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

Friday, September 19, 2008

Blacklist Blues

The Washington Times
September 19, 2008
James Morrison

A leading member of the British House of Lords is lobbying Congress to protect a disarmed Iranian opposition force now under U.S. detention in Iraq.

Robin Corbett fears that if U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq and turn over the 3,500 detainees in Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government, pro-Iranian officials in Baghdad will deport many of them, especially the leadership, to Iran and certain death. "There is a real threat, at least to the leadership," he told Embassy Row on Thursday. "Because of Iranian influence [on the Iraqi government], they will turn over the leaders, and there will be a bloodbath."

Mr. Corbett, chairman of Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, said House and Senate members he met this week told him they share his concerns. His committee includes hundreds of members of the House of Lords and House of Commons from all British political parties. It also includes a former home secretary, former solicitor-general and former lord advocate for Scotland.

Mr. Corbett is also building congressional support for his second goal of getting the United States to remove the resistance, known as the People's Mojahedin of Iran, from the terrorist blacklist.

"There is a lot of interest, and a lot of support," he said.

The Clinton administration put them on the terrorist list in 1997 to meet a key Iranian demand when the United States was trying to repair relations with Iran. The U.S. case against the resistance concerns actions in the 1970s, including killing U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors in Iran and supporting the takeover of the U.S. Embassy. Resistance spokesmen attribute those actions to another group with a similar name.

"We bring tighter economic sanctions against Iran [over its nuclear program] on the one hand, and on the other, we shackle the resistance," Mr. Corbett said.

A new law requires the State Department to review all organizations on the terrorist list every five years. The Iranian resistance is due for a review this year. Mr. Corbett hopes congressional pressure will force the State Department to remove them from the list, especially after Britain's highest court this year ordered the British government to remove the resistance from its own terrorist list.

"Look," he added, "I'm not asking [the United States] to organize a parade for them down Pennsylvania Avenue. But [the resistance] are friends of freedom. Take the handcuffs off."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ahmadinejad foes need a shield

The Washington Times
By Brian Binley
August 24, 2008

America's Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno will take over the top brass job in Iraq next month while Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Quds Force continues to train Shi'ite militias to kill Iraqis and Coalition troops.

As Iranian-sponsored violence continues, there remains a powerful force in Iraq with far greater local knowledge than the U.S. military and anti-fundamentalist Islamic roots that has thus far acted as the principal bulwark to complete Iranian domination of Iraq's political landscape.

The People's Mujaheedin of Iran (PMOI), based in Camp Ashraf in Iraq's Diyala Province for more than two decades, is the main democratic opposition movement to the ayatollahs' regime in Tehran.

Following the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, the group voluntarily disarmed and its members confined themselves to Camp Ashraf. From there, they rallied Iraqis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to take a firm stance against Tehran's expansionist policies in Iraq.

The group has been instrumental in providing intelligence to the West on Iranian meddling and arms transfers fueling the insurgency.

In what U.S. officials admitted at the time was an incentive to the government of then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Washington blacklisted the PMOI a decade ago. The copycat ban was applied in the United Kingdom and the European Union, but the U.K.'s Court of Appeal and the European Court of Justice annulled both designations, describing them as "perverse" and "unlawful."

In Iraq, the PMOI has won significant support, with some 3 million Shi'ites announcing in June that they were backing the group on the grounds that it acts as the strategic counterbalance to Iranian aggression and sponsorship of sectarian strife. Even though the PMOI is a Shi'ite movement, the group is very popular among Iraqi Sunnis who fear their country is facing a second "secret occupation" by Tehran.

Prominent Sunni lawmakers including Saleh Mutlaq and Adnan al-Dulaimi who heads the largest Sunni bloc in Parliament openly support the group's presence in Iraq, noting that the U.S. has designated all PMOI personnel in Ashraf as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, meaning they cannot be extradited or involuntarily displaced within Iraq.

Despite this support, the al-Maliki administration, widely suspected of being infiltrated greatly by allies of the Tehran regime, has said it wants to expel the group from Iraq. This declaration is in breach of international law and the Principle of Non-Refoulement.

Regrettably, Tehran's proxies in the Iraqi government have now stepped up pressure on U.S. forces to end their protection of Ashraf and hand over its control to Iraqi forces. Given the Iraqi government's public calls for the group's expulsion, such a scenario would be in violation of the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law, as it would undoubtedly lead to the massacre of the brave men and women of Ashraf.

Any hostile action toward the Mujaheedin in Ashraf may convince many Sunni leaders that the United States is impotent to prevent Iranian domination of Iraq and that they must resort to arms to tackle a wider backlash against their citizens. Gen. Odierno would have a tough time bringing such Sunni tribal leaders into official government service.

A crackdown on Ashraf would also tip the balance of power in Iraq mightily in favor of the regime, resulting in extensive repercussions for U.S. troops and overall American strategy in this fledgling democracy.

The Bush administration and any serious contender to fill the presidency should seek to guard Ashraf City against Iranian aggression if only to ensure American and Coalition interests in Iraq and the Middle East.

Brian Binley is a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom from the Conservative Party.

America's tough decision on Iran's dissidents

The People's Mujahideen of Iran is caught between Iraq and a hard place (Iran)
By John Hughes
The Christian Science Monitor
September 18, 2008

Provo, Utah - In a dusty little enclave about 60 miles north of Baghdad, some 3,800 opponents of the Iranian regime present a difficult problem for the next American president.

The Iranians, members of the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), who once mounted military operations against the Tehran regime from sanctuary in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, have been disarmed and placed under the protection of American forces since the US invasion of Iraq. To add to the confusion, some Iraqi sources say Iraqi troops have deployed to "protect the camp, not to seize it."

