By Jacqueline Shoen – Editor
July 14, 2011

The status of Camp Ashraf in Iraq is teetering on the edge of dissolution at the hands of the Iraqi government backed by Iran. While the international community rummages around for a solution, the close to 3,500 residents wait in fear for their lives as a menacing siege builds up around them.

At midnight on 2 April 2011, at least 30 armored vehicles belonging to the Iraqi armed forces entered Camp Ashraf, an Iranian settlement 60km north of Baghdad, and took strategic positions to secure the area. Six days later, in the early hours of the morning, Iraqi forces attacked the unarmed residents, 3,500 in total, resulting in the death of at least 34 and the injury of more than 350. Until now, Iraqi forces occupy more than one third of the camp, which is riddled with barbed wire fences, watchtowers and large embankments.

This is a comprehensive siege: Very few are let in or out, and access to doctors and medical supplies is limited. In fact, camp residents are bracing themselves for another attack.

Following the raid, Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, announced his government’s decision to close Camp Ashraf by the end of 2011, and the formation of “a trilateral committee composed of Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross]… to create the needed road map in this regard,” he declared.

It is in this humanitarian crisis that we can observe Iran’s growing influence—and a simultaneous waning of US influence—in Iraq. Moreover, the long-time failure of US policy in Iran becomes starkly clear.

From Iranian Enemy to Iranian Proxy

The residents of Camp Ashraf belong to an Iranian dissident group originally established in 1963 to militarily oppose the Shah of Iran. The Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MeK, participated in the 1979 Iranian revolution, but because its ideology—tolerant and democratic interpretation of Islam—was not compatible with that of the newly established Islamic Republic, it became the target of a bloody crackdown that ultimately resulted in the execution of its original leadership. Those remaining launched a paramilitary campaign against the Iranian government, which continued until 2001, when the group formally renounced all military activity, and then disarmed completely upon the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. In return, the US government offered its protection, a formal responsibility which it transferred to the Iraqi government in January 2009. Incidentally, the US violated Article 45 of the Fourth Geneva Convention due to it previously knowing Iraqi intentions to forcibly dismantle the camp. This is despite the fact that the Iraqi government had given written assurances that it would observe the rights of Ashraf residents in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, of which Iraq is a signatory. However, the moment that Iraqi forces took responsibility for Camp Ashraf, they began the blockade. Seven months later, in July 2009, “the first attack was carried out that left 11 dead and 500 wounded,” Saeed Abed, a member of Foreign Affair Committee of NCRI, confirmed in email correspondence with The Majalla. Furthermore, the MeK claims that eradicating Ashraf from Iraq was “the principal precondition set by the Iranian regime to back Maliki for a second term as prime minister.”

It was during the Iran-Iraq war in 1986, when Saddam Hussein offered refuge to MeK members who had been fleeing from Ayatollah Khomeini’s men, that Camp Ashraf was established. With the current transformation of Iraq from Iranian enemy to Iranian proxy, the residents of Ashraf are no longer welcome, so much so that the crisis has gained worldwide attention. From former US Congressional members like Patrick Kennedy and Barney Frank, and governors Tom Ridge and Howard Dean, to the European Parliament, to Amnesty International, the United Nations and the Arab League, all have condemned the deadly raids and are pushing for an immediate solution, specifically, to resettle the refugees in parts of Europe and the United States.

Suppressing the Forces of Change?

In 1997, the US designated the MeK as a terrorist group. This was, according to the secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, Martin Indyk, meant as a goodwill gesture to the newly elected president, Mohammed Khatami. Unfortunately for the MeK, this has since become the US’s de facto towards the group as it realized that Iran would show its willingness to compromise so long as the group remained a terrorist entity in the eyes of the US. The most recent example of this was the Bush administration’s efforts to engage Iran over its nuclear program. In 2009, the MeK filed a petition to get its name removed from the list—the culmination of a decade-long international campaign—but the then secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, overruled them without explanation.

Clearly, and at the expense of innocent lives, the group’s status is totally dependent on the progress of US foreign policy goals in Iran. The Iranian government, meanwhile, is now meddling in Iraqi affairs to further torment MeK members, even though they have renounced violence against the Islamist regime. Looking back, one will find that Iran has made little to no compromises towards the international community, specifically the US, suggesting that the long-term US policy has, very simply, failed.

