TEHRAN Iran and Iraq have signed an extradition agreement, the latest step in warming relations between the former warring neighbours, but Baghdad denied it would be used to repatriate exiled militants to Iran.
The accord, signed by justice ministers of both countries in Tehran late on Sunday, followed a raid by Iraqi forces on April 8 on Camp Ashraf, home of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which wants to overthrow the Iranian government.
Iranian media speculated that the agreement would allow for PMOI members to be extradited back to their homeland where they are considered terrorists.
But Iraqi Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim said the deal would not affect Ashraf residents.
"No. They are not detainees or prisoners. This agreement is to trade criminals between the two countries," he said.
"It is a judicial cooperation agreement. The other (Ashraf) is a case of refugees, while this agreement concerns criminals."
Iraq, Iran and the United States consider the PMOI, also known as the Mujahideen Khalq Organisation (MKO), terrorists though the European Union removed the group from its terrorism blacklist in 2009.
The group mounted attacks on Iran from Iraq before Saddam's 2003 downfall. In the 1970s, it led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran, including attacks on U.S. targets.
Saddam gave it refuge in Iraq in the 1980s and some of its fighters joined him in the 1980-1988 war against Iran. The group surrendered its weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam.
The camp's fate has been in question since the U.S. military turned it over to Baghdad in 2009 under a bilateral security agreement. Baghdad has said Ashraf residents would be given until year-end to leave the country.
(Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim in Baghdad; reporting by Hossein Jaseb; writing by Robin Pomeroy; editing by Tim Pearce)