By David Amess
The first test has been met, and the 3400 Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf in Iraq have been saved from being massacred or be dispersed throughout Iraq and then be massacred. But many more tests lie ahead, and the world community will be watching.
Resolution of the tense standoff between the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and the Government of Iraq began on 25 December, when the United Nations and Iraq agreed on a plan to move the dissidents at Camp Ashraf to an abandoned US military base near Baghdad called Camp Liberty. However, the dissidents were understandably wary of any promise from the government of Nouri al-Maliki and needed assurances from world bodies before agreeing to a move that might expose them to attack.
Finally, with pledges of security and well being of the residents from UN, EU and US leaders, the president-elect of the Iranian Resistance, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, announced “a gesture of goodwill” under which 400 Ashraf residents were willing to go to Camp Liberty.
Reaching this point took lots of flexibility by the Iranian opposition leader and great efforts by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, EU High Representative Baroness Ashton, and UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. These leaders have put their own credibility on the line, so it can be hoped that they will follow through.
Actually Tehran mullahs were hoping that they would entrap the opposition in Ashraf by 31 December, have them massacred and then point their fingers to the opposition leaders as those who caused the human catastrophe. They were looking for a win-win situation. But their hand was called and rebuffed.
So far, so good. But many treacherous roads lie ahead.
First, of course, is the threat of more attacks on Camp Ashraf by either Iraqi troops, acting at the behest of the Iranian mullahs, or by rocket-firing Iranian agents. Such attacks have occurred at least three times since the UN-Iraq agreement was reached.
Next is the continued safe movement of all 3400 Ashraf residents, who have to travel in convoys over territory where bombing and other attacks have been taking place with greater frequency since the U.S. pulled its last combat troops out of Iraq.
That’s why Secretary Clinton’s December 25 statement is so important and why it helped lead Mrs. Rajavi to ask her followers at Ashraf to go to Camp Liberty. Clinton stressed their “safety and security” and said that “officials from U.S. Embassy Baghdad will visit (Camp Liberty) regularly and frequently.”
If everything goes according to plan – and that’s a big ‘if’ – and all Ashraf residents are moved safely to Camp Liberty with all their movable belongings, in order to prevent any recurrence of violence the minimum humanitarian and legal guarantees including halting any persecution and harassment of the residents and the annulment of forged warrants of arrests without exception, and that Iraqi forces shall be stationed outside of fenced area of the new location to ensure security and tranquility, particularly for nearly 1,000 Muslim women, must be met.
From there, the next phase of their odyssey can begin.
All have applied for political asylum. The UN refugee agency has wanted to process their requests for months, but the Maliki government has blocked such action. Hopefully, at Camp Liberty, with US and UN protection, such processing can move forward.
Here too, though, there is a major hang-up. That’s the placement of the MEK on the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations by the U.S. State Department, a move taken 15 years ago in an attempt to mollify Tehran. This case proves that appeasement doesn’t work; the mullahs didn’t budge in their hatred of the U.S. and are pushing for nuclear weapons and threatening to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The objective is to allow the Camp Ashraf refugees to relocate in third countries, but while they’re on the terror list, the U.S. and its allies cannot take them in.
The MEK fought for years to be de-listed and it has succeeded in the European Union and the United Kingdom, where courts ruled that there was no basis for such a designation.
In the U.S., a federal Court of Appeals also agreed that the listing is wrong, but only the State Department can remove the MEK from the list. Ironically, at the end of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, after the MEK voluntarily disarmed, U.S. officials interrogated every single Ashraf resident and found them eligible for protection under the Geneva Accords. The U.S. Congress and dozens of senior former U.S. national security officials in a rare bipartisan campaign are all for the delisting.
So what is the State Department waiting for?
Secretary Clinton has been strong in her humanitarian efforts on behalf the Ashraf residents. Now, it is time for her to apply both the law of reason and constitutional law and remove the MEK from the list of terror organizations.
Actually, it never has been a terror organization. But rather than focus on past actions, the U.S. should just move forward. It knows that Tehran is not a friend and that Tehran fears the MEK (which is why the mullahs have prevailed on their Iraqi ‘friend’ Maliki to try to obliterate Ashraf).
It should remove the fetters from the MEK so that it can continue to fight for a democratic Iran.