The attack on Camp Ashraf

8 09 2009

The attack on Camp Ashraf

Tuesday, 8th September 2009

I wrote here about the attack at the end of July by Iraqi forces against the Iranian opposition group the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI) at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, which led to the death of 11 Ashraf residents and the injury of 500 others.

Since then, the camp has remained under siege by Iraqi forces, some 36 residents are being held hostage and Iranians are staging hunger strikes and sit-ins in cities around the world, including in  Britain and America — with some hunger-strikers now reported to be in a critical condition. This is in protest against the attack and in an attempt to regain the protection of the US which has handed over reponsibility for that protection to the Iraqis – the very people who are responsible for the attack and siege.

This affair raises not just urgent concerns about the safety of these Iranian dissidents in Iraq but also some very troubling questions about the behaviour of the US government and – most sensitive of all — about where power in Iraq now really lies.

The PMOI, which has a past history as a Marxist terrorist organisation, renounced violence completely in 2003 and voluntarily handed all its weapons to US forces. As powerful opponents of the Iranian Islamic Revolution, it sought refuge in Saddam’s Iraq where it established its base at Camp Ashraf. Although Britain and Europe have now deemed the PMOI to be no longer a terrorist organisation, the American government has not taken it off its terrorism register. Nevertheless, in view of the assistance it provided to American forces the US agreed to guarantee its members’ safety. This year, however, the U.S. military handed over control of the camp to the Iraqis as part of the security agreement reached in December between Washington and Baghdad, a decision which the camp’s residents and supporters protested at the time exposed them to danger.

These concerns were to be fully realised. The Iraqi government signed a bilateral agreement with Iran to expel the PMOI from Iraq. Last February, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, demanded that Iraq implement that agreement. Subsequently, Iraqi forces placed restrictions on people visiting Ashraf. After the Iranian popular uprising following Iran’s rigged election, Iran asked the Iraqi government to close down Camp Ashraf, since the PMOI was heavily involved in that attempt to resist the regime. The result was the Iraqi attack and subsequent siege. According to the PMOI, those abducted from Camp Ashraf by the Iraqi forces were beaten and tortured; the fear is that they will be transferred to Iran and murdered.

The implications of this are of course enormous. According to the US, Iraq is free and independent. Yet what the Ashraf attack shows is that Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is dancing to the tune of Iran, the mortal enemy of America and the west and which has been behind so much of the violence in Iraq. The PMOI says that the attack on Ashraf was carried out in accordance with the personal orders of al-Maliki, with the attackers comprising the police, the army, and the Prime Minister’s own special guards. A large number of them, it says, were also agents of the Iranian Quds Force and 9th Badr brigade, and spoke in Farsi — forces which are still stationed in the area and which it is feared may resume attacks at any time.

According to the PMOI, the American forces were present on the scene when the July attack began and saw everything. Ashraf officials repeatedly asked US forces for help in stopping the attack but they simply stood aside. Their line has been that since they passed responsibility for Ashraf security to the Iraqis it was no longer their concern. But the US continues to have not only a moral but a legal responsibility towards the beleaguered residents of Ashraf. As a number of legal experts, including the UK’s Law Society, have pointed out, the US has a continuing duty to protect Ashraf’s residents under the terms of the Geneva Conventions which afford them ‘protected status’.

It would seem that the US doesn’t want to know about Ashraf because it doesn’t want to face the fact that a) something has clearly gone badly wrong with Iraq if it has turned the responsibility the US gave it to guard Ashraf into an attack upon Ashraf and b) that the something that has gone badly wrong is that Iran has Iraq under its thumb.

Which rather gives the lie to everything the US is telling us about the optimistic situation that now prevails in Iraq, doesn’t it – not to mention the implications for the regional balance of power and the defence of the west against Iran.
Update: A PMOI supporter has contacted me to make the following point about the organisation’s past history:

Their ideology has always been a tolerant democratic interpretation of Islam, which is 180 degrees opposite to that of the fundamentalist mullahs ruling Iran. Unlike Marxists who are ‘non believers’, they are believers. The Marxist label was initially made against them by the Shah’s regime SAVAK (the notorious secret police) in the 70’s, and this was followed by the mullahs to tarnish their image since millions from the educated sector of the Iranian society were eager to join them and were supporting them.


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