Iran. He said Iraq has asked for help from European governments to help resettle camp inhabitants "wherever" -- just not in Iraq.
Resolving Kirkuk Dispute
Zebari also said that the fate of the disputed northern city of Kirkuk, where as much as 25 percent of Iraq's oil reserves might be located, could be decided soon.
Three ethnic groups -- Arabs, Kurds, and Turkomans -- dispute who should control the divided city. Baghdad and the Kurdish regional government are negotiating over Kirkuk's vast oil resources, which could be enough to give Kurdistan the ability to make a move for autonomy.
Zebari said the issue is "a constitutional matter," and there are "procedures to address [and] resolve these issues."
He notes that the current government "was voted into power" to implement Article 140 of the constitution, which calls for the "normalization of the situation in Kirkuk and other disputed territories. So it's an obligation on this government [to solve it.]"
Zebari also addressed the spreading uprisings across the Arab world, where pro-democracy protesters have already ousted the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia and are agitating for change in Bahrain, Syria, and Yemen.
He said Iraq could serve as a model of sorts for people who want their voices heard and their governments to follow the path of democracy.
"I think what the people of these Arab countries are calling for [is] basic rights, basic democratic rights, basic freedoms, representative government, elections, and being part of decision making. And Iraq has done this the hard way, through a difficult and arduous road to building democracy. It hasn't been easy with the foreign occupation, with sectarian war, with terrorism, with regional interventions but Iraq has passed the test."
In the streets of Sanaa, Damascus, and Cairo, he said, Iraq is admired.
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