December 16, 2017

Camp Ashraf “massacre” must be stopped


America’s involvement in the second Gulf War in Iraq – whether you were in favour of it or opposed it – is about to end. The Prime Minister of the “new” Iraq was in Washington this week as the guest of President Obama.

Most people assumed that any future government would abide by the principles of human rights and democracy.  But there is an inconvenient truth that is hard to understand for the families of our soldiers who died there and the troops themselves who were wounded. It is hard for the families of unknown number of Iraqi civilians who died there, and for the Iranian dissidents stranded there at Camp Ashraf in Iraq.

The truth is that Prim Minister Nouri al-Maliki, has apparently turned out to be a stooge of the Iranian regime who seems to have a disregard for basic human rights and international law. Camp Ashraf has become the barometer for his disregard of the world community and those who died to bring him to office.

This Camp is home to 3400 members of Iran’s main opposition group, the MEK, an organization that epitomizes the spirit of the Arab Spring. The MEK hopes to one day replace the brutal regime in Iran with a democracy. Their manifesto espouses the desire to create equal rights between men and women, for Iran to have a free press, be non-nuclear Iran and espouse other forward-thinking policies.

The reason for this brutal treatment lies in Al Maliki’s close relationship with Iran and that country’s desire to wipe out its main enemy. Iran’s influence within Iraq has included flooding the country with IEDs to pressuring Maliki to attack the mullahs’ opponents. This influence must be stopped.

The oppression of these residents and Al Maliki’s disregard for international law started within the first few weeks of Iraqi forces taking over security of the Camp. He gave assurances that the residents would be given “humane treatment”; yet over the past two years, they have been psychologically tortured 24 hours a day with 300 loudspeakers blaring at their doorstep. They have been denied access to food, fuel, and medicines, resulting in the deaths of a number of residents. But most disturbingly, Iraqi forces have stormed this Camp of unarmed civilians twice, murdering resulting in the deaths of 47 people. Video footage of these events showed unarmed civilians apparently being shot in the head at close range with semiautomatic weapons, as well as being run over by Humvee vehicles. It was condemned by many international bodies as nothing short of a massacre.

The situation has now reached a crisis point. The regime in Iran realizes that it is close to achieving its goal of wiping out its opposition and has pressured the Iraqi government to close the Camp by the end of the year and to disperse the residents throughout Iraq.

Considering the Iraqi armed forces’ history in relation to Camp Ashraf, and their closeness to the regime in Iran, this statement is widely seen as nothing short of a declaration of war on these unarmed civilians. The Iraqis say they would allow the UNHCR to interview the residents once they have been moved and that they would allow UN monitors constant access to them. If that’s the case, why doesn’t the Iraqi army allow these interviews to take place in Camp Ashraf? Why have it been doing its utmost to disrupt the UNHCR from carrying out its work? The reality must be that Nouri al-Maliki knows that if the UNHCR interviews these civilians, they will be granted asylum in third countries and the Iraqis, acting at Tehran’s behest, will have lost the opportunity to destroy the spirit of Ashraf and its people.

This is the same man who six hours prior to the last ” massacre” in April promised the residents of Camp Ashraf and the U.S. Embassy that he had no intention of using violence. Six hours later, 36 civilians lay dead. It appears he can no longer be trusted not to do Iran’s dirty work.

There is still time for a peaceful solution to this dilemma. The international community must pressure the Iraqi government to cancel its end-of-year dead line. This would allow the UNHCR the time to carry out its refugee status interviews with the residents. The final step, and one which would hopefully bring about a happy ending, would be for the residents to be transferred to third countries.

These three steps are achievable – the only obstacle is the Iraqi government and Nouri al-Maliki.

This international pressure must take place now. There is less than three weeks until the dead line and an unavoidable bloody outcome. With al-Maliki visiting America, the U.S.  has a wonderful opportunity to apply diplomatic pressure. The U.S.  should do this to show solidarity with the spirit of the Arab spring; it should do it for the residents of Camp Ashraf; and it should do it so that the all those who died in Iraq did not die in vain.

America is the country that signed a personal pact with every single member of the Camp, giving them protected person status. America must continue to give them what they were promised – protection from the despots in Iran and their henchmen in Iraq. Anything less will leave the US politically and legally complicit in any future bloodshed.
The clock is ticking and time is running out. The U.S. and President Obama must keep their promise to the freedom seeking people of Camp Ashraf.

The UK government as the major partner in the coalition that brought about current government in Iraq is also equally responsible and must act to stop the massacre and persuade the UN to send blue helmets to protect the residents of Ashraf.

Mark Williams is Liberal-Democrat Member of Parliament for Ceredigion and a member of British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom