In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, Iraqi gunmen raided a camp in the hinterlands of Iraq where 100 members of an Iranian opposition group lived.
Unarmed civilians were running around trying to not get shot while their assailants systematically gunned them down. The attackers were not there to talk. They were there to kill. And they succeeded. By the time the sun came up, the assailants had killed 52 of the unarmed residents and kidnapped seven more. I have seen footage of the attack. This was not only an act of terror; it was a massacre.
A United Nations delegation that visited the camp the next day verified that the 52 deceased had “suffered gunshot wounds, the majority of them in the head and the upper body, and several with their hands tied.”
These were innocent people living in a refugee camp who were murdered execution style. They had no weapons. They lived in a remote location with little communication abilities. They did not pose a threat to anyone. They were murdered in cold blood. Their only crime was opposing the same dictator our U.S. government opposes: Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, who just happens to be an ally of Iraq.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time members of this group have been massacred. Despite repeated assurances by the Iraqi government that the residents would be safe and protected, 113 members have been killed in five separate attacks since 2009. Three of those killed were U.S. permanent residents. The culprits are not rogue bandits or militias, nor are those killed random victims. These are systematic, political murders.
After five separate attacks over four years, no one has been held accountable, not the killers themselves and not anyone in the government of Iraq, which is responsible to protect them. Everyone has gotten a pass on 113 murders.
In June 2011, I and other members of Congress met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq to discuss U.S.-Iraqi relations. The meeting that was supposed to last 20 minutes but went for two hours came to an abrupt halt when our delegation asked to see the camp where these opposition members lived. The camp had been attacked just two months prior, resulting in the death of 36 unarmed residents. Al-Maliki’s mood immediately changed, and he said that there was no way that we were going to see the camp. Al-Maliki did not allow us to go because he had something to hide.
Two years and three attacks later, there are troubling signs of at least complicity, if not outright involvement, by the government of Iraq in this latest attack. There are more than a dozen checkpoints manned by Iraqi security forces on the road to the camp. There are also armed Iraqi guards surrounding the camp, ostensibly there to protect the residents. The idea that the assailants could get past all of the checkpoints and carry out an approximately three-hour attack on the camp without the knowledge of the government of Iraq is difficult to believe.
The State Department condemned the attack and asked the government of Iraq to investigate. Given the history of the previous attacks and the circumstances of this latest attack, that’s like asking Al Capone to run the IRS. When I was a prosecutor, the first thing you did in opening an investigation was interview the witnesses, but more than a month after this most recent attack, the Iraqi government has yet to interview any of the 42 survivors. That’s because there is no investigation. It is all a sham. The Iraqi government cannot be trusted to keep these refugees safe.
On Nov. 1, al-Maliki will come dragging the sack to collect more of our taxpayers’ money as he meets with the president. The U.S. must do a better job of holding the government of Iraq accountable; there should be real consequences for the lack of protection of these unarmed, innocent civilians. The president should inform al-Maliki that we will reduce U.S. assistance, including weapons sales, to his government until it does all it can to work for the release of the seven hostages and takes clear and verifiable steps to protect the remaining residents living in Iraq.
Poe has represented Texas’s 2nd Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Judiciary committees.