By Ernesto Londoño
At least 52 members of an Iranian opposition group exiled in Iraq were executed over the weekend, the United Nations said Tuesday, drawing loud condemnations from supporters in Washington, who have called on the United States to find a safe haven for the group’s members.
The attack Sunday on a camp north of Baghdad was the latest targeting members of the Mujahideen-e Khalq, a group once aligned with Saddam Hussein, whose members disarmed following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq after getting assurances from the U.S. military that they would be protected. Their fate since the U.S. military withdrawal in 2011 has been one of the most dramatic and violent subplots of the post-American era in Iraq.
Iraq’s Shiite-led government, which has long loathed the group, has been widely suspected of involvement or acquiescence in a string of attacks against the group — also known as the MEK — for which no one has been held responsible. Sunday’s was particularly brutal, according to photos, which showed the corpses of several men shot in the head and back, some with their hands bound.
Gyorgy Busztin, a U.N. envoy in Baghdad, visited the camp in Diyala province a day after the killings and spoke to survivors. In a statement, he expressed “his outrage at the brutal killing of the camp’s residents” and called on the Iraqi government to launch an investigation and “acknowledge its responsibility for the safety of the camp’s residents.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation into the killings, according to news reports in Baghdad.
Former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell, who is among the prominent Americans who champion the cause of the MEK, said he was horrified that the United Nations and the United States haven’t done more to get the Iranians out of Iraq.
“We are a joke when it comes to living up to our moral obligations,” Rendell said. “It is our legal and moral obligation to protect them.”
Rendell and the other prominent American MEK supporters have received speaking fees from the group, but the former governor said they were making the latest lobbying effort pro bono.
The status and fate of the MEK has long been a thorny issue for U.S. officials in Baghdad. After the invasion, most members lived in Camp Ashraf, a sprawling compound where the Iranians grew their own food, plotted to overthrow the Iranian government and lived according to strict behavioral edicts, including abstaining from sex.
Because of its militant past, the MEK was labeled a terrorist organization by the United States until last year.
The government in Baghdad sought for years to expel the group from Camp Ashraf, but that goal became possible only after the U.S. military pulled out of Iraq at the end of 2011. Most members of the group were transferred to a former U.S. military base in Baghdad called Camp Liberty, where they have come under attack a handful of times.
The members killed over the weekend were among the 100 or so who remained in Diyala province.
The State Department on Sunday called “on Iraqi authorities to act with urgency to immediately ensure medical assistance to the wounded and to secure the camp against any further violence or harm to the residents.”
- Saturday, October 5, 2013
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BRUSSELS (AFP): EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has warned of the “significant risk” that seven Iranian dissidents held in Iraq could be sent to Tehran and has called for their immediate release.
“We have reason to believe that up to seven camp residents are being held in captivity near Baghdad, and that there is a significant risk that they could be sent to Iran,” Ashton said in a letter seen by AFP that was sent on September 19 to European MP Alejo Vidal Quadras.
“I fully share your concerns about the fate of these individuals,” she wrote, adding that she had raised the issue with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari and asked for their release.
The seven Iranian exiles, members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), disappeared during the September 1 violence in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, that left 52 people dead.
The PMOI charges that special Iraqi security forces that answer to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki were behind the slaughter. Iraqi authorities have blamed infighting within the PMOI for the deaths.
The group’s leader Maryam Radjavi says the seven survivors are in Iraqi custody, and risk being sent back to Iran where they could face torture or forced disappearance.
The PMOI was founded in the 1960s to oppose the shah of Iran and later the country’s clerical rulers, and set up camp in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s war with Iran in the 1980s.
It was disarmed after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and today’s Shia-majority and Tehran-friendly government in Baghdad is eager to see it move elsewhere.
- Saturday, October 5, 2013
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Ex-UN official in Iraq: It is impossible for UNAMI and US Embassy to be uninformed of the hostages’ location
• Boumedra: “In the attack of April 8, 2011, the US tried to hide the realities but I sent the report in irregular manner”
• The nominee for Assistant Secretary of State pledges to Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to urge for the release of the hostages and protection of Camp Liberty.
