WASHINGTON (AP) - Fighters from the main Iranian armed opposition group, who are under U.S. military guard in Iraq, have been granted protected status as noncombatants, the State Department said Monday.
Spokesman Adam Ereli said the 3,800 People's Mujahedeen fighters must remain in Camp Ashraf, near Baqubah 45 miles northeast of Baghdad, so they ''cannot pose a threat to individuals inside or outside Iraq.''
The United States is talking with Iraq and international organizations about sending the fighters back to Iran on a voluntary basis, Ereli said.
For years, during former President Saddam Hussein's tenure, the People's Mujahadeen carried out cross-border raids into Iran. Several thousand were disarmed by U.S. forces after Saddam's overthrow last year by American-led invaders. The mujahadeen were captured and restricted to Camp Ashraf during the invasion.
The granting of protection under the Geneva Conventions means they are no longer considered belligerents in the war between the U.S.-led coalition and Iraq or the anti-U.S. insurgency that has followed it, Ereli said.
But the People's Mujahedeen, which opposes Iran's government, remains on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, the U.S. official said.
Also, Ereli said, investigators are trying to determine whether any of the fighters have engaged in terror.
Still, he said, speaking of the mujahedeen in Iraq, ''We have determined that they were not belligerents in this conflict, and we are according them the human rights protections consistent with the Geneva Conventions.''