But the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq is now under discussion. With that withdrawal in prospect, Iran is pressing for the fighters, the military arm of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, to be returned to Iran, or at least turned over to the Iraqi government, which it believes would do Tehran's bidding. Understandably, the dissidents fear that either outcome would mean their imprisonment, torture, or death.

Whether it be President McCain or President Obama handling it, the future US relationship with Iran is perhaps the most pressing international issue he will face. The clock is ticking as Iran speeds enrichment of uranium for what it declares is a peaceful civilian nuclear program, but which the US and a substantial number of other nations allege is the pursuit of nuclear-weapons capability. The two candidates have differing views about how to deal with Iran, but both have declared their resolve that Iran should not develop nuclear weaponry.

To hand over the Mujahideen to a cruel fate at the hands of Iran would probably cause an outcry among the American public, and in the US Congress, where the former Iranian fighters have substantial support. Indeed, they are credited by US sources with having provided earlier accurate information about clandestine Iranian nuclear facilities. But not to accede to Tehran's demand to hand them over could hinder any broader negotiations for less tension in the US-Iran relationship.

Refugee status in the US might seem an obvious solution to the problem. But in another bizarre twist, the Iranian Mujahideen members, who are considered "protected persons" under the Geneva Convention by US forces in their "Camp Ashraf" north of Baghdad, are actually listed as a terrorist organization by the US State Department. They allegedly supported the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

British courts and the European Court of Justice have ordered that the PMOI be removed from their respective lists of proscribed organizations.

Standard diplomatic procedure requires the White House to assert that, in the basket of pressure tactics on Iran, military action is always an option. Both presidential candidates have echoed that line. The reality is that both the State Department and the Pentagon know that an airstrike against Iran's nuclear facilities would be a political catastrophe and could not guarantee eliminating some of the facilities buried deep underground. Predictably, the State Department favors diplomacy and has been trying some initiatives of a conciliatory nature. It is trailing in front of the Iranians the prospect of a US Interests Section in Tehran, a step short of an embassy and diplomatic recognition. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reportedly has said he would welcome this.

Another gesture was the first-time dispatch of a senior US diplomat, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to join six-nation, face-to-face talks with the Iranians. Then, after Mr. Burns had suggested sports exchanges might help rebuild bridges, the Iranian national basketball team was admitted to play NBA teams in Salt Lake City and Dallas. The fate of the Mujahideen may be an unwelcome and untimely issue.

Various Iraqi officials, some allegedly tied to Iran, have since early July been demanding that the Iranian Mujahideen be "expelled" from Iraq within six months. That is an interesting time frame, coinciding as it does with the last months of the Bush administration.

The options confronting President Bush – or his successor if the saga drags out that long – are unenviable. One is to withdraw the protective US military guards from Camp Ashraf, thus turning the Mujahideen over to Iraqi forces, and probably to the hands of Iran. That would fly in the face of a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ruling regarding the protection of individuals who face serious risks if returned to their country of origin.

The other option would be to transport the Mujahideen to refuge in the US. That would require another decision: abandoning their designation as terrorists. Some who favor this argue that if North Korea can be considered for delistment, why not the Iranian Mujahideen?

It is a decision that pits principle, humanitarianism, and national self-interest against one another.

• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served as assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration. He is currently a professor of communications at Brigham Young University.

Free Iran

The Washington Times
September 17, 2008

Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama criticizes the war in Iraq, saying, "Iran, which always posed a greater threat to Israel than Iraq, is emboldened and poses the greatest strategic challenge to the United States and Israel in the Middle East in a generation."

Would premature withdrawal of U.S. forces - set by an arbitrary timetable - pave the way for Iran's greater influence in Iraq and the region or a lesser one?

Mr. Obama's Web site suggests that "we have not exhausted our non-military options...; in many ways, we have yet to try them." His site also says "we will offer [Iran] incentives like membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, and a move toward normal diplomatic relations."

Do Iran's rulers seek nuclear bombs, export Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, take American diplomats hostage and help bomb U.S. bases in Lebanon just to push for normalizing relations and joining WTO?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is clear: "The political power of the occupiers [of Iraq] is being destroyed rapidly, and very soon we will be witnessing a great power vacuum in the region... We... are ready to fill this void."

What's the danger of endless negotiations? Could Iran use the opportunity to work on building the bomb and wait out the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq?

Religious fascism is no less a global threat than Hitler's Nazism. Would we have advised British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to use more incentives, more negotiations? Today, the military option is preventable. The United States should continue protecting Iranian freedom fighters in Ashraf, Iraq. It's time to support the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, capable of ending the mullahs' rule - a change we can believe in.

Overland Park, Kan.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Swiss Greens call on the ICRC on behalf of Iranian opponents in exile in Iraq

Friday, 12 September 2008

Geneva (ATS) - The Greens party parliamentary group supported the families of Iranian opposition in Iraq. It called on the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) to intervene to protect opponents, threatened with deportation by the authorities in Baghdad.

In a letter addressed to President of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, the Greens parliamentary group expresses great concern about the situation of refugees
in the Iranian city of Ashraf, north-east of Baghdad.

Some 3500 opponents of the Iranian regime have been refugees since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, under the protection of U.S. forces. The Iraqi authorities call for the transfer of control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi security forces. Iranian opposition fears that Baghdad, at the request of Tehran, expels them to Iran.

Humanitarian law
"Under the international humanitarian law, residents of Ashraf can neither be extradited to Iran nor deported from Iraq, nor displaced inside the Iraqi territory, " says the letter, signed by the president of Greens parliamentary group, Therese Frösch.

"In order to protect theses people, we ask the ICRC to do its utmost to ensure that the Ashraf region remains under the control of the multinational forces,"
Swiss Greens continued.

The ICRC said that it is in contact with all parties in this case. The residents of Ashraf are protected by provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Some fifty representatives of families of Iranian opposition have held a daily sit-in since August 25 outside the UN in Geneva.

Iraq Expels Anti-Iranian Group
September 12, 2008

An Iranian opposition group that has sought refuge in Iraq for more than 20 years has been ordered by the Iraqi government to leave the country.

The Shiite-dominated Iraqi Interior Ministry announced September 1 that members of the Iranian opposition group Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) has six months to leave Camp Ashraf, the U.S. camp in Iraq where approximately 3,360 members of the group are currently being held. The Saudi daily al Riyadh reported September 3 that the United States and Iran had agreed to hand over members of the MeK (also known as the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran) to Iraqi authorities.

While Iraq wants this group out of the country, it is Iran that is behind the move to expel the MeK from Iraq. Tehran views the MeK—whose goal is to replace Iran’s Islamist theocracy with a secular regime—as a terrorist group. The U.S.’s protection of the group has been a major obstacle in U.S.-Iranian negotiations over Iraq. America—which has been a longtime ally of the MeK—has now caved in to Iran’s demands. At the same time, the U.S. administration has become relatively silent in its criticism of Iran, indicating a final deal between Iran and the U.S. on the future of Iraq may be drawing closer.

Meanwhile, “By essentially selling out the MeK,” Stratfor reports, “the United States risks sending the wrong message to its current allies” (September 4). The U.S. is increasingly finding itself in such a position—as recently seen in its lack of support for Georgia. As America increasingly loses power and prestige on the world stage and its military forces continue to be overstretched, we can expect it to become less and less reliable as an ally. This will push former allies to desert the U.S. and look to other nations for support and protection.

French groups calls for PMOI protection

United Press International
September 12, 2008

PARIS, Sept. 12 (UPI) -- A French human-rights group called on U.S. forces in Iraq to maintain security operations around the enclave of an Iranian dissident group in Diyala province.
The French International Human Rights League, or FIDH, called on the U.S. military to “commit publicly” to securing the People's Mujahedin of Iran in their safe haven in Ashraf City or pledge not to forcibly expel the group to another country where they may face prosecution.

The PMOI is labeled a terrorist organization by several countries, including the United States, for its activity in Iraq under the previous regime. It seeks the overthrow of the current Iranian leadership.

“FIDH calls on the Iraqi authorities and the U.S.A. to commit publicly that they will not forcibly send the (PMOI) back to Iran, where their security and their life would be in danger, and where they would hardly benefit from the right to a fair trial,” the statement said.

FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said the human-rights record in Iran puts residents of Ashraf at a significant risk if they were deported to Iran. The PMOI is the main organization of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which was founded in Tehran in 1981.

“A long-term solution must be found to ensure their protection,” she added.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

White House Rally for Camp Ashraf

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
September 11, 2008

By Alex Daniels

Hooshang Nazarali, a store owner in Crosses, in Madison County, was in Washington on Monday to draw attention to the treatment of Iranian nationals held in Iraq.

Nazarali, who came to the United States from Iran in 1977, before that country's Islamic revolution, marched with about 1,000 fellow demonstrators around the White House and listened to speeches in Lafayette Park, across the street from the presidential residence.

Between 3,000 and 4,000 members of the Muhajadine Khalq (the Muslim Iranian Student's Society, or MEK) Organization, which advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime, are being held in Ashraf, a large protected compound in Iraq. The group is on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

Currently, the Iranians in Ashraf are under U.S. jurisdiction and are protected under the Geneva Conventions.

Nazarali warned that if Iraq were to take over the compound, they would send them over the Iranian border where they would likely be "slaughtered." He argued that the State Department should remove the MEK from its list of terrorist organizations.

"They're the only group that's stood up to the Iranian government," he said.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Protesters fear for Iranian dissidents in Iraq

Hundreds rally at the White House against U.S. plans to give control of a dissident camp to Iraq. They believe members of the militant opposition group Mujahedin Khalq could be sent back to Iran.
The Los Angeles Times

By Cynthia Dizikes
September 9, 2008

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of people rallied outside the White House on Monday to protest U.S. plans to give the Iraqi government control of a camp housing Iranian dissidents, a step they said could lead to a humanitarian disaster.

The demonstrators, who included about 200 Iranian Americans from California, said the move would put camp residents in danger of being expelled to Iran, where they could face torture and death.

“I am terrified of what will happen to those living in the camp,” said Babak Dadvan of Woodland Hills. The activists, who waved green, white and red Iranian flags and chanted into portable microphones, have traditionally supported the Bush administration's hard-line approach toward Iran. But at Monday's rally, there was plenty of criticism for the U.S. government.

“It is not fair,” said Mojtaba Rassi of San Diego. “The American government has an obligation to protect these people. They can't just leave them and go.”

The United States has guarded Camp Ashraf, about 40 miles north of Baghdad, since 2003. The camp houses more than 3,000 members of the Iranian rebel group Mujahedin Khalq, which agreed to disarm in exchange for protection.

Although the group, also referred to as the MEK, is considered a terrorist organization in the U.S., Iraq and much of Europe, its members in Camp Ashraf are protected under the Geneva Convention, which bans extradition or forced repatriation of people who could face torture, persecution or death.

“Whenever somebody is transferred or repatriated, the authority in charge should make sure the person is going on his or her own free will,” said Dorothea Krimitsas, a spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of several human rights groups following the situation.

But harboring members of the MEK, which is the largest Iranian opposition group, poses a difficult situation for officials in Baghdad, who regularly talk with their Iranian counterparts.

Last week, Iraqi government spokesman Ali Dabbagh announced the government's “intention to impose full sovereignty over the area of Camp Ashraf.” It will “deal with members of the organization in a humane way according to existing international laws,” he said.

Those who rallied near the White House were skeptical.

“Here is the problem,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, a well-known Iranian dissident who heads a national security consulting firm in Washington. “Once the U.S. forces leave, this would invite Tehran to attack Camp Ashraf, which they have not done up until now because they would be attacking America. But once the U.S. moves out, it's a totally different ballgame.”

