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Obama's dilemma in Iraq's Camp Ashraf

The US isn't supposed to intervene. But unless it does, Iranian exiles there face retribution from a brutal regime.

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The Obama administration is facing a difficult foreign-policy and humanitarian challenge that could have serious implications for its relationship with Iran.

It concerns 36 Iranian dissidents, promised protection by the United States, held captive in Iraq by Iraqi soldiers. Without American intercession, they may be returned to Iran, where they face dire retribution from a regime that has shown how brutal it can be to those who defy it.

The decision the US must face is whether to detach itself from the disposition of the dissidents, risking criticism on humanitarian grounds, or to intervene, irritating the sovereign government of Iraq, and infuriating Iran.

The 36 exiles are part of a force of more than 3,400 members of the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) who once mounted military operations against the Tehran regime from sanctuary in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. During the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the US military surrounded the PMOI's Camp Ashraf, some 60 miles north of Baghdad. The PMOI surrendered their weapons and the Americans pledged protection of the camp and its inhabitants. The Mujahideen have been credited with supplying US authorities accurate information about clandestine Iranian nuclear facilities, and other intelligence.

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