In a shocking testimony in the UN Headquarter in Geneva, Dr. Tahar Boumedra, Head of the UNAMI’s human rights office and UNAMI advisor on Ashraf between 2009 and 2012, stated on Thursday, September 19: “Ashraf is highly fortified camp where nobody could penetrate into the camp without the active
preparation and support of the Iraqi Police and Army… There are observation towers in every corner of the camp… Nothing could go into Ashraf without being seen… Now when I hear that there is doubt raised about who made the recent attack on Ashraf, it shocks me…. It was me who did the fact finding on April 2011 attack and I talked directly to those who committed the crime in April of 2011. They tried to put the blame on the Ashrafis but in the end they recognized that they did it.”
He added: “There is nothing that happened to the Ashrafis that is a secret to UNAMI…….. There are three security institutions in the UNAMI called Polad, Milad and DSS, which are in regular contact with the Iraqi Police, Iraqi Army and the Chief of Staff of the Iraqi Army and security of the Prime Minister Office. I could confirm in this meeting and I hope that the Press or the UN personnel in this room would challenge what I am saying. I am telling you that it was done by the Iraqi Army coordinated by the Prime Minister’s office ordered by Falleh Fayaz the National Security adviser.”
Mr. Boumedra stressed: “My counterparts in the American embassy also tried to hide the realities but they told me oh you know the situation got out of hand and the Iraqi Army could not sort of monitor the situation closely. They went into Ashraf on the 10th of April and did not inform me because there are some convention working arrangements that we inform each other and I went to Ashraf on 13 of April and found out that the Americans had been there before me and they did not say anything and kept quite……….. The report about the massacre of April 2011 was sent here to Geneva in irregular manner because I was not allowed to send the report through the normal channels. That means if I didn’t send it in an irregular manner we would have covered it up.” On the location of the seven Ashrafi hostages, Tahar Boumedra stated: “Here again it is not a secret there is no way for UNAMI not to know. There is no way for the American embassy not to know where they are……….. When the 36 in 2011 were taken from Al Khalis they disappeared and I followed them where they were. They were in Baghdad in the Green Zone 50 meters away from UNAMI headquarters also 50 meters from Iraqi Presidency in a building with a label on it ‘High Council of National Education’ and the National Education was used as a secret prison. They kept them there. I went to visit them in the presence of the Iraqi security officers. I told them now you are my neighbors and I will visit you every day. Next day I went to visit them they were removed.”
Also on September 19, Senator Robert Menendez, Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee stressed in the hearing of Ambassador Patterson, nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs: “I’m also disturbed by Iraq’s failure to protect the MEK community at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, which most recently resulted in 52 deaths and the kidnapping of seven individuals who remain hostages. I expect the Iraqis to hold the guilty parties responsible for their actions. I also hold the Iraqis responsible for the security of those at Camp Liberty and I hope that the administration will also send the same message”
Senator Menendez asked Ambassador Patterson: “would you commit to me that you will make an effort to make it very clear to them that they are equally responsible for those individual at Camp Liberty and to find the attackers on Camp Ashraf and return the hostages, seven hostages that were taken from Camp Ashraf” Ambassador Patterson replied: “Yes sir, I will.”
- Saturday, October 5, 2013
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On Saturday, September 21, the hunger strike of PMOI members in Camp Liberty that started on September 1 after the massacre and mass execution of members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) in Camp Ashraf, finished its third week.
Currently, hunger strikes by freedom-loving Iranians in cities of Geneva, Berlin, London and Ottawa continue. Iranians in many other cities around the world, including Washington, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Northern California, Oakland (United States), Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto (Canada), Paris (France), Stockholm, Gothenburg, Boras (Sweden), Oslo (Norway), The Hague (Netherlands), Copenhagen (Denmark), Vienna (Austria), Brussels (Belgium), Melbourne, Sidney, Canberra (Australia), and Bucharest (Romania) staged sit-ins and protests to voice their support for PMOI members in Camp Liberty and their demands.
