Sunday, July 20, 2008

DC rally to warn of humanitarian crisis for Iranian refugees in Iraq

Sunday, 20 July 2008

WASHINGTON, July 17, 2008 /PRNewswire-USNewswire - Today, Thursday, July 17, 2008, a rally was held in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in Washington, DC, to sound the alarm about a looming humanitarian crisis for nearly 3,500 Iranian political refugees in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The rally condemned the July 4 missile attack by Iran's clerical regime against Camp Ashraf and demanded security guarantees for its residents.

Camp Ashraf is the residence of nearly 3,500 members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the principal Iranian opposition movement, who are recognized as "Protected Persons" under the Forth Geneva Convention, International Law, and International Human Rights Law. They are currently under the protection of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, led by U.S. forces.

According to numerous reports in the state-run media in Iran, Iraqi security forces, which are largely staffed and controlled by Iran's terrorist outfit, the Qods Force, intend to take over the protection of Camp Ashraf. This would likely lead to the killing, torture, repatriation, or forcible expulsion of these refugees, creating a humanitarian crisis.
The rally, attended by friends and relatives of Camp Ashraf Residents, and sympathizers of the Iranian Resistance in the area, made the following demands:

1- Camp Ashraf Residents symbolize the will of the Iranian people for democracy and popular sovereignty. We pledge our full support for the Camp Ashraf Residents and declare that we will stand by them right to the end and will not allow the regime in Iran to harm them in any way.

2- Camp Ashraf Residents are protected persons under the Geneva Conventions, International Law, International Humanitarian Law, and the principle of non-refoulment, and should be protected by Multi National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) led by the U.S. Army. In addition to the status recognized by the U.S. Forces, according to the most credible international law experts, this responsibility lies with the U.S. forces for as long as they remain in Iraq.

3- According to the International Law, the safety of Camp Ashraf Residents cannot be transferred to any other authority, and must remain the responsibility of the United States Military.

4- ICRC is a key enforcer of the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law, and should remind the United States Military of their non-transferable obligations towards the security of the Camp Ashraf Residents, and not allow the Iranian regime to violate the rights of the residents of Ashraf.

5- We ask the MNF-I, the Iraqi Government, and the international community, specifically the ICRC, to condemn the missile attacks against Camp Ashraf. We also ask the United States military to take special measures in order to prevent future attacks.

6- We would like to give our warmest thanks to the Iraqi people, in particular the residents of the Diyala Province, for their unconditional support for Camp Ashraf Residents despite all the pressures, and restrictions.

SOURCE US Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Will Washington Betray Anti-Regime Iranians?

The Jerusalem Post
by Daniel Pipes
July 17, 2008

As the United Nations mandate that legitimizes the presence of U.S forces in Iraq expires on December 31, 2008, a humanitarian and strategic disaster is coming into view. The fate of about 3,500 anti-regime Iranians will be decided in the course of status-of-forces negotiations between Washington and Baghdad.

They are members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK; it is also called the People's Mojahedin of Iran, or PMOI), the leading Iranian opposition group. Based at Camp Ashraf in central Iraq where they are recognized as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, they have since 2004 been under the protection of U.S. military forces. According to the Convention Against Torture of 1984, to which the U.S. government is a party, expiration of the UN mandate does not end the American obligation to continue to protect MEK members in Iraq.

Further, the MEK's network of supporters inside Iran have provided invaluable intelligence. For example, it exposed Tehran's nuclear ambitions and its shipments of roadside bombs to Iraq. Recognizing this assistance, a "Memorandum for the Record" by Lt. Col. Julie S. Norman dated August 24, 2006, noted that "The PMOI has always warned against the Iranian regime's meddling and played a positive role in exposing the threats and dangers of such interventions; their intelligence has been very helpful in this regard and in some circumstances has helped save the lives of [U.S.] soldiers."

Although the State Department still lists the MEK as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), that will likely end in October, for it no longer meets the terrorism criteria, having renounced terrorism, not conducted operations for many years, lacking the capability to conduct future operations, and not threatening the security of the United States. Gen. Raymond Odierno, soon to be the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, already in May 2003 questioned the MEK's designation as an FTO: "I would say that any organization that has given up their equipment to the coalition clearly is cooperating with us, and I believe that that should lead to a review of whether they are still a terrorist organization or not."

