U.S. President Barack Obama recently said the U.S. stands behind those people in the Arab Spring who have risen up for their inalienable rights, seeking freedom and democracy. After such an admirable pledge, one may expect its essence to shape U.S. policy in the region.
Hence it comes as a very unpleasant surprise when a senior U.S. diplomat publically uses rhetoric reminiscent of the Iranian mullahs to push for the closure of a refugee camp in Iraq housing members of the main Iranian opposition group, a policy which if implemented will serve the interests of the religious dictatorship in Tehran.
The case highlighted here is the uncertain destiny of 3,400 Iranian pro-democracy dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, who are members of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).
Following the 2003 U.S.-led war in Iraq, the U.S. assumed protection of Camp Ashraf. After an extensive investigation by various U.S. security agencies none of the residents were found guilty of any crimes.
Subsequently, in 2004, the residents were recognized as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, making U.S. forces responsible for their protection until a final solution to their situation was reached. But their nightmares began as the U.S. ignored the warnings and handed over the responsibility of the camp to the Iraqi government in 2009.
Two brutal attacks were carried out by Iraq against the residents, the latest on April 8, 2011. In this attack, Iraqi armed forces equipped with armored vehicles raided the camp killing 36 unarmed and defenseless civilians and injuring 350.
The lack of adequate action by the U.S. and the United Nations to back up their condemnations and verbal reprimands, has emboldened Baghdad to announce officially its plan to transfer the residents to another undisclosed place inside Iraq before closing the camp at the end of this year, measures contrary to its international obligations and aimed at winning the support of the Iranian regime.
One might hope that the U.S. government would start to react with deemed measures in line with its obligations to stop the aggressions against the residents of Ashraf. But assertions from a senior American diplomat endorsing the residents’ forcible relocation in Iraq unfortunately paint a different picture.
Instead of highlighting the core issues of the crisis like the Ashraf residents’ protection and their immediate concerns of continued attacks by Iraqi forces, Ambassador Lawrence E. Butler, foreign policy adviser to the top American military commander in Iraq, further jeopardizes the well-being of the residents by attempting to justify his proposal through demonizing the residents.
The European parliament has proposed a plan by which the Iraqi military first of all withdraws from Ashraf allowing the U.N. to station a permanent monitoring team at the camp supported by a small unit of U.S. forces, and once calm has come about the Ashraf residents voluntarily relocate to democratic countries.
Ambassador Butler’s plan to displace Ashraf residents inside Iraq is a prelude to another massacre, and it would be like sending the residents into the arms of their killers at a concentration camp without the ability to communicate with the outside world.
Such an unethical plan goes counter to the U.S. president's commitment to freedom and democracy in the region, and best serves the agenda of the religious fascism in Tehran.
The U.S. government — and notably Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — must urgently intervene to rectify the damage Butler’s inexcusable behavior has caused and announce that the U.S. does not support the displacement of Ashraf residents inside Iraq.
To prevent a future massacre in Ashraf, the U.S. must reassume the protection of the camp and work together with its allies in the U.N. to push for the stationing of a permanent U.N. monitoring team inside Camp Ashraf until a final solution based on peaceful measures is reached.
The U.S.' reputation in the region is at stake and will be largely determined by its political courage to follow its words with actions. The fate of 3,400 Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf is a key measure of this.
Lord King of West Bromwich, a member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords from the Labour Party, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.
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