Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Iraq's political refugees in limbo

The Boston Globe
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
By Saleh al-Mutlaq

HERE IS so much tragedy in Iraq that some stories go underreport-ed - eclipsed by other negative news. This one requires atten-tion:

Inside Iraq, 20 kilometers west of the Iranian border and 60 kilometers northeast of Baghdad in Diyala province, stands Camp Ashraf where members of the Iranian opposition - known as the Muja-hedin-e-Khalq - have lived for more than two decades. Today, some 3,500 residents live in Ashraf.

In another bizarre turn in Iran-Iraq relations, these arch-opponents of Iran's theocratic regime, who are now a valued part of an Iraqi community, find them-selves in danger of expulsion. Caught in a geopolitical quandary, they are being told by Iraqi officials that their refuge is no longer safe.

The MEK has a controversial image in the Middle East and in the West. The group's determination to end the rule of religious zealots in Iran over the past 20 years led to its vilification by the United States, which, in 1997 branded the MEK a "foreign terrorist organization" - a design-nation that has continued even though the group has given up its weapons and abandoned any militaristic path.

The MEK's demands for a moderate, secular, and democratic Iran put it at odds with the mullahs of Tehran. But, in a strange twist of fate, the MEK is now at odds with the US government, and the Iraqi government.

Regardless of one's opinion of the MEK, the residents of Ashraf are political refugees, protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention. They are considered "protected persons" by US and Coalition forces in Iraq - a designation reserved for noncombatants - not militants or terror-ists. The Iraqi government's threats to the status of the MEK is unlawful and unjust. Even the Iraqi constitution provides protection for dissidents until or unless a legitimate court determines otherwise.

Beyond the legal issues surrounding asylum, the MEK people enjoy popular support inside Iraq, particularly in Diyala province, where they have worked to promote reconciliation between the Sunni and Shi'ite communities. Millions of Iraqis have signed petitions calling for the MEK members to stay in Iraq.

Ironically, the recent signals by some Iraqi officials that MEK members are no longer welcome comes at a time when European governments are positively reassessing the organization. Last year, a British court ruled that the organization must be removed from the British govern-ment's list of terrorist organizations.

An extensive review by a three-judge panel especially empowered to decide cases involving the delisting of designated terrorist groups said the failure of the British government to lift the terrorist designation was "perverse" because "the only belief that a reasonable decision maker could have honestly entertained" is that "the PMOI no longer satisfies any of the criteria necessary for the maintenance of their proscription" as a terrorist organization. Even US military officials pri-vately concede that the MEK has been a valuable source of intelligence regarding Iran's clandestine nuclear program and its meddling in Iraq.

The Iraqi government is caving in to pressure from Iran to make life difficult for the MEK. There is a new and growing alliance between radical elements in both Iran and Iraq, who do not want freedom and democracy to spread. But the US government should not fall into the trap of marginalizing the MEK to appease Iran - and in the process, lose a vital source of intelligence and an ally for the promotion of democracy in the greater Middle East.

American policymakers must tran-scend old ways of thinking, and not be so consumed by fears of potential terrorists that they end up sacrificing potential allies in the struggle against terrorism. The Middle East makes for strange bedfellows, and Western leaders have not always chosen friends wisely. But this is one occasion where the West has a clear opportunity to avoid ending up on the wrong side of history by hearing the call of the MEK for protection before it's too late.

Dr. Saleh al-Mutlaq is a member of the Iraqi Parliament. He heads the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Iran regime arrests, tortures families of PMOI members

Friday, 04 April 2008

NCRI – Iranian regime arrests and tortures families of members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) for meeting their relatives in Iraq, the PMOI said in a statement on Tuesday, April 1.

In recent months, there have been widespread arrests of families of PMOI members who had visited their relatives in Ashraf City, home to thousands of members of PMOI in northeast of Baghdad, Iraq, the statement added.

The PMOI has called on competent international bodies, the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to take immediate measures to save the lives of families of the PMOI members in Iran.

The PMOI statement detailing some of the accounts said: "Mrs. Zahra Assadpour, 50, and her daughter Fatemeh, 22, were picked up by Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) agents at Karaj’s Sassan Square on February 5, 2008. She was kept in Evin prison under the most inhuman conditions in the cold winter without having the basic minimum requirements. For 30 days she was blind folded, tortured physically and mentally. During this period she had no contacts with her daughter.

"Fatemeh was taken to Gohardasht prison in Karaj and held together with dangerous criminals. She was beaten up by prison guards or prisoners provoked by the guards.

"They were not allowed any visits by their family for five weeks. Despite payment of a heavy bail the regime continues holding them in prison," the statement said.

The harassment of families of the PMOI members follows the repeated failures of the clerical regime in its plots against Ashraf City.
In an explosion on February 8, the terrorist agents of the Iranian regime's Qods Force destroyed the water supply pumping station of Ashraf City. The installation was located 25 km to the west of Ashraf City. As a result, supply of water to Ashraf and 20,000 Iraqis living in the area were cut off.

The bombing sparked a wave of strong condemnations by International and local political and human rights organizations.
Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, issued a statement voicing deep concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Ashraf City.

Mr. Ziegler said that he had received reports that the explosion may have been intended to increase the pressure on an estimated 3,000 members of the PMOI who are residing in Ashraf city.