Since then, an interagency group of the U.S. government, led by the FBI, has exonerated the Iranians at Ashraf of terrorism. After a British court ruled that the group was not "concerned in terrorism," the U.K. government in June removed the group from its terrorist list.

Naturally, the expulsion of the MEK from Iraq ranks as Tehran's top demand of both Baghdad and Washington. The Iranian regime is determined to destroy its main opponent and, with some success, has pressured the Iraqi government to disband Camp Ashraf and turn MEK members over to Iran. Iraqi politicians sympathetic to Tehran have joined in this call, including leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

Then, on July 9, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that the Iraqi government had decided to expel members of the MEK. The Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kezemi-Qomi, specified that the Iraqi cabinet had agreed quickly to expel the MEK from Iraq. Iran's Jame Jam television channel reported on July 6 that "American military forces have announced their readiness to hand over" Camp Ashraf to Baghdad, which gave the MEK six months to leave its territory.

Should these reports be true (and it bears noting that prior such statements had little operational effect), they imply either the handover of unarmed Ashraf residents to Iraqi forces or their expulsion to Iran. In either case, a full-scale slaughter, whether by Tehran's proxies in Iraq or by Tehran itself, appears likely. Inspired by such a success, Tehran's ambitions in Iraq would undoubtedly grow further.

The Bush administration has stayed silent about these developments but it has the duty and the interest – based on its humanitarian commitments, its international law obligations, and its need for allies against Tehran – to insist in its status-of-forces negotiations with Baghdad that MEK members at Camp Ashraf remain under the protection of the U.S. military and that they be free to leave Camp Ashraf.

After delisting the Mujahedeen-e Khalq as an FTO, Washington should use the regime in Tehran's near-pathological fears by threatening to meet with it and help its public relations efforts. This is the easiest, most effective way to intimidate the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The writer, director of the Middle East Forum, is the Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

U.S. bound to protect PMOI, official says

United Press International
July 16, 2008

WASHINGTON, July 16 (UPI) -- The United States has a duty under international law to protect the People's Mujahedin of Iran in its Iraqi holdout in Ashraf, a former U.S. official said.

Raymond Tanter, president of the Iran Policy Committee, writes in a column featured with the National Council of Resistance of Iran that the anti-Iranian People's Mujahedin of Iran is protected under the Geneva Conventions, but its future in Iraq is in doubt.

Tanter, who served as a national security staffer under U.S. President Ronald Reagan, writes that the U.S. military provides the group protection in its eastern Iraqi stronghold, but with negotiations ongoing regarding the long-term security arrangement between the two countries, the transfer of security responsibility to Iraqi forces and the influence of Iran over the Iraqi government, the group faces reprisal should U.S. forces withdraw their protection.

"Rather than protect the Iranian oppositionists, Iraqi security forces may choose to assassinate, slaughter or kidnap them for transfer to Iran, where public hangings await them," he writes.

Washington, Tanter says, has a moral obligation to continue its protection of the group as long as there is a U.S. military presence in Iraq.

As the primary opposition group in Iraq opposing the Iranian regime, it would be "politically prudent" for the United States to continue its positive relations with the group to contain the influence of Tehran, he says.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

America’s Obligations to Protect the Iranian Opposition

Human Events
by Raymond Tanter
July 15, 2008

During the 2003 Iraq invasion, U.S. forces bombed and then disarmed members of the MEK -- Mujahedeen-e Khalq -- an Iranian opposition group that had been given refuge in Iraq. Now under U.S. protection in Camp Ashraf in Iraq, MEK members face a bleak future if U.S. forces hand over control of the base to the Iraqi government or withdraw precipitously from Iraq. The U.S. government has obligations under the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law refugees cannot be dispersed to a country where they would face persecution -- to protect the MEK.

The U.S. military provided protection but is under pressure by the Iranian regime and its allies in Iraq to allow the Government of Iraq to provide security for the MEK or the PMOI -- People’s Mojahedin of Iran. But Baghdad is beholden to Tehran: Rather than protect the Iranian oppositionists, Iraqi security forces may choose to assassinate, slaughter, or kidnap them for transfer to Iran where public hangings await them.

