Protection of Camp Ashraf must be US final act in Iraq

THE HILL (Congress Blog)  By Lord Carlile of Berriew
The humanitarian issue of Camp Ashraf, home to 3,400 members of the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedeen e Khalq (MEK), in Iraq has crossed party lines in the US, UK and EU as far right neo cons stand alongside democrats and liberals in support of defending an Iranian opposition group upon which there has been heated discussions. With an end of 2011 deadline set by Iraq to close the Camp, the issue will no doubt be a topic of serious discussion as Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki comes to Washington next week.

As the government of Iraq sticks stubbornly to its determination to close Camp Ashraf by the end of this year and forcibly displace the residents inside Iraq, international condemnation has intensified. With the UN and EU providing the Iraqi authorities the perfect opportunity to bring a peaceful end to this crisis, that government’s continued opposition indicates a sinister plan for the December closure of the camp, a plan which based on two previous incursions into the camp will mean the killing of numerous residents and the wounding of hundreds more.

In a previously unforeseen twist, the proposed closure of the camp will coincide with the removal of all US military forces from Iraq by the year end. Forced out by Nuri Al Maliki’s government, President Obama had announced the news as a success story. However, many saw the contempt shown by the Iraqi government as a clear indication of the Iranian regime’s growing influence. It is believed the Iranian regime had long been pushing for an end to the US presence inside Iraq. Iran’s behind the scenes pressures on Al-Maliki succeeded, as Tehran hailed its continued influence in Iraq.

Now as US forces prepare to depart Iraq, President Obama’s administration must look to the issue of Camp Ashraf as a final opportunity to uphold the values for which we entered Iraq and not permit this group of civilians to fall into the hands of an Iraqi government intent upon their destruction.
For the US authorities to board their planes and shut their eyes to a guaranteed massacre will be utterly shameful, not least because the US authorities provided guarantees to each and every resident to protect them from harm.

As the United Nations led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) intensifies its efforts to bring a peaceful solution to this crisis, doing so with the support of the EU, the deafening silence from the Obama administration is reprehensible in the extreme.
Pressure on the Iraqi government has intensified in recent weeks and months. The UN has recognised the residents as asylum-seekers and has demanded international support for its efforts in recognising the refugee status of the residents. The EU’s foreign policy chief has answered this call by appointing a special representative on the issue and demanding the involvement of EU Member States in agreeing to the transfer of a number of residents.

It is now time for the US to do its part and play an active role. The US went into Iraq upon a mission, a mission called ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. That was our mission statement and that is the mission statement upon which the US must now intervene to protect this group of Iranians from further harm.

The task now is simple. President Obama must demand publicly that Iraq get rid of its end of 2011 deadline for the closure of Camp Ashraf, that the government of Iraq allow the UNHCR to carry out its refugee status work, support calls for the establishment of a UN peacekeeping presence to protect the camp, and work actively with its European partners to support the transfer of residents to states where their safety can be guaranteed.

The least that the US authorities can do now is support the UN and EU in their efforts to protect these Iranians to whom the US provided numerous guarantees. This must be the final act of the US administration in Iraq, upholding the rights of this group and protecting them from the clutches of the criminal bullies in Tehran.

Alex Carlile was the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation in the United Kingdom (2001-2011)


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