CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq — The more than 3,000 people living here once represented a powerful paramilitary organization bent on overthrowing the government in Iran. In the 1970s, the group killed Americans in Tehran, and after being given refuge by Saddam Hussein its members were suspected of serving as a mercenary unit that took part in his violent suppression of the Kurds in the north of Iraq and the Shiites in the south.
Now they are unwelcome in Iraq but believe they should be given protection in the United States — even though their group, known as the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, remains on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.
“I suspect you don’t want to go to Guantánamo,” he added.
For the last three months, Mr. Butler, who is the foreign policy adviser to Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the top American military commander in Iraq, has been shuttling back and forth almost every week on the American embassy's behalf between Baghdad and Camp Ashraf, an outpost in Diyala Province near the Iranian border. Offering humor and bluntness, he has sought to cajole the exiles to leave their camp and avert what will almost certainly be another violent confrontation with the Iraqi security forces if they stay.
The group adheres to an ideology that is a mix of devout Shiism and Marxism, and in the initial phase of the war the Americans bombed the camp and killed several of its members before disarming the group, which had more than 2,000 tanks and armored personnel carriers. But the Americans later provided security for the camp as the Iraqi government, which is friendly with Iran, turned hostile to the group.
That solution has proved tricky, however, because the residents are refusing to leave, and no countries have come forward to welcome them. But the clock is ticking, and several times Mr. Butler has reminded members of the group that American forces will be leaving.
After a half-dozen such sessions, he has made little progress in getting the group to agree to leave the camp before Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s government follows through on its promise to shut it down by the end of the year.
Adding to his difficulties, the group has a formidable and well-financed communications machine. It has attracted political figures like Howard Dean and Wesley K. Clark
, the retired Army general, by paying them to make speeches in support of the group, fueling its resistance to a move and angering officials trying to bargain with it, like Mr. Butler.
Mr. Butler is keen to puncture what he believes is the false narrative that has sprouted around the group since the American invasion, which has helped it secure such prominent support. Contrary to widespread belief, he says, the group never provided any valuable intelligence to the Americans about Mr. Hussein’s government. Nor, he says, has it provided any useful information about the Iranian government or its nuclear program.
He said that for six years the group provided unreliable information about Iran to the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he criticized as having taken years to discern that it was being fed what amounted to a slew of lies.
“They are very good at telling stories,” he said of the group.
“These people slaughtered Americans,” Mr. Butler said out of earshot of the group’s representatives during the recent negotiating session. “They have blood on their hands.”
“To the outside world, you look like a paramilitary organization,” he told them, before adding, “As a group you are dangerous.”
“My prediction is Washington is not going to give me any backup,” he said. “It’s just poison. It’s terrorism. It’s Iran. It’s Iraq.”