Ali Safavi, member of Iran’s Parliament in Exile and president of Near East Policy Research, noted in an interview with The Majalla, that “the experience of the past 15-20 years with the regime in Tehran has demonstrated that no amount of concessions or appeasement or incentives can convince the regime in Tehran” to compromise on any one of its unsavory policies, especially, “to give up its nuclear weapons program.”

The undying efforts of the Iranian regime to “make the MeK’s designation as a terrorist organization the number one demand on every single political exchange it has with western governments,” said Mr. Safavi, coupled with its consistently aggressive policy towards MeK members—to date, the Iranian government has executed over 100,000 MeK sympathizers, according to the MeK—indicates that the Islamic government in Iran views the group as a serious threat to its hold on power. An investigative report issued by the Iranian parliament warning of the MeK’s significant role in the popular protests of 14 February 2011, as well as Iran’s alleged involvement in the attack on Camp Ashraf, are also evidence of this.

Delisting the MeK from the US terrorist list would “send a very strong political signal to Tehran, that for the first time in the past 30 years, Washington means business,” Savafi went on to say. “It would also send a very strong message of encouragement to people in Iran.”

At the Paris Conference of 19 April 2011, the MeK presented one top secret Iraqi Army document in Arabic that had been leaked to the Iranian Resistance from inside the Iranian regime, which illustrated three points: that the attack “had been planned well in advance at the highest levels as a wholly military operation with the specific objective” to kill Ashraf residents; that the plan “has been in the making by the Iraqi government with direct supervision and cooperation from the Iranian regime since three months ago”; and the documents contained “a briefing on the latest situation in Ashraf with information from inside the clerical regime about the plots of the mullahs and their proxy in Iraq, Nouri Al-Maliki, on their next steps vis-à-vis Ashraf.” The document, signed by Staff Brigadier General Kazem Danbous, commander of the Iraqi 5 Infantry Division, implies that the military command to attack and kill Ashraf residents was ordered by Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki himself. This claim is further supported by additional documents in the possession of the MeK in Paris, which has presented them to the national court in Madrid, Spain as supporting evidence for a charge of breaching the Fourth Geneva Convention and Additional Protocol I.

As the first of its kind in the world, the Spanish National Court issued on 14 July 2011 a writ against Prime Minister Maliki, requiring him to appear as soon as he steps down as prime minister. Lieutenant General Ali Geidan, commander of the Iraqi Ground Forces who led the attack against Ashraf residents on 8 April under Maliki’s orders, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul-Latif al-Annabi, commander of the Iraqi battalion in Ashraf, and Major Jassem Al-Tamimi have been ordered to appear before the court on 3 October 2011. Plaintiffs Séller Morteza Komarizadehasl and Mohammed Reza Mohade allege that these men commissioned crimes against the international community.

The MeK has also claimed that its sources operating within the clerical regime have confirmed that Brigadier General Ghassem Solaymani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), “personally supervised the planning of this attack on Ashraf.” According to this information, some Arabic-speaking officers of the IRGC actually participated in the 8 April attack.

The Facts and the Future

The unsettling truth about this situation is that the international community, particularly Washington, was aware of the impending attack on Camp Ashraf and did nothing to prevent it. Not only did the US have an obligation to protect Camp Ashraf by international law, but the MeK is no longer listed as a terrorist entity in the UK and EU, and in July 2010, the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that the group’s original designation as a terrorist organization in 1997 has since been discredited, and asked the State Department to reconsider that designation, which it is doing at this time.

In an effort to bring further attention to the worsening situation at Camp Ashraf, tens of thousands of MeK supporters from around the world descended on Paris on 18 June 2011. Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI, requested that the following actions be taken immediately: Appoint a Special Representative by the UN Security Council to conduct an inquiry into the April 8 crime; the UN should assume protection of Ashraf and station a permanent UN monitoring team in the camp with comprehensive support provided by the US and EU; and all Iraqi forces must leave Ashraf’s grounds immediately, while the 28-month-long siege on the camp must end.

Certainly, the onus to resolve this most urgent situation is on the United States. It is high time for the Obama administration to do what his predecessors did not: Stand up to the Iranian regime, and delist the MeK, if not for a foreign policy win, then for the lives of the remaining Ashraf residents.

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