An Iraqi government spokesman, Abbas Bayati told the Az-Zaman daily on July 8 that “The presence of the Mojahedin Organization in Iraq is illegal. We will ask the US to put Camp Ashraf, the PMOI’s bastion at the control of the Iraqi government.” The reporter asked, “But the US Embassy spokesman in Baghdad has said that they are internationally protected persons,” Bayati replied, “It is us who determine this, not the American Embassy, because we are a sovereign country…”

Focusing on activities of the MEK with Iraqi moderates against radical Shiites and Sunnis, a news service for the Iranian regime -- the Mehr News Agency -- on 9 July 2008 accused “the terrorist Monafeqin grouplet’s [of] interference in Iraq’s internal affairs,” and stated that the Iraqi Foreign Minister reported the group would be expelled.

Research by the Iran Policy Committee (IPC) shows that the legal status of Iranian citizens at Camp Ashraf, Iraq under the Fourth Geneva Convention, precludes their involuntary transfer or dispersal. The Convention provides protections against the forcible transfer of protected persons and deems violations of the forcible transfer provisions to be “grave breaches,” i.e., war crimes.

The people of Ashraf City have Protected Persons status under Article 4 of Geneva IV. Consider a 21 July 2004 letter from Major General Geoffrey Miller, Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Force–Iraq, to People of Ashraf:

I am writing to congratulate each individual living in Camp Ashraf on their recognition as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Even after a permanent Iraqi government was elected in January 2005, Multi-National Force-Iraq reiterated that provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention continue to apply to residents of Ashraf. On 16 February 2006, Major General John D. Gardner, then-MNFI’s Deputy Commanding General wrote:

The Multi-National Force-Iraq appreciates our responsibilities with regard to the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Civilian Persons (GCIV), 1949… The Coalition remains deeply committed to the security and rights of the protected people of Ashraf and the principle of non-refoulement [refugees cannot be dispersed to a country where they would face persecution].

And as recently as March 2007, the International Committee of the Red Cross reminded the relevant authorities involved “of their obligations to act in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement, when transferring persons to another State or authority.” The same year, United Nations High Commission for Refugees reiterated that “bodies of international law, particularly international humanitarian law and human rights law have positive relevance to the Ashraf situation and could confer protections on individuals who fear serious risks if returned to their country of origin.” As such, UNHCR cautioned competent Iraqi authorities and MNF-I “to refrain from any action that could endanger the life or the security of these individuals, such as their forcible deportation from Iraq or their forced displacement inside Iraq.”

The Iraqi government cannot credibly give undertakings in observing rights of the residents of Ashraf, in view of hostile remarks and actions by its officials and government agencies, including the suspension of vital food, medicine, and fuel rations to the residents of Ashraf. Any attempt to transfer the protection of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi authorities, considering Iran’s influence on that government, would be a recipe for disaster.

The United States is trying to negotiate with the Government of Iraq on a Status of Forces Agreement to provide an Iraqi legal authority for U.S. forces after the mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1546 runs out at year’s end. Whatever the status of these forces may become, the obligation of Washington to continue the protection of Camp Ashraf remains as long as U.S. forces are in Iraq, and arguably even after that. The status of Camp Ashraf and its residents is a direct result of the 2003 invasion of that country by the American-led coalition.

In addition to legal obligations of the United States toward the MEK, continued protection of Camp Ashraf by Washington would be consistent with American moral commitments in that it ensures the security of unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf, who might otherwise face serious and imminent risks. It also would be politically prudent for Washington to continue providing protection, considering that the MEK is the principal opposition to the regime in Tehran and has played a significant role in thwarting the regime’s influence in Iraq by encouraging Sunni and Shiite Iraqis to advance the political process in a country ravaged by sectarian conflict.

Far from being the perfect society of Plato’s Republic, post-Saddam Hussein Iraq is a perfect storm of Tehran-friendly armed militias, including those associated with the Government of Iraq, which cannot be entrusted to protect the main opposition to the Iranian regime. The prospective protectors are unable and unwilling to guard themselves against themselves. Hence, the U.S. military must retain its role as protector.

Professor Raymond Tanter is a former senior staffer of the National Security Council in the Reagan-Bush Administration and is President of Iran Policy Committee.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Rally in Front of ICRC Office in New York City

July 14, 2008

NEW YORK - On Monday, July 14, 2008, the Americans in Defense of Democracy and Human Rights held a rally in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) office in New York, to sound the alarm about a looming humanitarian crisis for nearly 3,500 Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The rally was attended by members of the Iranian-American communities and the friends and relatives of Camp Ashraf residents.