By Struan Stevenson MP
THE INDEPENDENT – Earlier this month, dozens of buses carrying Iranian regime agents rolled up to the gates of Camp Ashraf in northern Iraq, home to 3,400 Iranian political refugees, where they began a vicious assault against the unarmed residents. Two days earlier, the visiting Iranian foreign minister had reiterated his regime’s demand for the annihilation of the Ashraf refugees, whom Tehran regards as their only serious political opponents.
Since 2009, when US forces transferred the protection of the camp to Baghdad, abuses against the residents have been intensified in flagrant violation of international law. In July 2009, Iraqi armed forces attacked the residents, who are “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, killing 11, injuring hundreds and illegally detaining 36.
The latest attack involved gangs of agents, many wearing Iraqi military uniforms, organised, motivated, and financed by the fascist regime in Iran and endorsed by their lickspittle cohorts in Baghdad. They pretended to be local villagers protesting Ashraf, despite the fact that the camp’s residents have lived there peacefully for 25 years. Assisted by Iraqi security forces, the agents hurled rocks, bottles, metal bars and petrol bombs at the defenceless residents, injuring 175, including 83 women. It marked a new chapter in the dark history of human rights abuses in the Middle East.
The West, meanwhile, stands idly by, wringing its hands in mock horror. We make great speeches in the European Parliament attacking rights abusers and giving grand rewards like the Sakharov Prize to those who defend freedom and democracy at their personal cost. But when it comes to taking action on issues like Ashraf we fail to deliver. Our taxpayers have pumped more than £800 million into the rebuilding of Iraq at a time of austerity measures in Europe. Yet we give this money with no demands for good governance or justice.
That is why the 3,400 refugees in Camp Ashraf, many of them women, have been terrorized by the Iraqi government. Besides being attacked, they have also been placed under a siege, subjected to physical and mental abuse, denied access to medical care and allowed to die of treatable illnesses. Some 180 loudspeakers around the camp have been blaring endless propaganda, threats and insults for the past year at a decibel level designed to drive people insane.
An overwhelming majority of MEPs have twice now declared their support for the residents of Ashraf in parliamentary resolutions and demanded an end to their repression and abuse and recognition of their rights under the Geneva Conventions. But the response in Iraq has been an escalation of orchestrated violence against the innocent residents.
The motivation behind the attacks is clear. Ashraf residents represent the frontline of resistance to the despotic and corrupt regime in Iran and as such, are easy targets for a vicious regime determined to bend its compliant Iraqi neighbour to its will.
Such is the hatred of the Iranian regime for the Ashraf residents that it has even started to execute the parents of some of the young residents of Ashraf. Late December, Ali Saremi, 63, was hanged for visiting his son in Ashraf. The mullahs had subjected Mr. Saremi to brutal torture to break his spirit, but to no avail. “They cannot frighten me and my freedom-loving compatriots by executions,” he wrote in a letter, displaying the Iranian people’s determination to bring democratic change.
The depravity of the mullahs knows no bounds. They regularly torture and execute men, women and children simply for showing any form of opposition to their corrupt rule. But, with a crumbling foundation, they recognize the end is near and in their desperation they are lashing out at opponents. As such, the opening salvo against Ashraf will certainly lead, inexorably, to a massacre, as the heavily armed and well paid agents of Tehran continue to assault the residents with impunity.
Those of us who value human rights, democracy and the ultimate victory of good over evil must now let our voices be heard. We cannot tolerate this abuse any longer. The European Parliament expressed its will by a massive majority last month in support of Camp Ashraf. It is now up to Baroness Ashton as EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs to take action. Her silence will be seen as an act of weakness by the EU, and all of us will be tarnished by any further bloodshed that we fail to prevent.
So, speak out now, Baroness Ashton. Condemn those who attack Ashraf refugees. Demand action from Washington which had guaranteed the safety of every Ashraf resident in 2004 and then walked away in 2009. Tell Baghdad that they will be judged on their conduct towards the innocent refugees in Ashraf and warn Iran that their evil meddling in the affairs of their neighbours in the Middle East will hasten their ultimate downfall. Silence is not golden … it is reprehensible!
Struan Stevenson is a Conservative Euro MP for Scotland. He is President of the Delegation for Relations with Iraq in the European Parliament and President of the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup.