Friday, November 20, 2009

Ashraf City in Iraq

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Catastrophe on Horizon for Camp Ashraf Refugees

The Middle East Times
October 08, 2008

About 3,500 refugees in Camp Ashraf, in Iraq close to an hour's drive from both Baghdad and the Iranian border, are at serious risk. They are members and supporters of the main Iranian opposition, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), formed in the 1960s in opposition to the shah's absolute monarchy and currently seeking to replace the Iranian regime with a secular and democratic government.

The PMOI became the largest democratic political movement in the country following the 1979 revolution. Soon, however, it found itself in opposition to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's religious tyranny. After June, 1981, its members were persecuted mercilessly by his regime and its Revolutionary Guards. Many thousands of PMOI supporters, including children, have been murdered by the regime both inside and outside Iran in the following years.

In 1986, the French government, as part of a quid pro quo with Tehran to secure the release of the French hostages in Lebanon, put pressure on the PMOI, which by then had offices and supporters in France since 1981, to leave. The PMOI, therefore, relocated to Iraq. Camp Ashraf was built on a piece of arid land in the northeast of Iraq. Before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the PMOI officially declared its neutrality in the conflict.

Later that year, the PMOI agreed to consolidate all of its supporters within Iraq at Ashraf. Following a 16-month investigation by seven U.S. government agencies, every resident of Ashraf was cleared of any violation of American laws and all were recognized as "protected persons" by the U.S. government under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ashraf has since 2003 been protected by a detachment of U.S. soldiers.

Recent assaults on Ashraf by Iran's regime have included the bombing of its water supply station (February 2008) and two missile attacks (May and July 2008), which luckily caused no deaths. In mid-June of this year, more than 3 million Shiites in southern Iraq signed a petition condemning the meddling by the Iranian regime in Iraq and declaring support for the PMOI and Ashraf. Such support underscored the positive role played by the PMOI at Ashraf, seen as welcomed guests assisting with the rebuilding and providing of support for surrounding Iraqi communities.

Matters have not gone as well diplomatically. In 1997, the Bill Clinton administration added the PMOI to its list of terrorist organizations. In 2002, at the request of the U.K. government, the European Union included it on its list. In 2005, the Paul Martin government did so in Canada. Fortunately the Court of First Instance of the European Court of Justice ruled in December 2006 that the PMOI was wrongly listed. Then the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (POAC), a branch of the U.K. High Court, ruled in late 2007 that the listing of the PMOI in the U.K. was "perverse," unlawful, null and void.

The U.K. Court of Appeal later agreed with POAC, noting that neither the classified nor unclassified evidence provided a basis for terrorist activity or intent for such activity by the PMOI since 2001. Both houses of the U.K. parliament accordingly de-proscribed the PMOI in June 2008. In mid-July, however, the EU council of ministers, claiming unspecified "new evidence," left the PMOI on its terrorist list.

The Tehran regime relies on the continuing terrorist labeling of the PMOI in the European Union, United States, Iraq and Canada to insist that its supporters in Ashraf and elsewhere around the world be harassed by governments.

This includes pressuring the outgoing George W. Bush administration to turn the protection of Ashraf over to the government of Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad, whose ministers' comments have created no confidence whatsoever in their willingness to provide continuing adequate protection to Ashraf residents.

On June 17, for example, the Iraqi council of ministers issued a statement saying that the PMOI "will come under the full control of the Iraqi government until it is expelled from Iraq." The interior minister declared recently that the present joint patrols by American and Iraqi forces indicate that "Iraqi forces have taken control of Ashraf and that its residents have a six-month deadline to leave the country."

During a visit to Iran in August, the Iraqi justice minister added: "If it were not for the presence of coalition forces at Ashraf, you would have seen that the people of Iraq attacking and destroying Ashraf."

A legal opinion by Eric David, professor and president of the Center on International Law at the Free University of Brussels, concludes that under both The Hague and the Fourth Geneva Conventions the United States must ensure the protection of the refugees at Ashraf. No other authority in Iraq, he adds, is capable of this protection except the American forces.

