Obama’s abandoning of Camp Ashraf to its fate would breach U.S. honor
The Washington Time – By Struan Stevenson November 2, 2011
It was the “mission accomplished” moment that millions of Americans had been waiting for and many of us considered long overdue: the official end to the war in Iraq and the return of all U.S. troops. Whether you believe the operation in Iraq was a noble cause or pure folly, President Obama’s announcement last month that fighting men and women would be coming home to their families in time for the holidays was cause for celebration.
It also should raise an alarm. The withdrawal is widely perceived throughout the region as a victory for Iran. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, called it a “serious mistake” that would encourage a deeper and more dangerous alliance between Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki and Tehran – fears implicitly validated by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s stern warnings that Iran should not “take advantage” of the situation.
The question that haunts us now is: What will happen in the new Iraq when the U.S. military leaves?
Recent events on the ground suggest an answer: Men, women and children numbering 3,400 – each and every one of whom is covered by a written guarantee of protection by the U.S. government – will be exterminated by Mr. al-Maliki’s forces, at Tehran’s bidding. These residents of Camp Ashraf, in Diyala province close to the Iranian border, belong to Iran’s best-organized resistance movement, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. Committed to nonviolent regime change and a democratic, nuclear-free Iranian future with equal rights for women, minorities and religions, they are, understandably, the mullahs’ worst nightmare. Tehran has vowed to eliminate them at all costs. And they are unarmed. In other words, once U.S. troops leave, they are sitting ducks.
In April, the Iraqi military attacked the camp, leaving 36 dead and at least 300 wounded – the second unprovoked assault in two years – and that was with American troops in country. To think that the wholesale slaughter of those within Ashraf’s easily penetrable borders will not happen the moment the United States pulls out would be to tacitly condone that slaughter.
It doesn’t have to happen.
What stands in the way of the safe relocation of Camp Ashraf’s residents is one of the very few things the United States government shares in common with the tyrannical Iranian regime: the designation of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq as a terrorist organization. As long as the residents of Ashraf remain on the list of foreign terrorist organizations, they cannot be reasonably assured of the asylum they so desperately need. While a recent demand by British members of Parliament for United Nations protection for the camp is welcome, it falls far short of the American defense that was promised and that the U.S. government is honor-bound to uphold.
The international community owes the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq a huge debt of gratitude for providing valuable information on the location of Iranian nuclear facilities. Yet it is common knowledge in the U.S. national security establishment that Mujahedeen-e-Khalq was placed and maintained on the State Department’s blacklist as part of a failed strategy to appease Iran.
Since then, Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress have demanded direct American action and delisting of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq. An impressive array of the highest-level U.S. national security officials and counterterrorism analysts have publicly confirmed that the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq poses no threat whatsoever to America.
After independent and exhaustive investigations, the United Kingdom and European Union delisted the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq with the British High Court calling the listing a “perverse” decision. The EU has repeatedly urged the immediate protection of Ashraf residents and recently appointed an ambassador to ensure their safety, but the baseless U.S. designation continues to hamper our good efforts.
Most recently, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees qualified Ashraf residents as “asylum seekers under international law,” legally entitling them to physical protection while seeking relocation. But Mr. al-Maliki refuses to cooperate with the U.N. agency, citing the unjustified U.S. terrorist designation as his “license to kill.”
Despite the rosy assessment of the U.S ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, who claims that what the United States leaves behind is the model of new Middle Eastern democracy, Iraq has proved that it is willing to align itself with one of the most brutal regimes on the planet. If the United States does not keep its word and honor its unfinished business with the men, women and children of Camp Ashraf, rest assured that Iran will settle its own unfinished business with them.
Time is of the essence. Only eight weeks are left until the last American soldier leaves Iraq. The lives of 3,400 Iranian dissidents are at stake – and so is American credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world.
Make no mistake about it: A Srebrenica-style massacre will happen at Camp Ashraf. When it does, no Americans will be able to say they weren’t warned.
Struan Stevenson is a Conservative member of the European Parliament representing Scotland. He is president of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq.