Iran-allied government cracks down on camp
Culumbia daily TRIBUNE – BY KASRA NEJAT
As U.S. troops prepare to leave Iraq by the end of this year, a humanitarian crisis is emerging that has a real chance of tarnishing President Barack Obama’s legacy. More than 3,400 Iranian dissidents who live in Camp Ashraf in Iraq face growing threats from a pro-Tehran Iraqi government bent on destroying them. That has been understandably worrisome for Iranian-Americans all over the United States, but the repercussions of their fate should be an issue of concern to all of us.
In April, Iraqi troops raided the camp at the behest of the Iranian regime, murdering 36 defenseless civilian residents and injuring hundreds more. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, described it as a “massacre” and said there should be an independent investigation. Both the European Union’s foreign policy chief and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights called for inquiries into the deaths.
The incident came after a similar attack in July 2009 that left 11 dead and scores more wounded. A tribunal in Spain has been investigating the attacks as crimes against humanity and war crimes. This month, it summoned the commander of the Iraqi army and two other officers. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will come to court to discuss the crimes after he leaves office and his immunity is over.
Al-Maliki and the Iranian regime are hatching more plans to perpetrate further massacres against the residents of Camp Ashraf, who are the most formidable opponents of the Iranian regime.
The clock is ticking, and the need for finding a solution to the crisis is more pressing. The residents of Ashraf, “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, have all signed bilateral agreements with U.S. forces, who promised them protection until their final disposition.
In early 2009, the United States transferred that protection to the Iraqi government after saying it received written assurances the residents would be treated humanely. After two years of massacres, abuses and what Amnesty International recently described as persistent “harassment” of the residents, Iraq has shown itself to be incapable of protecting the unarmed civilians at Ashraf.
The United States has a solemn obligation to reassume protection of the camp, especially because the situation there remains tense as the unarmed civilians are under a complete blockade, even deprived of access to medical treatment, and surrounded by armed Iraqi forces.
The European Parliament has offered a long-term, peaceful solution to the crisis, proposing the repatriation of the residents to third countries as the most viable alternative. This has been accepted by the residents.
But, incredibly, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has aligned itself with a solution offered by the Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq: disband Ashraf and move the residents to a new location in Iraq, inevitably away from international eyes. That, as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton recently said, is a “recipe for disaster.”
Meanwhile, on July 21, the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed an amendment to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act stipulating that the U.S. government should take “all necessary and appropriate steps” to “ensure the physical security and protection of Camp Ashraf residents.”
It added that the United States should “prevent the forcible relocation of Camp Ashraf residents inside Iraq and facilitate the robust presence of” the U.N. mission in Iraq in Camp Ashraf.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also has called for respect for the rights of the residents while urging a consensus solution. Forcible displacement is not a consensus solution, unless consensus means a tacit agreement between the United States and the Iranian regime.
All other parties, including the United Nations, the European Parliament, prominent former U.S. officials and even the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament, have rejected the notion as a recipe for a humanitarian catastrophe. If the residents aren’t safe in Ashraf, what makes Ambassador Richard Butler think they would be safe in a remote location where the Iraqi government could have absolute free rein?
Ambassador Butler’s insistence on displacing the residents within Iraq paves the way for another Srebrenica-style massacre, as a prominent member of the European Parliament has warned.
That is not what President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would want their legacy to be in Iraq.
Kasra Nejat is president of the Iranian American Cultural Association of Missouri, which is based in St. Louis.