Many of those on hunger strike whose immediate demand is the expeditious release and return of the hostages are in dire physical conditions. Hunger strikers are also demanding deployment of UN Blue Helmet forces in Camp Liberty and providing imperatives security provisions to the camp (such as 17,500 T-walls, protective vests and helmets), and establishment of an international fact-finding committee to probe the human catastrophe of September 1 and bring its perpetrators to justice.
The 52 martyrs of crime against humanity in Ashraf and the seven hostages have all been under protection by the 4th Geneva Convention and as stipulated by the High Commissioner for Refugees are ‘people of concern’ with all of them having been promised protection. Hunger strikers stipulated that this tragedy need not have happened if U.S. and UN had abided by their guarantees for residents’ safety and security.
They expressed their abhorrence that United States and United Nations have not taken any effective measures to save the seven hostages who are in danger of extradition to the religious fascism ruling Iran at any moment from the claws of Maliki’s assassins. They reiterated that until liberation of hostages and realizing security at Camp Liberty through deployment of UN Blue Helmet forces, they shall continue with their hunger strike.
- Saturday, October 5, 2013
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Archbishop Tutu calls for the immediate release of seven Iranian dissidents taken hostage in Camp Ashraf
The world community must hold the Iraqi government accountable for these heinous crimes
I strongly condemn the mass executions of innocent residents of Camp Ashraf on September 1,
2013. It is particularly disheartening to hear that many of them were handcuffed or injured when they were killed. The world community must hold the Iraqi government accountable for these heinous crimes, as these were refugees designated as such by the UN and therefore deserving the protection of the Iraqi government.
Surely the extrajudicial killings of 52 civilians and the taking seven as hostage is a crime against humanity.
I express my deep condolences to the families of the victims. I also join those who have voiced concerns over the fate of the seven hostages (six women and one man), taken from Ashraf. The Government of Iraq must immediately produce and release them. Under no circumstances should the government of Iraq turn them over to the Iranian authorities, as we know that they
will face torture and execution there.
They are all protected persons and asylum seekers and thus enjoy protection under international law. The international community must take the steps necessary to ensure their release.
I call on those who promised the people of Ashraf their protection, namely the UN, UNHCR and the US Government to take full responsibility for the safety of the residents in Camp Liberty until they are resettled outside Iraq.
- Saturday, October 5, 2013
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The chemical attack in Damascus outskirts on the morning of Wednesday, August 21 and the massacre of 1300 innocent civilians, especially women and children must be condemned in the strongest terms.
The increasing number of victims of this horrifying war crime and the heartbreaking scenes of the huge number of small children who have died has hurt the conscious of today’s humanity. International community’s silence and inaction regarding previous chemical attacks by the Syrian government encouraged its unparalleled attack of Wednesday morning.
Ahmed al-Jerba, leader of Syrian opposition, told al-Hayat daily on August 18: “The real rulers of Syria are commanders of the revolutionary guards. Revolutionary guards are fighting us in the streets of Damascus and Ghassem Solaymani commands the military operations. Iraqi militias are dispatched to fight in Syria by Iran’s orders. Maliki sends fundamentalist and extremist fighters to Syria and allows airplanes carrying Iranian weapons to pass through Iraqi airspace. It is with the assistance of Iranian regime that Hosis have come from Yemen and Hassan Nasrollah admits that he is Velayat-e faqih’s soldier and kills the Syrian people. Assad’s army has been defeated. Today, we are facing an army commanded by the Iranian regime that has imposed on us an all out war with advanced weapons.”
A day prior to this barbaric massacre, head of Iranian regime’s Friday prayers Reza Taghavi said: “Today, it is [Khamenei] who leads southern Lebanon, has made proud Gaza with his leadership, and has made Syria resistant in confronting Takfiris… people of Egypt have no Velay-e faqih and leader and hence these massacres are happening in their country.”
