February 23, 2018

Iran refugees fear bloodbath


As he hosts Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday, President Obama will need to hastily tie upIraq’s loose ends — including CampAshraf, a mess that could quickly turn ugly and cloud Obama’s chance to claim “promise fulfilled” on ending the Iraq war. 

Maliki: Closing camp to please Tehran.

At year’s end, as US troops leave Iraq, Maliki plans to evacuate Ashraf. Since 1986, when Saddam Hussein took them under his wing as part of his war against Ayatollah Khomeini, the camp near the Iraq-Iran border has housed members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK) — a group that Tehran’s mullahs consider a formidable foe. 

When they handed over their weapons to theUSmilitary in 2005, ending their status as an armed militia, camp residents received written American assurances that they wouldn’t be sent back toIranand that we’d guarantee their safety. 

Yet that safety is in serious doubt, because Baghdadis much friendlier to Tehran these days. Last spring, as soon as US forces withdrew from the area, Iraqi troops entered Ashraf  (now more a city than a “camp”), indiscriminately killing residents. More recently, loudspeakers started blaring music and propaganda into the camp at all hours. 

Residents now fear that if they leave Ashraf, they’d quickly be “disappeared.” Though unarmed, some plan to resist Maliki’s evacuation, or “defend our home,” as they put it. 

Ali Safavi, aWashingtonactivist with close ties to the MEK, says they believe Maliki is “doingTehran’s bidding,” planning to prosecute, kill or hand them over to the mullahs. 

The United Nations is trying to determine how many of the 3,500 people at Ashraf can be relocated. Though a few have legal rights to live in America, Canada, Australia or Europe, most hold only Iranian citizenship — and returning there is likely a death sentence. 

The UN sorting process is complex, and Western countries aren’t eager to offer asylum to MEK members. So the UN’s point man inIraq, Martin Kobler, is calling on Americaand others to press Maliki to extend his year-end deadline for six months. And, as a European diplomat put it, “We also do need a long-term solution.” 

Since America is unlikely to accept all (or even most) Ashraf refugees, the least Obama can do is make a public demand, standing next to Maliki, that the Iraqi extend his deadline while we actively look for resettlement solutions. 

Yes, the MEK is often described as a cult. And (despite formidable bipartisan lobbying efforts) the State Department is yet to remove the group from its list of terrorist organizations. 

But Ashraf  shouldn’t become a violent coda to our Iraq withdrawal. For years, the group has been helpful in exposing Iran’s nuclear secrets and undermining the program. And we promised safety. 

If we leave them toIran’s mercy now, we confirm the impression that we’re a fair-weather friend to the enemies of our enemy. Worse: If we fail to tie up such loose ends inIraq, we deepen the impression that we’re running scared after spending eight years and much blood and treasure there.  

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/iran_refugees_fear_bloodbath_ZADOaK9T4NKqoEd75moSxM