U.S. forces are preparing for a gradual transfer of security at the camp, but a specific date has not been set, according to Navy Lt. Patrick Evans, a Multi-National Force spokesman.

“We have received assurances from the government of Iraq that the residents of Camp Ashraf will be treated humanely,” he said. “We will continue to engage closely with the government of Iraq on this issue.”

The State Department designated the MEK a terrorist organization in 1997 for its role in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, assassination of U.S. military personnel and civilians, and other acts of violence. According to a 2007 State Department report, it was also allegedly involved in Saddam Hussein's 1991 massacre of Iraqi Shiites and Kurds.

This May, however, the British government officially removed the group from its terrorist list, saying it could find no evidence that the group had engaged in or claimed responsibility for acts of violence since 2001 or 2002.

O.C. Iranian-Americans demonstrate at White House

Families of dissidents living in Iraq fear for their safety.
The Orange County Register
September 9, 2008


WASHINGTON – Shadi and Melissa Zolgalal were seven and eight-years old when their parents sent them to the United States rather than have them mixed up in their fight to overthrow the Iranian regime.

But the two young women flew from Orange County to the nation’s Capitol Sunday and today stood in the hot sun across from the White House and demand that the U.S. government continue to protect their family and thousands of other Iranian exiles living in Camp Ashraf in Iraq.

“We want to make sure they're going to be protected and not turned over to Iran because we know then they'll all be executed,” Shadi Zolgalal, 24, said. She held a red, white and green Persian flag in her hand while Melissa, 23, waved a royal blue and yellow flag with the symbol of the Mujahedeen Khalq, known as MEK. The MEK fought against the Shah of Iran and its members have been living in exile after the Islamic fundamentalists began their rule of the country.

An estimated 3,500 dissidents live in Ashraf, which had been an armed camp until 2003 when in exchange for a promise of U.S. military protection, the MEK disarmed. Recently there have been news reports in Iraq that the U.S. government will turn over control of Ashraf to Iraqi forces. And American supporters of MEK say that could mean a death sentence for the dissidents.

The U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents organized today’s rally in Lafayette Park. They drew some curious lunchtime passersby but their goal was not to draw a crowd, said Nasser Sharif of Newport Beach, who is an organizer for the California Society of Dissidents in Iran. They wanted media exposure.

“We’re trying to bring more attention to this issue so that the U.S. government will keep protecting them,” Sharif said. “Many of the family members living in Orange County and in the L.A. area are worried we're going to have another disaster on our hands.”

The Zolgalals e-mail their father and older sister who live in Ashraf. Shadi and Melissa Zolgalal haven’t were sent to America for their own safety, they said, and haven’t seen their family since.

“It's very insecure there although they are trying to be very cheerful. They have a hard time getting food in there,” Shadi Zolgalal said. The answer, the two sisters said, is not for their family to come to the United States or flee Iraq.

“They went there (to Iraq) because their main goal has been to free our country from this regime. They want a country like this one. Everybody should have the freedom we have here,” Shadi Zolgalal said.

The MEK has long been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, something Washington lawyer Steven Schneebaum told the crowd of Iranian-Americans he is trying to get reversed. Several members of Congress have lobbied the Bush administration to take the group off the list as well.

“The people of Ashraf are not terrorists and they voluntarily disarmed in 2003,'' Schneebaum said. He said the Iranian frontier is less than 100 miles from the camp and that the U.S. must live up to its obligation to protect them.

Rep. Ed Royce said after meeting with Iranian Americans in his Fullerton district he has gotten assurances from the State Department that they are doing all they can to make sure Ashraf residents are not sent back to Iran.

“We’re going to keep the pressure on to make certain that no one is returned to Iran who does not want to be,” said Royce, who is not yet convinced that the MEK should be removed from the terrorist list.

Royce also believes that over time “Camp Ashraf will slowly dissolve,” with some residents moving back to Iran and others becoming part of the larger Iraqi society. He said State Department officials tell him the population of the camp is decreasing over time.

White House officials had no comment on today’s rally.

Many of the protestors at today's rally will take their cause to Capitol Hill this week. Sharif said they will go to-do-door and try and talk to members of Congress to help them in their cause.

The Zolgalals said they have gone to House members in Orange County who have been sympathetic.

Melissa Zolgalal said she’s worried that Ashraf will become a political football as European and U.S. officials negotiate with Iran over the issue of nuclear weapons.

“Everybody needs to be aware that you don’t negotiate with a regime that’s the biggest terrorists in the world,'' she said.

“It’s not fair,” Shadi Zolgalal Oglala added. “These are people. They are being tossed back and forth as if they have no meaning.”

Call For Help

U.S. may transfer Iranian refugees to Iraq

The Washington Times
By Jon Ward

September 09, 2008

This isn't what the supporters of Iranian dissidents and refugees wanted to hear: the White House appears to be leaning towards transferring control of Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp inside Iraq, to the government in Baghdad.

“The United States is consulting with the Iraqi government concerning the ongoing transfer of security responsibility to Iraq and the expiration of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1790,” said a White House official, who spoke to the Washington Times on the condition of anonymity.

“The Iraqi government has given us its assurances that it would treat the residents of Camp Ashraf humanely in accordance with the Iraqi constitution, local laws, and international obligation,” the White House official said.

That will be no comfort to the hundreds of people who rallied in front of the White House yesterday, to call on President Bush to continue U.S. protection of Camp Ashraf instead of handing it over to the Iraqis.

About 3,500 members of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI), the main Iranian opposition party, are in exile inside Camp Ashraf.

Before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Camp Ashraf was self-sufficient and not threatened by the Sunni-run government. But the new government is led by Shiite Muslims, just like the regime in Tehran, and Ashraf residents fear that Baghdad may help the Iranians go after dissidents.