Previously, Mullah Ammar Ta’eb, a close associate of Khamenei, had said on 14 February 2013: “Syria is Iran’s thirty-fifth province.” And Rouhani, mullahs’ new president, described the Syrian government as the legitimate representative of Syrian people. In his meeting with the Syrian Prime Minister on August 4 he said: “No power in the world can harm our relations with the Syrian government.”
- Thursday, August 22, 2013
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The Iraqi forces stationed at Camp Ashraf have cut-off the supply of water and electricity to Iranians living in Camp Ashraf since August 10. They have also preventing the delivery of food supplies and daily necessities.
According to orders by the Iraqi Prime Ministry’s Office, Camp Ashraf’s electricity must be completely cut-off and not a drop of water should be pumped into Camp Ashraf.
(Read more about the Iraqi Prime Minister actions against Camp Ashraf in “The Untold Story of Camp Ashraf” by Tahar Boumedra http://www.amazon.com/United-Nations-Human-Rights-Iraq/dp/1909740640)
The water and electricity cut-off in the hottest season in Iraq, where temperatures in the shade reach around 50 degree Celsius, is a criminal measure that will lead to the loss of human life.
The supply of diesel fuel to Ashraf has also been cut off for 14 months, the supply of kerosene for 19 months and gasoline for 19 months.
The Iraqi Prime Ministry committee tasked with suppression of Ashraf residents has also transferred Heidar Azzab Mashi – a criminal Iraqi Army officer – from Camp Liberty to Camp Ashraf for the continued suppression of the residents.
Mashi already has been summoned by the Spanish National Court for his role in two massacres in Camp Ashraf.
A number of agents of the Iranian regime’s Quds Force and its embassy in Baghdad are also present in Camp Ashraf to help Mashi supervise the cutting-off of the water and electricity and prevent the delivery of food supplies.
According to the order by the Iraqi Prime Ministry, Iraqi officials who face questions by international organizations on Camp Ashraf’s water and electricity outages must insist that all of the Iraqi people are facing power outages that are also causing the water to be cut off.
The Iraqi Government aim through this criminal measure is to force the 100 Camp Ashraf residents to give in so that they seize and plunder the residents’ property and carry out another massacre. These 100 residents have remained in Ashraf under an August 17, 2012, quadripartite agreement between the US Government, the Iraqi Government, the UN and the residents in order to secure the property of Ashraf and Liberty residents.
Based on the aforementioned agreement, on September 6, 2012, and an official letter from the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative, the 100 residents will remain in Camp Ashraf until all of their property in Ashraf is sold.
The US Secretary of State’s Special Advisor on Ashraf stressed that the stay of these individuals at Ashraf has no time limitation (Agence France Presse, 3 October 2012). However, the Iraqi Government has to this date not permitted the sale of even a single item of the residents’ property.
Cutting off the water, electricity and food of refugees who are recognized as ‘protected persons’ under the Fourth Geneva Convention constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity under any definition and its perpetrators must be brought to justice and be punished.
The US Government and the UN has commitments towards the safety and security of the Ashraf residents and urgent action needs to be taken to end this siege by reconnecting the water and electricity and lifting all of the obstacles to entry of food.
- Thursday, August 22, 2013
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Roll Call – July 31, 2013
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
These words, written more than a century ago, have a modern application in the history of the West’s impressions of the theocratic government of Iran.
Dating back to the Carter administration, not long after Ayatollah Khomeini replaced the Shah, the U.S. and other Western governments have been looking for “moderates” in Tehran with whom to negotiate.
There was Hashemi Rafsanjani, then Mohammad Khatami, then Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and now Hassan Rouhani — but looming over them all has been the all-powerful Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Different names, different personalities, different styles — but one thing in common: They are ultimately subservient to the wishes of the supreme leader.
Yet the West continues to seek a silver lining in the cloud that has covered Iran for decades. American and European negotiators keep looking for “moderates” to discuss issues ranging from nuclear weapons to sanctions to Iraq, with much more in between. And while the seemingly unending search continues, Iran keeps its nuclear program moving full speed ahead.
