By Ashish Kumar Sen
A senior U.S. official Wednesday warned Iraq against using violence to evict unarmed Iranian dissidents from a camp north of Baghdad by the end of the month, as a top member of Congress accused the State Department of moving at a snail's pace to prevent what he called a possible massacre of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
"There is no doubt that the situation is serious. We are worried about the possibility of violence, and we are working flat out to ward it off," Daniel Fried, special adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Camp Ashraf, said at a House subcommittee hearing.
The Iraqi government has set a Dec. 31 deadline to close Camp Ashraf, home to about 3,400 members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK).
The State Department, which listed the MEK as a terrorist organization in 1997, is reviewing this designation after a July 2010 order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs oversight and investigations subcommittee, snapped at Mr. Fried after he said the State Department is working at an "intense pace" to persuade the Iraqi government to extend the deadline.
"Maybe it's an intense pace for a snail," the California Republican said.
Mr. Fried told lawmakers the Iraqi government regards its decision to close the camp as a legitimate exercise of its sovereignty.
"Yet the exercise of a sovereign right does not obviate the need for care and restraint," he said. "We expect the Iraqi government to refrain from the use of violence."
"At the same time, the camp leadership must respect Iraqi sovereignty and refrain from acts of provocation, as we seek to resolve this matter," he added.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers called on the Iraqi government to extend its deadline to close Camp Ashraf and on the Obama administration to take the MEK off the terrorist list.
Mr. Rohrabacher warned of the consequences of not preventing what he said was the imminent massacre of the camp's residents by Iraqi forces.
"Why are we, the United States, being an accomplice to this crime? If they are deported or subjected to another massacre, the blood in the sand will also stain the Gucci shoes of the U.S. State Department," he said.
The MEK, also known as the Peoples Mojahedin Organization of Iran, was responsible for terrorist attacks in Iran in the 1970s that killed several U.S. military personnel and civilians, according to the State Department.
Camp Ashraf's residents surrendered their weapons in 2003 as part of a cease-fire agreement with U.S. forces.
In June 2009, the United States turned over control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government, which gave written assurances that it would treat the residents humanely.
However, Iraqi forces have attacked the camp several times, most recently on April 8, when the security forces killed 36 residents, including eight women.
The residents of Camp Ashraf fear that they will be arrested and executed if they are sent to Iran.