Iran has stepped up pressure on the Iraqi government to expel dissidents from the camp and send them back to Iran, PMOI says.

The White House official said they had no information that Tehran is seeking to “repatriate” Camp Ashraf residents to iran. But in the same breath, the official said that that Washington is seeking assurances “that any repatriation would fully comply with international standards.”

In 2003, PMOI handed over its weapons to the U.S. military and accepted its protection. The U.S. government in 2004 recognized Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions.

An organizer with the U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents (USCCAR) said that they do not know what the long-term solution is, but that while U.S. forces are in Iraq, they should be the ones protecting Ashraf.

Iranians seek U.S. help for dissidents in Iraq

San Diego Union-Tribune
By Paul M. Krawzak
September 9, 2008

Iranian immigrants from San Diego County joined others from across the nation yesterday, taking to the streets of Washington, D.C., to warn of a humanitarian catastrophe if the United States gives up protection of Iranian dissidents in Iraq.

San Diego residents such as Amir Emadi fear that a deal is in the works to transfer control of Camp Ashraf, a protected enclave near Baghdad, from the U.S. military to the Iraqi government.

“If that were to happen, considering the presence of and influence of agents of the Iranian regime in Iraq, our loved ones will not see the light of day,” he said.

Emadi, a legal U.S. resident who is studying at San Diego State University, has parents and other relatives living in the camp.

American troops have protected the site since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But now, U.S. officials are in discussion with the Iraqi government to transfer security to the Iraqis.

Iraq's leaders have threatened for more than a year to expel the dissidents, who said they face certain torture or execution if returned to Iran.

Efforts to seek comment from a representative of the Iranian government were unsuccessful.

The camp dates back to the 1980s, when the People's Mujaheddin of Iran, or MEK, sought refuge under President Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The organization, which seeks to overthrow the fundamentalist regime in Iran, has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States since 1997.

But U.S. military officials said the group has provided valuable intelligence on Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons and target American troops in Iraq.

Residents of the camp voluntarily gave up their weapons to U.S. forces in 2003. The next year, the U.S. military declared the group “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions.

As demonstrators waved MEK flags, held up signs and marched yesterday, Homa Salehi pulled out her wallet.

Salehi, a floral designer in San Diego, showed a picture of a nephew who lives in Camp Ashraf.

“We are asking the United States to continue the protection of Ashraf,” she said.

Several congressmen have taken up the group's cause, including Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego.

Last month, Filner warned Gen. David Petraeus, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, that transferring control of the camp to the Iraqi government “would be an obvious breach of U.S. obligations under international law.”

He said if governance changed hands, residents of the camp “would become a target of Iranian-sponsored aggression, violence and slaughter.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, also has expressed concern.

Hunter “will encourage U.S. negotiators from the executive branch to address the status of those dissidents with their Iraqi counterparts,” his spokesman said.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Supporters of Iranian dissident group rally across from White House, seek US protection

Associated Press
September 8, 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) - Supporters of an Iranian dissident group based in Iraq held a rally outside the White House.

Backers of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, or Mujahedeen Khalq, are asking for U.S. protection of the dissidents in Iraq. They claim the members face persecution if sent back to Iran.

Activists say about 3,500 members remain at Camp Ashraf, their base northeast of Baghdad which is managed by U.S.-led multinational forces.

Mahie Shaikh (Shayk) of Dallas cried as she spoke about her concern for her parents and relatives who live at the camp. She said Iranian authorities executed 2 of her uncles, and she worries about what would happen if her family is returned to Iran.

The Khalq allied with Saddam Hussein during the bitter 1980s war between Iran and Iraq. It has opposed Iran's Islamic republic and has operated out of Iraq.

U.S.-led troops disarmed the group after the U.S. 2003 invasion. The U.S. lists the group as a terrorist organization.

Iranian dissidents rally in D.C.

September 8, 2008

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Several hundred people loyal to a prominent Iranian opposition group rallied Monday in a park across from the White House, saying a death sentence for thousands of dissident Iranians would result if the United States relinquishes security control of their refugee camp in Iraq.

But the State Department considers their group a terrorist organization, and Iraq’s leadership has said it eventually plans to exile the 3,500 refugees. Nonetheless, organizers with the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI) say the United States is obligated under the Geneva accords to protect the camp as long as American forces are in Iraq.

“If the Iranian regime puts enough pressure on the Iraqi government, if protection is handed over, it would for sure incite a humanitarian disaster,” said Ana Sami, a rally spokeswoman.

Supporters of Iranian opposition rally in DC

Associated Press
September 8, 2008

WASHINGTON — Supporters of an Iranian dissident group rallied Monday outside the White House, calling on the U.S. to protect its members based in Iraq.

Several hundred people marched around Lafayette Square, holding blue and yellow flags of the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, or Mujahedeen Khalq. They chanted slogans demanding the U.S. support their members, claiming they face persecution if sent back to Iran.

Organizers say about 3,500 members remain at Camp Ashraf, their base northeast of Baghdad, which is managed by U.S.-led multinational forces. They fear Iran is pressuring Iraq to take control of the site from the U.S., which could lead Iraq to expel Khalq members from the country.

Supporters say Iran has already targeted the camp by firing weapons and kidnapping members.

The Washington-based U.S. Committee for Camp Ashraf Residents, which sponsored the rally, says about 2,000 took part in the march. Organizers say participants came from more than a dozen states, including Virginia and California.

The Khalq allied with Saddam Hussein during a bitter 1980s war between Iran and Iraq. The group has opposed Iran's Islamic republic and has operated out of Iraq.

Mahie Shaikh of Dallas cried as she spoke about her concern for her parents and relatives who live at the camp. She said Iranian authorities executed two of her uncles, and she worries about what would happen if her family is returned to Iran.

"It's important for them to be protected ... they're the only true resistance to the Iranian regime," Shaikh said.

U.S.-led troops disarmed the group following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Proponents say members of the camp have been recognized by the U.S. as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention since 2004, which bars extradition or forced repatriation to Iran while U.S.-led multinational forces remain in Iraq.

But activists face a major hurdle with the Khalq's designation by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. In June, the Iraqi government also banned any dealings with the group, and said those who violate the order will face charges under the anti-terror law.

Backers filed a petition in July requesting the State Department revoke the group's terrorist status, according to Steven M. Schneebaum, a Washington attorney for U.S.-based supporters. They also point to Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations that speak out against transferring authority of the camp to Iraq as proof that their cause is legitimate.

At Monday's rally, Hamid Azimi of Berkeley, Calif., held a photo of a relative who lives at the camp. Though the Khalq is a political group, he considers their current situation a humanitarian issue.

"We are definitely worried about the fate of these people," he said.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

European Parliament expresses concern over human rights violations and PMOI security

September 07, 2008

NCRI – The European Parliament (EP) expressed deep concern over human right violations in Iran especially execution of juveniles on Thursday.

The MEPs also are concerned over the fate of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) safety and security in Ashraf City, Iraq.
"Having regard to the Declaration of 29 July, 2008, by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the execution of 29 people in Evin prison in Iran,

Having regard to Council declaration of 25 August 2008 on the execution by hanging of Reza Hejazi, Having regard to the statement of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union on the imminent execution of Behnood Shojaee and of Bahman Soleimanian on 19 and 28 August 2008," the final statement said.

With regards to 3,500 PMOI members is Ashraf facing plots by the mullahs' regime, the EP said," whereas there is reason for concern that members and associates of the Iranian opposition who are regrouped and protected in Camp Ashraf in Northern Iraq by US-led Multinational Forces under Art. 27 of the IV Geneva Convention are under threat of being expelled or forcibly returned to Iran, where they could face heavy persecution and possibly even the death penalty."
Representatives of the EU parliaments added in their observation of the risks facing residents of Ashraf emphasized, "Iraqi and US authorities not to forcibly return to Iran any Iranian opposition members, refugees and asylum seekers who would be at serious risk of persecution and to notably work together with the UNHCR and others to find a satisfactory long term solution to the situation of those currently in Camp Ashraf."

Iranian Americans target expulsion

By Susan Ferriss
Sunday, September 7, 2008

Members of California's large Iranian population will go to Washington, D.C., on Monday, to protest the possible deportation to Iran of thousands of brethren who've been in exile in Iraq for years.

Up to 200 Iranians from Northern California who oppose Iran's Islamic regime and support an Iraqi-based dissident group could join the demonstration, according to Sacramento-based Iranian Americans who are going.

"They will be killed if sent back to Iran," said Fred Dastamalchi, a state Transportation Department engineer in Sacramento. He was speaking of an estimated 3,500 people who are confined to a compound called Camp Ashraf in Iraq, and whose fate depends on what Iraq and U.S.-led coalition forces do.

An exile who is now a U.S. citizen, Dastamalchi has a cousin who lives in Camp Ashraf, 60 miles north of Baghdad. The inhabitants are guarded by U.S. troops, but the camp is expected to be relinquished to Iraqi control later this year. The Iraqi government has said it wants to eject the Iranians, whom it blames for meddling in the nation's affairs.

The Iranian dissidents in Iraq are known as the Mujahedeen Khalq, or MEK, a group that opposed the shah of Iran, joined the 1979 revolution against him and whose members fled to Iraq or other countries after the Islamic fundamentalists turned against the more secular MEK.

The MEK, which was once an armed group, has long been on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. Recently, some in Congress have lobbied for the U.S. government to take the MEK off the terrorist list and embrace it as an ally against the fundamentalist Iranian regime.

One of the MEK's most ardent champions is Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado's anti-illegal immigrant crusader, who has said the MEK can serve as "warriors" against Iran.

The MEK's presence in Iraq goes back a generation, after members settled there and collaborated with Saddam Hussein, who fought a war against Iran in the 1980s. Saddam gave the MEK Camp Ashraf, which they used to launch attacks across the border in Iran.

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK dissidents gave up their weapons and now live under U.S. guard to protect them from retaliation by Iraqis who resent them.

While the MEK enjoys support among some of the nearly 700,000 Iranian Americans in the United States – the vast majority in California – many Iranian Americans are strong critics of the group.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C., said the council will not join protests Monday and has no position on the event.

However, speaking on his own behalf, not the council's, Parsi said he believes something must be done to avoid a humanitarian crisis.

Amnesty International and other rights groups also urge that the dissidents not be forced to return to Iran.

"But there are equal concerns about the people in the camp remaining there (in Iraq)," Parsi said, because of reports that many people are held against their will and want to leave the camp.

Human Rights Watch, among other humanitarian groups, has documented former MEK supporters saying they endured abusive, cult-like conditions under leaders who forced them to divorce spouses and give up their children.

Hamid Yazdanpanah, 22, who grew up in the Bay Area and is a student at the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, said his aunt is in the camp, of her own free will, and that his family fears for her safety.

Iran's fundamentalist government "shattered" his family, Yazdanpanah said, killing some and forcing others, including his parents, to flee, first to Pakistan and then the United States. He believes in the MEK, and sees the group as a leader in the fight against Iran's regime.

However, he said, right now he's concerned that the United States ensure that people in Camp Ashraf receive the protection from torture and death due to them under international law.

"Our main concern is a humanitarian concern," said Yazdanpanah.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The deafening silence on Iran

September 6, 2008

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, visiting Libya, said that Iran and North Korea should emulate Libya’s example. What she meant by that was, like Libya, they should reach an accommodation with the United States while abandoning policies that the United States opposes.

That seems like a fairly uninteresting statement, except for the fact that Iran was mentioned. We have heard nothing from the Bush administration on Iran since before the war in Georgia – although a State Department official told us on September 4 that the last official statement was issued by the US Treasury on August 12. Certainly, the constant barrage of comments by the Bush administration on the Iranian threat has decreased dramatically. Frankly, while there might have been passing mentions, the administration appears to have simply dropped the subject.

The silence is, of course, enormously significant.

Prior to August 8, the focus of the United States was on Iran. The United States was warning Iran that the deadline for delivering an answer on freezing nuclear development had passed, and the United States was now going to ask its partners in dealing with Iran – the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – to impose sanctions. Obviously, Russia was part of that group and, equally obviously, it was in no mood to work with the United States on placing sanctions. The Russians have said that they do not see sanctions in general as a desirable strategy. With the Russians out of the picture, the sanctions won’t work anyway. You can’t have a dam with a section missing.

That made the negotiations and the sanctions strategy moot. What strikes us as extraordinary is that the Bush administration has not returned to discussing Iran and outlining a new strategy or making new threats. The administration simply has acted as if a major confrontation with Iran had not been under way just prior to the Russo-Georgian war and, indeed, has acted as if Iran was not a major issue, which it obviously was and continues to be. The American media have not been particularly aggressive in demanding that the administration explain the relative silence on Iran, and the administration has not raised it.

All this becomes more interesting with confirmation that an anti-Iranian group – Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MeK) – had been ordered by the Iraqi government to leave Iraq, amid accusations that it had been involved with al Qaeda. The MeK has been a major issue between Iran and the United States. The Iranian position has been that while the Americans demand that Iran pull its support for Hezbollah, the United States is itself supporting an anti-Iranian terrorist group. The reports appear to be true, since supporters of the MeK demonstrated in the United States today protesting the expulsion from Iraq.

It is unlikely that the Iraqis decided to do this unilaterally. The United States had to have supported this. It is understandable why the United States would not want its fingerprints on this, since the MeK has been a longtime ally, and this change of policy would leave other longtime allies nervous. Still, it is happening. And that means that the Americans have given in to a long-standing demand of the Iranians.

There are rumours that the United States and Iran have signed a document concerning the MeK – which is something we find hard to believe, and the sources aren’t great. There is also a report from a pretty good Stratfor source who is in a position to know that a meeting is scheduled between US Vice President Dick Cheney and unnamed Iranian officials at Italy’s Lake Como later this week. We are not saying that we know that a meeting is taking place; we are saying only that we have received rumours about this meeting. But there are many such rumours in the region at the moment. It should be noted that there are such rumours whenever a senior American and Iranian official are within 50 miles of each other.

Given that, we still note three things.

First, the United States has gone silent on Iran for the first time in a very long time.

Second, the United States engineered or did not prevent the expulsion of the MeK from Iraq – which is a substantial concession to Iran.

Third, unlike Syria, Iranian leaders have not gone to Moscow since the end of the war with Georgia and have been fairly subdued on the matter.

One geopolitical option now is a deal with Iran. We do not know whether one is in the works, but we know this: the rhetoric from Washington on Iran has quieted since the Russo-Georgian war and has stayed quiet. And the United States has made a major concession to Iran this week.

The media have lost interest in Iran, but it is hard to believe the Bush administration has.

Yet the rhetoric has shifted. We do not think the United States is on the brink of attacking Iran. If the Americans were planning an attack on Iran, the last thing they would do is pull the MeK back. So something is up.

Trip to D.C. rally Monday

Staten Island Advance
September 6, 2008

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - Staten Islanders concerned about the human rights of an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq are invited to travel to a rally in Washington, D.C., Monday.

First United Christian Church in Tompkinsville is spearheading the effort to raise awareness of the situation at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, home to 3,500 members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran.

The residents of the camp are recognized as "protected persons" under the Geneva Convention. The camp's security is overseen by the U.S. led multinational force in Iraq.

Concerns have arisen over suggestions that oversight would be turned over to the Iranian-influenced Iraqi security forces. Supporters believe the transfer of oversight would be a death sentence to residents.

"These people need our help," said the Rev. Lloyd Land, assistant pastor of First United Christian Church in Tompkinsville. "Any time there's a humanitarian situation, we try to help out."

Cars will leave the church, located at 109 Victory Blvd., at 5 a.m. Monday. Call 718-981-4828 for information.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Massacre feared if Iranians in Iraq handed over

Fri 5 Sep 2008
By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The United States risks a Srebrenica-style massacre if its forces in Iraq hand over responsibility for more than 3,000 exiled opposition Iranians to Iraqi authorities, an international lawyers' group has said.

The International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf said the Iranians would be in danger as pro-Shi'ite elements of Iraq's government close to Tehran could expel them to Iran.

Camp Ashraf, 70 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad, has housed Iranian refugees and the exiled opposition People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) for two decades. U.S. forces who toppled President Saddam Hussein have protected it since 2003.

But the residents' fate hangs in the balance as U.S. forces negotiate the transfer of territory to Iraq's government, which says PMOI is a terrorist group, the Paris-based committee said.

“We fear we will end up with a situation like Srebrenica,” said Marc Henzelin, a committee member who visited Ashraf last month, told a news briefing on Thursday.

“It is like putting foxes in charge of protecting the chicken coop. We don't want to have a massacre which is foretold,” the Swiss lawyer added.

He was referring to the Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serbs killed 8,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995.

Amnesty International has urged Iraq and the United States to treat the PMOI as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and not deport them to Iran. The 1949 pact bans extradition or forced repatriation of people who could face torture or persecution.

Expelling the Iranian rebel group, also known as Mujahadeen e-Khalq (MEK), has been one of Tehran's main demands.

Iraqi authorities want to “eradicate, to disband this resistance movement to the Iranian regime” and were “slowly taking control of Ashraf camp like a python”, Henzelin said.

