Those who know the history of Ashraf know this is no exaggeration. On two occasions, in 2009 and 2011, Iraq troops stormed Ashraf with gun blazing, killing 49 and wounding hundreds - massacres that shocked the world. The Iraqi government under prime minister Nouri al-Maliki pays lip service to the notion that there can be a peaceful resolution to the current standoff, but all those sheltering today in the two camps know that given a free rein, al-Maliki would gladly finish them all off.
Iran has filled the power vacuum left in neighbouring Iraq by the departure of the U.S. Iraqi politicians such as al-Maliki are beholden to the mullahs and take instructions on a regular basis. Tehran has instructed al-Maliki to get rid of the Ashraf community because many supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main Iranian opposition, are among their numbers. If, one day, regime change comes to Iran, it is likely to have been triggered by the PMOI and its sympathizers. Out of fear, the mullahs want al-Maliki and his henchmen to ensure that Camp Ashraf residents are never allowed to see a free, democratic Iran.
If it were not for the international community, in particular the US and the United Nations, this bloody end would already have come to pass. Thanks to an international outrage at the end of last year, the residents of Camp Ashraf are still alive. Their right to live has however come at a high price. They have been forced to abandon their home for the past 25 years and move en masse to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base loathed by Iraqis. As a gesture, in order to achieve a lasting resolution to their desperate plight, these men and women agreed to move voluntarily to Liberty, to become displaced, homeless refugees.
Their new dwellings are prison blocks; Iraqi camp guards, the same guards that killed their friends and relatives, not only circumnavigate the perimeter, they wander threateningly among the prisoners.
Under the UN deal, al-Maliki promised he was not sending the Ashraf residents to a concentration camp. The UN seal of approval and the accompanying promise of fair play from the U.S. government were enough to convince residents to begin the transfer. To date, two-thirds have already made the move.
But with the Iraqis reneging on every part of the deal, the transfer has come to a stop. Reports about Liberty have been shocking. Basic sanitation is inexistent. The sick and the handicapped are forced to lug their belongings around in the unbearable heat. There is no drinkable water and no recreational facilities. Liberty is, in short, a prison that al-Maliki promised it would not be.
The residents, supported by the PMOI, say they have already shown themselves more than willing to comply with the transfer plan. But they are now insisting that the Iraqi side complies too. They are simply asking to be able to take air conditioners with them from Ashraf to Liberty. In addition, they ask that Iraq allows the transfer of specially designed vehicles and trailers for the disabled, as well as 50 cars – one car for every 40 residents.
They want Camp Liberty connected to Baghdad’s water works, or at least the chance to hire contractors to pump water from a nearby canal. They ask to be able to bring the water purification system they built in Camp Ashraf to their new “home”. They also ask for the right to sell the property they have been forced to abandon in Ashraf. While all sales might not necessarily have been completed before the move is over, the Iraqi government should at least agree in principle.
But rather than put pressure on the Iraqi government, the US State Department has accused the residents of stalling. State Department officials have gone as far as threatening to keep the PMOI on the U.S. list of designated terror organizations if the residents not to comply. This is despite a complete lack of evidence and the decision by the European Union and the UK to remove the PMOI from their respective lists. And the U.S. Federal Court on June 1 called the State Department’s delay in reviewing the listing of the PMOI as ordered by the court two years ago as egregious and ordered the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to announce a decision by Oct 1, or the court will knock down the listing.
Ashraf residents are being asked to choose between going to the ironically named Liberty prison or remaining in Ashraf as designated terrorists, and possibly subjected to another lethal al-Maliki raid.
The State Department is engaged in a power play, but do its officials realize they are playing with people’s lives? The residents of Ashraf have suffered enough already. If we truly believe in human rights, we should be supporting them, not subjecting them to this unseemly blackmail.
Amess, a Conservative Member of Parliament for the constituency of Southend West, is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.