UK Progressive – June 29, 2011 – Iranian opposition refugee Camp Ashraf has had a fragile and chequered existence for nearly three decades. Stuck in the middle of the Iraqi desert, it has housed up to 3,400 Iranian dissidents, sometimes armed fighters of the MEK and NCRI. Both of these organisations remain classified as terrorist organisations in the USA despite a Federal Court ruling they be de-listed and already enjoy full acceptance and embrace by the UK, EU and many European parliaments.
Regardless of one’s politics one thing can be agreed. 3,400 men women and children sit in the middle of the potential humanitarian disaster. They are regularly and continually subjected to physical and psychological attacks, some resulting in fatalities. Plus those in need of regular medical attention are denied care, under a draconian set of rules and regulations now that UN and coalition forces no longer protect the camp.
Too, the Libya and Afghanistan conflicts, US Presidential Election 2012 (already!), the political debt ceiling fight, a child’s murder trial in Florida and the on-going feud between the comedian Jon Stewart and FOX New’s Chris Wallace suck all of the media oxygen away from a true humanitarian crisis in an area of strategic import to the USA and the rest of the region. For three years the 3,400 refugees have lived under barbaric conditions, bombarded night and day by 300 loudspeakers and under constant fear of imminent attack by elements loyal to the Iranian regime. All of this is with tacit, “look the other way” (or worse) approval of the Iraqi government of Nouri al Maliki.
As documented by Amnesty International, various Parliamentary committees and other, the residents have withstood several violent attacks, many have since died and both regimes have virtually cut off of all medical aid to those still ill inside the camp. Al Maliki need support from Iranian sympathisers to govern so he quietly assists the Iranian regime and to him, Camp Ashraf is a political problem he want to eliminate. Meanwhile dissident families in Tehran have been imprisoned and killed, remaining in direct peril as politically defiant and opportunistic attacks by the Iranian regime seem to come directly after every opposition event or approval gain from the West.
Protected by UN resolutions and the Geneva Convention, they lack the real military protection they once had when coalition forces protected the camp. Now with US soldiers confined to their bases (and scheduled to completely withdraw by the end of this year), the Camp residents and supporters along with EU and UK Parliamentary committees have demanded the UN deploy peacekeeping forces to protect residents. To date, no such help has been forthcoming.
On Sunday, 18 June, Paris hosted the largest gathering of Iranians outside of Iran in support of Camp Ashraf. While organisers estimated the crowd at 100,000 Iranians, the convention centre at Villepente was filled with global political leaders along with Iranian President-in-exile, Madame Rajavi.
Sadly, there was little attention paid to the event throughout the rest of the world. These three videos show impassioned speech excerpts and interviews from key global politicians, all of whom spoke at the event decrying the humanitarian crisis and trying to raise awareness of the plight of camp residents. The speakers included: former US Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI), former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani; former US Attorney General, Michael Mukasey (2007-09); former head of US Homeland Security Tom Ridge, former Prime Minister of Iceland, Geir Haarde (2006-09), former Speaker of the German Parliament, Rita Sussmouth (1988-1998) and US Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA).
In response to this gathering, the governments of Iran and Iraq announced their own conference where they claimed the International Committee of Red Cross and Red Crescent called together with them for the closure of Camp Ashraf and repatriation of the residents to Iran (and certain death.) The Red Cross/Crescent later denied they had anything to do with the call for closure as, most had argued, they were forbidden to become involved in political discussions.
The US though must take action to protect the Camp urging the UN or NATO to ensure the safety of residents. If successful in over-running and closing Camp Ashraf, the Iranian regime will continue its push into Iraq. A divided Iraq whose Western region is controlled or annexed by Iran would be a disastrous end to a decade of US led wars in an even further, if possible, destabilised region.
Denis G Campbell is Publisher & Editor-in-Chief UK Progressive magazine / BBC TV & Radio Contributor / t r u t h o u t .org contributor / frequent China Radio International Today on Beyond Beijing contributor / Huffington Post and Daily Kos blogger / Social Media Consultant