The West keeps looking. The mullahs keep building and they continue to export terrorism around the world, supporting the Assad regime in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, while gaining more influence in Iraq than the United States has.
In Iran, a “moderate” is one who grudgingly receives the approval of the Supreme Leader’s Guardian Council, and is moderate only to the extent that he is less extreme than the few others the Council permitted on the ballot. Is being less extreme than Ahmadinejad a sign of moderation? That would be a strange definition.
Perhaps the greatest danger from Iran is its growing influence in Iraq. The U.S. took Iraq’s (and Saddam Hussein’s) side when those two nations warred for eight years in the 1980s, shortly after the anti-Shah revolution in Iran.
When the Iran-Iraq war ended, there was no real victor. But 20 years later, after the U.S. overthrow of Saddam and installation of a new government in Baghdad, it seems clear that Iran has indeed won that war with a large assist from blundering American foreign policy.
The Nouri al-Maliki government appears subservient to Iran, to the detriment of Iraqis who seek democracy and to the Iranian refugees who had been protected by the U.S. until the withdrawal of the troops in 2011. Particularly at risk are the 3,200 dissidents who had lived peacefully at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad for a quarter century. At the end of 2011, they agreed to be relocated to Camp Liberty, closer to the capital, supposedly to be processed by the U.N. refugee agency for transfer to third countries. This relocation was mandated by the U.N. and the U.S.
Sadly the UN and the U.S. have looked the other way as these refugees have been housed in sub-human conditions and denied basic rights. Very few have been resettled.
Worse, they have been subjected to three violent armed attacks in little over a year, either by or at the behest of the mullahs in Tehran, resulting in 10 deaths and 170 wounded. The latest took place in June of this year.
- Friday, August 9, 2013
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By Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr.
The Hill – As the Middle East teems with masses yearning for relief from authoritarian rule, economic hardship and censored communications, Iran should be a prime candidate for popular unrest. The economy is hurting from sanctions, the people live under harsh restrictions and most Iranians are too young to remember the widespread support Ayatollah Khomeini and the fundamentalist clerics rode to power when the 1979 revolution drove the ailing Shah into exile.
Yet the Arab spring has not produced a Persian spring, and in Washington talk of war and regime change have quieted.
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his aides must be marveling at their recent run of good luck. The June 14 presidential elections could have triggered internal dissent as in 2009, when fraud was widely suspected in the vote reelecting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At that time, the world witnessed street protests brutally put down by the police. Not wanting to repeat that spectacle, the regime announced in January of this year its intent to “engineer” the results of this year’s election.
Defiance of the supreme leader’s wishes was on display as powerful former President Hashemi Rafsanjani registered his candidacy 10 minutes before the deadline and the term-limited Ahmadinejad accompanied his own preferred successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, into the registration office. Iran’s Guardian Council disqualified Rafsanjani and Mashaei along with 676 other registered presidential candidates. Only eight were permitted to run, prompting expectations of a low popular turnout and possible protests.
Yet at the eleventh hour a groundswell of support arose for Hassan Rouhani — the only cleric among those allowed to run — characterized by Western journalists as a “moderate” and potential reformer. The polls opened, and no less than 70 percent of Iran’s eligible voters were said to have turned out. Just over 50 percent of their votes, the threshold to avoid a runoff round, were said to have been cast for Rouhani, making him the outright winner.
The Obama administration, having said little before the election, congratulated Iranians on their vote. The Western press reported a moderate reformer had been elected by a majority with a heavy popular turnout. The smiling faces of election revelers adorned newspapers and broadcasts worldwide. Unlike 2009, this time there were no reported protests, no police, no blood and no serious international criticism.
At the same time, the regime managed to strike a blow against exiled Iranians advocating popular sovereignty in Iran. Within hours of the election, an Iranian-supported militia called Iraqi Hezbollah fired rockets into Baghdad’s Camp Liberty, a small trailer park under tight Iraqi military control, killing two and wounding several other defenseless residents awaiting refugee processing by the U.N. It was the second deadly attack on Camp Liberty residents this year. The story barely made the press.
These 3,100 men and women, promised protection by the U.S. in 2004, are being denied concrete barriers and personal protective gear by Iraqi authorities. The ability to attack political adversaries with impunity and trample on an American promise with no significant reaction from the U.S. government and press, invites further attacks.
Washington’s indifference here encourages Iran’s efforts to prop up Syria’s regime with special forces and weaponry, foment sectarian violence in Yemen with arms and cash, and target Israel’s population with a growing arsenal of rockets and missiles supplied to Hezbollah and Hamas.
Three decades of fundamentalist rule in Iran defying norms of state behavior have spawned an array of dangers afflicting the American ideal of a stable and secure Middle East. The administration has no easy options and other priorities. But time is not on its side; once Rouhani takes office, the U.S. must have a clear notion of how to pursue security in the region even while the focus of defense planning pivots to Asia. Issue one is the nuclear negotiation with Tehran.
What will induce Tehran to accept a verifiable arrangement that forestalls an unstoppable Persian-Arab-Israeli nuclear arms race? Lifting sanctions is the obvious quid pro quo, and a clean sanctions-for-nuclear deal — assuming a weapons program could be reliably averted — would be a good outcome for both sides. But what if Iran’s leaders want more than a lifting of sanctions? Over the years what they have coveted above all is American acceptance of the 1979 revolution, meaning an explicit renunciation of regime change as a policy goal.
And why should they not seek a formal assurance? It is clear that the U.S. is not seriously objecting either to Iran’s current destabilizing regional activities or its internal abuse of dissident citizens. Perhaps the administration would be prepared to let bygones be bygones, forgoing any accountability for the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy and hostage-holding; the bombings of 241 U.S. Marines, 58 French forces and two U.S. Embassy facilities in Lebanon in the 1980s; the deadly bombings in the 1990s of the Israeli embassy and the Jewish community center in Buenos Aires and the Khobar Towers facility in Saudi Arabia, where 19 U.S. airmen died; and other major crimes that for many years now have made Iran the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.
President Obama’s problem is that he is negotiating with a party that sees no reason to halt its nuclear program, can manage the impact of economic sanctions that hurt the poor more than the elites, and faces no adverse consequences for undermining pro-Western allies in the region while brutalizing citizens who oppose the clerics’ permanent claim to power.
While the regime’s judges, jailers, gunrunners, media censors, intelligence agents, paramilitary forces and nuclear engineers march on with their projects, all variously aimed at keeping the regional contagion of political change away from their doorstep, Washington appears to be resting its hopes on ever-tighter sanctions and a moderate new Iranian president to resolve these threats to regional peace and U.S. security. We will know soon whether these hopes are justified.
Bloomfield Jr. served both Presidents Bush in the Defense and State departments, is a former assistant secretary of State and U.S. Special Envoy and current chairman of the Stimson Center. He is the author of a new book on U.S. policy toward Iran’s exiled resistance.
- Friday, July 26, 2013
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America has an obligation to save its friends in Iran
Washington Times – July 17, 2013: The Iranian regime’s war against the United States — and it is very much a war — has largely been fought by proxies for more than two decades. The U.S. government considers Iran the world’s No. 1 state sponsor of terrorism.
Beginning just after the Iranian revolution in 1979, the regime began funding and directing terrorist groups such as Hezbollah to attack Americans, our interests and our allies. It has used Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, among other places, as recruitment markets and alternative battlegrounds in an attempt to weaken the United States and indirectly bleed out American resolve and resources.
Thousands have died, including hundreds of our Marines in Lebanon and troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran continues to sponsor far-flung operations against the United States, including a recent plot to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington.
America has, in turn, found its own allies in this ongoing shadow war. One of them is the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), which for more than three decades has struggled to unseat the mullahs in favor of establishing democracy and restoring Iran’s status among peaceful, civilized nations. Organized among student intellectuals initially to oppose the shah’s dictatorship, the group has been an implacable foe of the regime under the ayatollahs. Driven out of Iran and ensconced in an Iraqi outpost since the early 1980s, the group disarmed after Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2003 and has since provided vital intelligence to the United States on Iran’s activities in Iraq, as well as on Tehran’s nuclear program. They dedicated themselves publicly to a “secular, democratic, non-nuclear Iran.”
The MEK has paid dearly for its opposition to the Iranian regime. Tens of thousands of its supporters were sent to the gallows by the ayatollahs. Their unarmed base in Iraq — a self-styled city known as Camp Ashraf — was ambushed twice by Iraqi forces at the behest of Iran, killing and wounding hundreds. In 2012, they were moved to a temporary location in Iraq, a former U.S. Army base known as Camp Liberty, where they have already been lethally attacked this year by rocket fire.
Despite promises of protection given by the United States in exchange for the group disarming and surrendering its weapons of self-defense, the U.S. has ignored its members’ perilous plight. They remain refugees — hunted by the mullahs, abandoned by United Nations peacekeepers and ignored by the United States, which has forgotten its promises — awaiting their fate.
Even the most hardened practitioners of realpolitik would not condone the “love ‘em and leave ‘em” attitude the United States has shown toward the MEK. Our goal in Iran is much more than counterterrorism or nuclear roll-back. It is, inexorably, regime change. Some of the democratic forces that have helped topple despots across the Middle East in recent years are brewing in Iran, and a day will come when one of the world’s most violent and repressive regimes finally collapses.
A brilliant new book by a former U.S. policy official and arms negotiator, Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., looks at how the United States has by design and default kept a committed regime opponent and potential democratic ally in Iran sidelined, and is keeping Tehran’s day of reckoning at bay.
In “The Mujahedin-e Khalq: Shackled by a Twisted History,” Mr. Bloomfield brings the MEK out of the shadows, revealing a lazy consensus among members of the Washington establishment that the MEK weren’t a “legitimate” opposition group worth defending. It also lays bare a dangerous game of kick-the-can by Democratic and Republican administrations alike, who delayed and deferred a decision to repatriate the exiles to safe havens outside Iraq, resulting in dozens of needless deaths.
There is an interesting double play in the title of Mr. Bloomfield’s book. The “twisted” history of the group will be taken by some as a reference to the widespread perception of the MEK as a “cult,” but it is the history and narrative of the group itself that has been twisted beyond recognition, mostly by Iranian state propaganda, including use of intelligence agents in the West actively spreading the “cult” label against them. During the Clinton administration, the group was placed on the U.S. State Department’s list of “Foreign Terrorist Organizations” at the behest of Tehran. Despite not meeting any of the congressionally mandated criteria for what constitutes a terrorist group, the MEK languished on the list for nearly 15 years, drained of support and aid and suffering as an unsympathetic target for Iranian assassins. The listing was a major blow to the democracy movement in Iran and a shameful disservice to the group’s intentions, capabilities and sacrifices.
Branded terrorists and cultists by regime propaganda, the MEK members have been massacred, isolated and dehumanized during their long Iraqi encampment. Sadly, the U.S. media bought the Iranian regime’s pretext lock, stock and barrel, ignoring the dissidents’ plight in their desert redoubt even as they provided the United States with the precise whereabouts of previously unknown Iranian nuclear activities.
In September 2012, the group was at last removed from the foreign terrorism list after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rebuked the secretary of state for an “egregious delay” in making a decision that had been a slam dunk factually and legally. But 3,200 of its members continue to languish in prisonlike conditions inside Iraq, where they remain in mortal peril. Mr. Bloomfield argues that it is not too late for the United States to redeem itself and acknowledge its legal obligations as well as the contributions of the MEK by bringing them to safety. The Obama administration should delay not a moment longer.
Tom Ridge was the first secretary of homeland security and is a former governor of Pennsylvania.
- Friday, July 26, 2013
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