The opinion of the law firm Greenberg Traurig in Washington this September concluded, "The United States may not hand over the people of Ashraf to the Iraqi government without becoming legally responsible for the humanitarian catastrophe that is virtually certain to result."

The International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf, representing numerous concerned lawyers in Europe, the United States and Canada, wrote earlier this month to the outgoing commanding general of the Multinational Force-Iraq, stressing that "the transfer of the protection of Ashraf by the U.S. forces to Iraq would pose major risks to the safety and security of the residents there…. We are gravely concerned about a wholesale slaughter of the residents of Ashraf."

There are terrible examples in recent years of what can happen when the international community and the United Nations fail to protect vulnerable communities, including Rwanda, Bosnia (Srebrenica), Kosovo and Darfur. The residents of Ashraf must not be added to this "list of shame."

David Kilgour is on the advisory board of the International Committee of Jurists in Defense of Ashraf and a former Secretary of State for Africa and Latin America for Canada, as well as Secretary of State for Asia Pacific.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Iran's liquidation sale?

By James Zumwalt
The Washington Times
Sunday, October 5, 2008

The answer to a question put to both U.S. presidential candidates could prove very telling. It would speak volumes about each candidate's moral compass and indicate whether he, as president, will preside over the preservation, or liquidation, of an ally.
As background, two recent developments concerning Iraq are noteworthy. The first is journalist Bob Woodward's revelation in his new book claiming the Bush administration has been spying on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Iraqi leaders. It would be surprising if this were not true. Why? Because as the next tough decisions are made concerning Iraq, we must know whether the al-Maliki government is negatively influenced by Iran.

Concerns exist that Mr. al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, has leanings toward Tehran's Shia extremist government. Some factors suggest he may be his own man - such as his successful March 2008 military operation into Basra to crush Shia militias, many with Iranian ties. But others in his government may operate as Tehran's "Third Man." Through such a Baghdad network, Iran is capable of imposing severe damage upon a fledgling democracy following a U.S. withdrawal.

It is not unreasonable for the United States to spy on the Iraqi government to assess Iran's influence. It is a lesson we failed to learn in the Vietnam conflict - not realizing until after the war North Vietnamese agents had penetrated Saigon's highest levels of government. It is a lesson we have learned today with Pakistan - a government penetrated by Taliban sympathizers.

This brings us to the second development offered for background. MEK, an Iranian group opposed to Tehran's regime, currently lives in Iraq under U.S. protection. Originally formed by students at Tehran University in 1965 to oppose the shah, they challenged Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after he came to power in 1979. Opposed to the cleric's extreme fundamentalist views, MEK became a target for liquidation by Khomeini.

A young radical extremist first selected to run this liquidation campaign was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - now Iran's president. To date, it has claimed hundreds of thousands of MEK lives - and Mr. Ahmadinejad remains committed to MEK's complete liquidation.

Because MEK opposed Iran's mullahs, Saddam Hussein invited them in 1986 to relocate to Iraq. There, MEK conducted successful attacks against Iran.

Determined to minimize MEK's influence, Tehran pressured President Bill Clinton in 1997 to designate the group a terrorist organization. As a goodwill gesture, he did so. But, the evidence and rationale upon which the Clinton State Department relied has since been found to be "fundamentally flawed."

An independent group further found MEK was "a pro-democratic organization that for more than 40 years has worked to bring democracy and freedom to Iran," repeatedly sacrificed in U.S.-Iranian relations. (Britain recently removed MEK from its own terrorist list, describing the initial designation "perverse.")

In 2003, Tehran again focused on MEK's liquidation. For Iran's false promises not to involve itself in Iraq if the United States invaded, Washington agreed to defang MEK, stripping it of its military bite. As U.S. forces entered Iraq, MEK forces withheld fire, voluntarily surrendering their arms in a show of support. Today, about 3,500 MEK members (one-third of whom are women) remain confined to Camp Ashraf, in Iraq's al Qaeda-active Diyala Province, given "protected persons" status (enforced by the United States as an occupying force) under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

MEK is credited with being first to report Tehran's nuclear ambitions. It also provides the United States and its allies with critical intelligence on Iran's current terrorist activities in Lebanon, Gaza and Iraq. It has identified dozens of supply routes Tehran uses to ship roadside bombs into Iraq - devices responsible for more than half the U.S. lives claimed there.

