Camp Ashraf massacre, a year later

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The Sept. 1, 2013, massacre of Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, was without a doubt one of the more heinous crimes of the Iraqi government during Nouri al-Maliki’s eight-year tenure as prime minister.

Now marking its first anniversary, the incident has once again become the focus of attention among human rights groups and activists. A professional and independent report published recently by the London-based Human Security Center (HSC) think tank and the Ashraf Campaign, a human rights organization dedicated to defending the rights of Iranian refugees in Iraq, shed light on the history and perpetrators of the Sept. 1 massacre at Camp Ashraf, located 60 miles north of Baghdad,.

On that day, Iraqi special forces under the command of al-Maliki raided Camp Ashraf, brutally murdering 52 residents and abducting seven others, including six women. The camp was home to 100 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), the main opposition to the dictatorship ruling Iran. Al-Maliki was thus hoping to curry favor with the mullahs in Tehran to gain support for a third term as prime minister.

The victims, all protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and classified as “persons of concern” who enjoy “international protection” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the U.N. refugee agency, were residing in the camp based on assurances given by the U.N., the U.S., and the Iraqi government.

While undeniable evidence proved that the highest levels of al-Maliki’s government were directly involved in planning and staging the massacre, the U.S. and U.N. abstained from investigating the crime, leaving the task to al-Maliki’s government itself. The results were predictable; after one year, not a single person has been arrested, the hostages have not been released, and the bodies of the victims — the primary evidence — were buried in a secret location by the Iraqi government.

What’s more, the same authorities and officers who were responsible for the massacre of Camp Ashraf’s residents are now busy harassing and persecuting the 2,800-odd PMOI members who in 2012 were relocated to Camp Liberty, near Baghdad International Airport.

The continued hostile behavior toward these refugees by Iraqi forces affiliated with al-Maliki’s establishment is in large part made possible by the continued indifference of the West to this ongoing humanitarian crisis. In recent weeks, Iraqi forces controlling the camp have placed the residents under a total blockade, barring fuel and basic humanitarian necessities. This is the newest chapter of an eight-year-long inhumane siege imposed on the residents of camps Ashraf and Liberty by al-Maliki’s government, at the behest of the Iranian regime.

The joint HSC-Ashraf Campaign report — based on thorough research into the events that led to the attack, accounts given by witnesses, the history of the persecution of Camp Ashraf residents by the al-Maliki government and a plethora of other documents and facts — finds al-Maliki and his government guilty of war crimes and other abuses of international law.

Curtis Sinclair, co-chairman of Ashraf Campaign and lead report author, said, “This was a highly professional and effective attack planned and coordinated at the highest levels of al-Maliki’s administration, and carried out by Iraqi forces loyal to the outgoing prime minister.”

“This report fits into the broader framework of the examination of the abhorrent situation in Iraq today,” said Julie Lenarz, executive director of the HSC.

Lenarz blamed the al-Maliki government for allowing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to flourish by adopting sectarian policies, and stipulated that the Iranian regime must not be allowed to expand its sphere of influence in Iraq.

Sam Westrop, a Gatestone Institute senior fellow and co-author of the report, criticized the West for having abandoned the residents of camps Ashraf and Liberty, who have time and again been victimized by al-Maliki’s government with the complicity of the Iranian regime.

“The publication of this report will provide an important resource for those voices around the world advocating on behalf of Camp Ashraf’s survivors,” he said, “and, hopefully, it will help galvanize lawmakers and officials within international bodies to re-examine the increasing influence of the Iranian regime and pay greater attention to the Iraqi government’s agenda.”

This fact is especially important as the U.N. readies itself to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Iraq. There are ample documents and evidence to help identify the perpetrators of the Sept. 1 massacre and other crimes committed against PMOI members in Iraq. All it will take for the U.N. and the U.S. is a sense of duty and commitment to the many pledges they’ve made.

Al-Maliki and his cohort have proven that their sole intention is to continue committing crimes against the residents of camps Ashraf and Liberty. Inaction by the international community will only encourage them in this mission.

It is imperative today, more than ever, that the international community — namely the U.S. and U.N. — uphold its moral and legal obligations, and puts an end to this humanitarian crisis by holding the Iraqi authorities loyal to al-Maliki to account for the numerous crimes committed against the residents of Camp Ashraf, as well as to end the repressive measures adopted against the residents of Camp Liberty.

Kia is a press spokesman for residents of Camp Liberty, Iraq, members of the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran opposition group (PMOI, also known as MEK). His Twitter handle is@shahriarkia.