On Monday, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh announced Baghdad's “intention to impose its full sovereignty in the Ashraf camp area in Diyala province, which includes elements of the Khalq Iranian organisation”.

Iraq would work with humanitarian agencies to resolve their fate, he said. It did not plan to force Ashraf residents out of Iraq but did want them to leave the country.

The residents' families have protested outside the United Nations in Geneva all week, demanding humanitarian groups' help.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited Ashraf in August for the first time since 2003, reminding all sides of the principle of no forced returns, a spokeswoman said.

The U.N. refugee agency says the Ashraf residents do not fall under its protection mandate until they agree to lay down arms and uniforms, and denounce armed struggle.

Over the years, some 200 residents have done so, but it has been hard to find countries of asylum for those granted refugee status due to their background, a UNHCR spokeswoman said.

The PMOI began as a leftist-Islamist opposition to the late shah of Iran but fell out with Shi'ite clerics who took power after the 1979 Islamic revolution. It is also banned as a terrorist group in the United States and the European Union.

Francois Serres, committee executive director, said Ashraf had endured “a lot of attacks carried out by Iran's regime”.

These included the kidnapping of two residents in 2005, the deadly bombing of a workers' bus in May 2006, and the bombing of a water station in February 2008, the French lawyer said.

“We will continue our action so that clear action is taken to maintain protection of the population,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan in Baghdad; editing by Elizabeth Piper)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Iranian Sources To Saudi Daily: Iran, U.S. Signed Agreement On Mojahedeen-e Khalq

September 3, 2008

Iranian sources have told the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh that the transfer of control over the centers of the Iranian opposition organization Mojahedeen-e Khalq to the Iraqi government was carried out in the framework of a secret agreement signed recently between Iran and the U.S.

In the framework of the agreement, the U.S. sought to clarify to Iran that its presence in Iraq was not aimed against the Iranian regime.

Source: Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 3, 2008

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Iraq will not expel Iranian exiles

Iraqi daily Azzaman
September 2, 2008

Iraq has no intention of expelling Iranian exiles from its territory despite its strong objection to their presence, a senior Interior Ministry official said.

“The government will deal with the elements of Mujahideen Khalq Organization in a humanitarian way and in the light of international law,” said Ali al-Dabbagh the ministry’s spokesman.

Iraqi forces have reportedly restored control of the group’s main military base al-Ashraf which was until very recently under U.S. military protection.

There are nearly 4,000 armed Mujahideen members in the camp which was target of numerous Iranian missile and air attacks before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

For the U.S. the exiles are ‘terrorists’ but it has opted to protect them despite Iraqi government’s repeated calls to close their camp.

“Iraq will not force the group to leave. It will rather encourage the group to go to another state that will accept their asylum,” Dabbagh said.

Dabbagh warned the group against taking any measures, whether political or military, as long as they are in Iraqi territory.

PMOI fate determined by international law

United Press International
September 2, 2008

BAGHDAD, Sept. 2 (UPI) -- The Iraqi government Tuesday said it would rely on international law to determine the fate of Iranian dissident group People's Mujahedin of Iran.
The PMOI operates in Iraq under U.S. protection in Ashraf City in eastern Diyala province. The group is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and several other nations for its activity under the former Iraqi regime, though that status is being reviewed.

Iranian media outlets last week carried a statement from a senior Iraqi official saying Iraqi forces had taken over responsibility of Ashraf city, though that claim has been refuted.

“U.S. forces are coordinating with Iraqi security forces to prepare for a gradual transfer of security at Camp Ashraf. A date is not yet set,” the U.S. military in Iraq told United Press International in response to e-mail questions.

The PMOI is a source of contention for Iran and several Iraqi leaders, prompting calls for the group to abandon its stronghold in Iraq, Iraqi daily Azzaman said.

“The government will deal with the elements of (PMOI) in a humanitarian way and in the light of international law,” Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. “Iraq will not force the group to leave. It will rather encourage the group to go to another state that will accept their asylum,” he added.

The PMOI claims protection in Iraq under the Fourth Geneva Conventions.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Iraqi politicians divided over the handover of Ashraf camp

September 1, 2008
DPA (German News Agency)

Baghdad- A refugee camp in Iraq home to an Iranian opposition party has been transferred from US control to Iraqi authorities, Iraqi Radio reported on Monday.

Camp Ashraf was originally set up during the Iran-Iraq war to give shelter to opponents of the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US military has been responsible for protecting the group in the face of Sunni-Shia sectarian violence throughout Iraq.

Iraqi army forces officially received from the Multi-National Force (MNF) responsibilities to protect the Ashraf camp on Sunday.

The camp, 60 kilometers north of Baghdad, is the official headquarters of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the largest Iranian opposition group.

Iraqi politicians are divided over the move.

A member of the Shiite Unified Iraqi Coalition's Solidarity Bloc on Monday described the handover of the camp as 'a step in the right direction' to rectify relations with Iraq's neighbours.

'The government should take similar steps with all countries because Iraq needs to establish good neighbourly relations with all and to move away from the tensions created by the former regime,' Voices of Iraq news agency quoted Member of Parliament Qays al-Aameri al-Aameri as saying.

However, the leader of the Sunni Iraqi National Dialogue Front, Saleh al-Motlaq, described the handover as a great loss to Iraq and a victory for the Iranian regime, which according to him is seeking to eliminate the organization.

The unarmed residents of the camp fear becoming the target of Iranian-sponsored aggression, violence and slaughter.

They also fear being expelled by the Iraqi authorities.

Demonstrations were held worldwide in support of the 3,500 Iranian dissidents in Ashraf.

Families and supporters of Ashraf residents demonstrated in front of the UN headquarters in Geneva earlier in August to press for guarantees of safety for the camp's inhabitants.