This chronology of events now leaves the United States in an ironic position. MEK - a group labeled by the United States as terrorist 11 years ago that no longer is; a group labeled such at the behest of the world's only terrorist nation, Iran; a group the United States, as an occupying force, now protects; a group eager to topple Iran's mullahs who, for almost 30 years, have been exporting terrorism outside their borders, including Iraq, where they have killed thousands of Americans; a group invaluable to the West in revealing Iran's nuclear progress and supply routes into Iraq, the latter helping to reduce U.S. casualties - is being prevented from taking Iranian extremist lives while those extremists continue to take American lives.

MEK is in a precarious position with its future survival directly tied to the U.S. occupation - the status of which is now being negotiated by Baghdad and Washington.

On Sept. 4, Gen. David Petraeus said, "U.S. forces still are responsible for the security of ... MEK," but the United States has "begun the process of transition of security to Iraqi security forces."

This evolution, raising the issue of MEK's guaranteed safety under Iraq control, brings us back to the first background event discussed - i.e., Iranian influence in Iraq. Knowing ongoing U.S./Iraq negotiations on a future presence of U.S. forces in Iraq provides Tehran an opportunity to finally liquidate MEK, Mr. Ahmadinejad has pressured Baghdad to disband MEK's camp and turn members over to Tehran. While Baghdad may not bend to this pressure, Iranian influence within Iraq's rank and file - entrusted to protect MEK as U.S. forces reduce their visibility - may well sound MEK's deathknell.

MEK has repeatedly shown it wishes to strengthen democracy in Iraq and counter Iranian influence. Mr. Ahmadinejad salivates over the opportunity to participate in an MEK liquidation sale - a mission given him three decades earlier. The only question remaining is whether the United States, again, will play into Iranian hands by doing so.

The question to our presidential candidates is, in light of Iranian influence in Iraq seeking to eradicate our MEK ally, what is our responsibility to MEK? An easy, morally incorrect answer is to allow Iraq (and thereby, Iran) to determine MEK's fate. The difficult, morally correct answer is that the United States should ensure MEK's survival. When the U.S. presence in Iraq ends, U.S. responsibility to MEK does not. The United States must ensure members are not turned over to Iran or otherwise left to the whim of Tehran-influenced Iraqi "protectors."

The United States has a responsibility to ensure MEK receives safe passage and safe haven - to the United States or another willing country acceptable to MEK. If not, the next U.S. president will preside over an ally's wholesale slaughter.

James G. Zumwalt, a Marine veteran of the Persian Gulf and Vietnam wars, is a contributor to The Washington Times.

Deciding the fate of the Mujahedin

By Raymond Tanter
The Washington Times
Sunday, October 5, 2008

When the U.N. mandate authorizing Multi-National Forces-Iraq expires on Dec. 31, 2008, a bilateral agreement between Washington and Baghdad is to take its place. This accord would include the disposition of 3,500 Iranian oppositionists at Camp Ashraf, Iraq. They have been protected by Coalition Forces since 2003, but Tehran has been stepping up pressure on Washington to abandon its protection and have the Iraqi government take over responsibility for protecting the Iranian dissidents.

On Sept. 4, 2008, Gen. David Petraeus, commanding general of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, said the U.S. military has "begun the process of transition of security to Iraqi Security Forces." He said that Washington received "assurances" from the Iraqi government that the Iranian dissidents, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), "would be protected."

If protection of those dissidents transfers to the Iraqi government, Washington could be complicit in another Abu Ghraib, a human rights disaster where detainees under American control were abused.

The people of Ashraf have their own status. On July 21, 2004, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, deputy commanding general of MNF-I, recognized them "as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention."

Regardless of whether Washington remains the occupying power, however, U.S. forces are obligated to uphold the status of Ashraf residents as protected persons. The status of the "Ashrafis" has not changed, and the MNF-I continues to treat them as protected persons.

As recently as Sept. 4, 2008, Gen. Petraeus confirmed, "the residents of Camp Ashraf, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, are in a legal status that is called 'Protected Persons Status' by international law. And U.S. forces still are responsible for the security of them because of that status."

