Rock and a Hard Place – With Libya, Are Camp Ashraf Refugees Now on Their Own?

UK Progressive – Denis G Campbell – April 4, 2011
BREAKING: The 3,400 Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf, Iraq, 60-kilometres northwest of Baghdad are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Sunday, Iraqi military forces under the order of President Nouri al Maliki and at the request of the Iranian regime, surrounded Camp Ashraf with 30-military vehicles taking up offensive positions with tanks and armoured personnel carriers aimed at the camp. The Camp has been the site of numerous bloody attacks in the past and is an unarmed “sitting duck” in the middle of the desert.

US forces in Iraq are confined to their bases under the current Status of Forces Agreement. They are in the process of drawing down and redeploying to Afghanistan and in support of the NATO operation in Libya. Members of the UK Parliament including Lord Archer in a statement said, “we demand that the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and US forces in Iraq urgently intervene to ensure that the Iraqi military withdraws from the refugee camp. UNAMI should also establish a formal and lasting presence at the camp, under US army protection, to monitor the situation and thereby restrict the sorts of abuse that is currently taking place.”

The Iranian regime sensing opportunity with the world’s attention focused on the no-fly zone in Libya, brutal regimes in Bahrain and Yemen, continued struggle to form democracies in Egypt and Tunisia as well as the ongoing war in Afghanistan, has tried for 25-years to eliminate their primary Democratic opposition, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI). They know the world’s policeman the US is hamstring by the SOFA and unless the UN takes action, they can do what they want and withstand any international pressure or military threat because everyone is already busy.

Said Lord Sandwell, head of the Parliamentary Campaign in Defence of Camp Ashraf, “we condemn in the strongest manner the occupation of Camp Ashraf on Sunday by Iraqi armed forces at the behest of the Iranian regime. The PMOI are “Protected Persons” under the 4th Geneva Convention. The camp is a civilian zone.”

Based on past “strong condemnations” the Iranian regime thumbs their nose and mostly laughs because no one will rise to aid a group once labelled as terrorists. The Iranians have history on their side and lots of patience. They know that by the time the UN gets around to action they will have terrorised and removed a few more obstacles and therein lays the rub.

The camp has been the scene of numerous attacks from Iranian agents, the most recent being an 11 January 2011 attack involving stones and Molotov cocktails injuring 176 camp residents. The attack, coming in the midst of the crisis in Tunisia received page 19 below the fold coverage. Ashraf’s residents are at the mercy of the news cycle.

The bloodiest attack was in a late July 2009 conflict when Iraqi forces attempted to enter the camp and establish a police station. While accounts differ as to who started the conflict and why, 11 camp residents died and more than 400 were injured. The Camp has been in the news also because the Iraqi regime has denied medical treatment to residents. Several cancer patients have died when treatment was refused.

The PMOI and MEK (a sister organisation) were branded terrorist groups in 1997. They were heavily armed back then with some 6,000 soldiers in residence at the Camp. That label was removed after weapons were surrendered and soldiers transferred in 2003 during the coalition invasion. The camp achieved full UN ‘protected status’ after all residents were interviewed by coalition forces.

The EU and UK removed the terrorist status and began supporting the Camp’s refugees and their plight on humanitarian grounds in June of 2008. This publication has written several articles on the Camp and was banned from the website, a site that trumpets independence for press, when they bowed to pressure because the Iranian propaganda machine posted a number of negative comments.

The al Maliki government wants peace with Iran because it cannot defend yet another front. He is already making deals to fend off internal civil war between Sunni and Shiite. Defending the border of a nation they once fought with is never easy, so al Maliki is hedging his bets and keeping Iran happy with this show of force.

Where it goes from her is entirely up to the international community and their response on behalf of the men, women and children stuck in this camp.

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