By Lord Carlile Of Berriew
Eight women were either shot at close range or crushed to death under the wheels of armoured vehicles when Iraqi forces stormed Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad, on April 8 last year, a reason to pause this Easter Sunday in their remembrance.
In all, 36 people were massacred on that day: all of them supporters of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the arch enemies of the mullahs who today govern Tehran.
Hundreds of Camp Ashraf residents were also severely wounded. While the raid is notorious across the world, no-one has been held accountable. Calls for an independent inquiry by the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, EU's Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, and the United Nations have gone unheeded.
The massacre of these innocent defenceless Iranian dissidents did not come unannounced. In the preceding days, Iraqi forces massed outside Camp Ashraf’s gates – it was an ominous, alarming sign.
The US embassy in Baghdad, conscious of Washington’s promise to prevent any harm befalling Ashraf’s peaceful residents, sought assurances from the Iraqi government. The residents had agreed to disarm in 2003, when the US army liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, in exchange for a US commitment to protect them until they could be settled in third countries.
The US diplomats’ Iraqi counterparts told them no violence was being planned. Duly reassured by these lies, they passed on the message to the residents. Within hours, guards opened fire on defenceless civilians.
When the international community subsequently didn’t move a muscle to sanction Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his ministers, the Baghdad cabal began planning a massacre of even greater dimension.
Al-Maliki announced that Camp Ashraf – home to some residents for 26 years – would be definitively closed by the end of 2011. The deadline was arbitrary and non-negotiable. Who knows what grim fate would have befallen them when out of the public gaze; many would no doubt not have been heard from again.
It was only after a massive, unrelenting international campaign involving dozens of officials from the US administration, both past and present, that the December 31 deadline was postponed.
Soon after, subsequent to assurances by the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and the UN, Iranian resistance leader Maryam Rajavi agreed to the transfer of Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty, a former US military base in Baghdad, where they would be interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, prior to their transfer out of the country.
Around 1,200 of the 3,400 Camp Ashraf residents have so far made the trip. Given the prison-like conditions prepared for them, many of those who volunteered no doubt wondered whether it might have been better to stay at home.
Their safety in the ironically named Camp Liberty is constantly under threat not only from the same Iraqi guards responsible for the 2011 massacre but also from the Iranian agents the Iraqis allow to infiltrate.
The need for the west to defend these Iranian dissidents is more than merely humanitarian. As concern grows over Tehran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, protecting the Iranian opposition makes political sense too.
Faced with growing domestic isolation, international sanctions and an internecine power struggle at the highest level, Tehran’s mullahs now have their backs against the wall. They feel a dire need to destroy their arch-opponents more than ever before.
If, in memory of those who were murdered, the US now wants to alleviate the suffering of those still alive, the solution would be quite simple.
Following decisions taken by courts in the UK and the European Union, the US State Department could take the PMOI/MEK off its list of designated terrorist organizations.
Its unfair inclusion was just the excuse the Government of Iraq needed to launch the Ashraf attack. The designation has also been a real gift to Tehran, which uses the list to justify its own crackdown on domestic resistance.
On February 29, at a Congressional Hearing, the US Secretary of State said that 'MEK cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf' would be 'a key factor in any decision' on the terrorist designation list.
By giving up the community they have called home for more than two decades, and by voluntarily agreeing to be imprisoned in Camp Liberty, 1,200 Ashrafians have already shown they are more than willing to play their part in the peace process.
This April 10, two days after the anniversary of the massacre, the United Nations Security Council will receive a report from the UN’s Special Representative in Iraq, Ambassador Martin Kobler.
Baghdad’s treatment of the Iranian dissidents will be a good barometer of the extent to which the government wants to be part of the international community.
Hopefully, this issue will receive prominence in the report in a fair way, helpful to the refugees, as the UN is supposed to function and the UN special Representative will use the opportunity to press the Government of Iraq to guarantee the minimum rights of the refugees.
Let us now reward the supporters of the Iranian resistance for their sacrifice, by de-listing the PMOI/ MEK in the USA and finding third countries where persecuted Ashraf residents can once again live in peace as quickly as possible. But at first their rights in Camp Liberty, their new home, have to be guaranteed. This would be a solid new beginning.