Furthermore, International Humanitarian Law continues to apply to forces of any occupying power for the entire period during which they remain in the occupied territory, as is the situation of the United States in Iraq, even after Dec. 31, 2008.

During 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross stated, "the residents of Camp Ashraf must not be deported, expelled or repatriated ... or displaced inside Iraq."

Despite Iraqi assurances about the security of Ashraf, Iraqi officials with close ties to Iran clearly intend to expel those in Ashraf from Iraq, fulfilling an Iranian demand. An official resolution of the Council of Ministers of Iraq of June 17 called on Washington to hand over control of Ashraf and announced Baghdad's intention to expel the MEK from Iraqi soil.

Under these circumstances, any transfer of the protection of Ashraf would open up the camp to Tehran-sponsored terrorist attacks. In addition, the original threat to "Ashrafis" persists from Iranian regime proxies integrated into Iraqi Security Forces.

The American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, complained on Sept. 27 about Iran's meddling: "Iran would like to keep Iraq off balance as a way of being able to control events here to the satisfaction of Tehran." It is this control that makes any Iraqi government assurance unbelievable, as the turnover would further increase Tehran's pressure on Baghdad to extradite the Iranian oppositionists. Evidence shows that tens of thousands of MEK members have been executed by Tehran.

While the involuntary expulsion and dispersal of Camp Ashraf residents to third countries is contrary to international humanitarian law, their status as members of a designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO) is hardly an incentive for other countries to accept them.

According to the law, the secretary of state may revoke a terrorist designation if circumstances that were the basis for designation have changed or the national security of the United States warrants revocation.

In 2001, the MEK made a formal decision to cease military activity and has not conducted any attacks since; the MEK relinquished its military hardware to coalition forces in Iraq and denounced violence and terrorism in 2003. The British Court of Appeal, presided over by the chief justice, reviewed both classified and unclassified documents, found the terrorist listing unsupported by evidence, and ordered the government in May to deproscribe the MEK. Both Houses approved, and the U.K. government removed the MEK from its terrorist list.

Regarding national security, the MEK provides crucial intelligence concerning Iran's nuclear weapons program and its terror network in Iraq, information that has saved lives of American soldiers. The MEK presence in Iraq balances the Iranian influence and is a bellwether of independence of Iraq from Iranian control.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to make a decision regarding MEK designation by January 2009. In addition to being consistent with legal criteria for delisting, revocation would undercut Iranian pressure on Iraqi officials who justify extraditing Iran's largest opposition group at Ashraf because they are "terrorists." Delisting would also send a strong signal to Tehran that the United States has a new option on the table: democratic change by the Iranian people.

Raymond Tanter is the founder of the Iran Policy Committee and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Friday, October 03, 2008

European members call for PMOI protection

United Press International
Oct. 3, 2008

BRUSSELS, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Several members of the Council of Europe backed a written declaration regarding the protection of Iranian dissidents in Iraq.

Members of the Council of Europe, Amnesty International along with the International Federation of Human Rights expressed their concern regarding members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran in Ashraf city 50 miles north of Baghdad.

The PMOI is an Iranian dissident movement seeking democratic reform in Iran. Though it is listed by several nations as a terrorist organization for its activities under the former regime, it has an ambiguous relationship with the United States due to its anti-Iranian stance.

U.S. military forces currently protect the group's sanctuary in Ashraf, but recent claims that Iraqi security forces would assume security responsibility have prompted concern for the group's safety, as many pro-Iranian groups in Iraq may seek retribution on the group.

The Council of Europe document says transferring responsibility over Ashraf violates international standards regarding protected persons and calls on the U.S. military to continue protecting the PMOI in Iraq "to protect Ashraf residents and uphold their judicial protection under international law."

Media reports from September said several members of the PMOI were arrested in France and Switzerland, though officials familiar with the group's activities claim those arrested were sympathizers, not official members.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

U.N. Sideshow Brings a Spark to New York

The Epoch Times
September 25, 2008

... Down at street level Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, opposite the UN headquarters, is littered with groups displaying banners, posters and signs.

In one corner there are the supporters of the 3500 members of the Iranian opposition, presently exiled to Ashraf in Iraq. The group displaying gruesome photos of public hangings and violent torture in Iran want the Ashraf residents protected by Multi-National Forces under the 4th Geneva Convention...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Hundreds protest Ahmadinejad in NYC

September 23, 2008

… The lunchtime rally at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza attracted throngs of local high school students, and Iranian Americans also demonstrated, holding large photographs of political prisoners who were tortured and executed under the Ahmadinejad's regime.

Mitra Samani, 45, of West Hills, Calif., who is staying with family in Long Beach, said she made the cross-country trip to protest American plans to turn over Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp near Baghdad, to the Iraqi government.

Protesters said they worried Ahmadinejad would then attack the camp, where 3,500 Iranian dissident refugees live.

"We are asking the General Assembly not to let Iraqi forces take over the refugee camp. Ahmadinejad will kill the refugees because they are political dissidents," said Samani, who was imprisoned for five years after attending women's rights demonstrations...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ashraf City can bring democracy and freedom to Iran

September 20 2008
By Lord King

Lord King of West Bromwich says protection of Iran’s opposition is vital to scores of Birmingham families.

Iranian families from Birmingham last month travelled down to London to join a demonstration of hundreds of their compatriots in support of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.

The demonstration outside the UK headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross drew also human rights activists who sought to highlight the situation faced by the Iranian opposition in Ashraf City, Iraq.

The PMOI in Ashraf has long been seen as the greatest threat to the Iranian regime, with its mixture of democratic ideals and female leadership. The 4,000-strong opposition group has prided itself on offering a ‘third option’ to the Iranian crisis, democratic change through the Iranian people and their resistance movement – a far better alternative to war and appeasement.

However, the Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq have now put this Iranian group in danger. Iranian influence in Iraq has increased greatly over recent years as Tehran funds, trains and supplies weaponry to terrorist militias in Basra and beyond. This support for terrorist militias is the main cause of Coalition deaths.

Iranian proxies are now believed to control a number of high-ranking positions in Iraq, while infiltration into the Iraqi police and military has left the Iranian opposition in danger of Tehran’s terrorism.

The safety of these Iranians working towards a free and democratic Iran must be guaranteed. It is a duty of the Coalition and international human rights organizations to certify the safety of this opposition group. It is for this reason that I travelled with a number of the Birmingham families to the rally in London, taking the opportunity to voice my support for this cause.

I met with ICRC officials and highlighted the support that the Iranian opposition has both in Iran and Iraq. I voiced the great concern of a majority of British MPs and over 200 members of the House of Lords who have shown support for Ashraf City and its residents.

In fact, the PMOI has gained the support of over 5.2 million Iraqis who see this group as the single most effective barrier against Tehran’s fundamentalist influence on their nation. More than 70,000 people gathered in Paris on 28 June in support of the Iranian opposition movement and its President-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

In today’s climate the story of Ashraf and its residents is not only one of humanitarian justice, but also of hope for peace and democracy in Iraq and Iran. The clear message from the Birmingham residents and all others gathered was not only one of personal safety for their families, but for the guarantee of safety for a group that so many see as the only hope for a positive solution to the Iranian crisis.

The United Nations and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must now make a pledge to the families of the Ashraf residents that protection of this city will remain fully in the hands of the Coalition and their presence in Iraq cemented under international law.

This would guarantee the safety of an opposition group whose sole aim has been to bring about democracy and freedom in Iran, an aim that must be supported by us all. As the world searches for a solution to ending Iran’s destructive influence it need look no further than Ashraf City. Ashraf and the PMOI can now be the light at the end of a dark 29-year tunnel for the people of Iran.

I know that with the support of the international community this group can bring democracy and freedom to Iran - a conclusion which will not only guarantee the safety of the Iranian people, but a solution which will greatly increase the likelihood for peace in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

I will use a statement famed by the President-elect of the Iranian opposition to conclude - ‘we can and we must’ she exclaimed addressing the 70,000 gathered in June. Now we can and we must support Ashraf City as the single most viable hope for democratic change in Iran.

* Lord King of West Bromwich, from the Labour Party, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom