A year ago on April 8, 2011, the Iraqi army assaulted Camp Ashraf, the residence of 3400 Iranian exiles, members of the opposition group MEK/PMOI. The assault on Ashraf and massacre of its unarmed residents was planned well before April 8.
Amassing of Iraqi army and police in the periphery of Ashraf was evident and Iraqi Government had prepared the ground for the assault by fabricating stories about the ownership of the land Camp Ashraf sits on. Calls by Iranian exiles and their supporters to warn about an impending massacre were not heeded by the United States, United Nations and others, and the US Embassy in Baghdad had simply relied on Iraqi assurances that there is no assault planned, even though Iraqis had attacked the residents once before in 2009, killing 11.
The April 2011 assault on Camp Ashraf left 36 residents dead, including 8 women and hundreds injured. Iraqi soldiers fired on the residents, and ran them over, by US supplied weapons and vehicles. The massacre at Ashraf was swiftly condemned by US, UN, and EU, and many called for an independent investigation of the massacre. All of these calls have so far remained unheeded by the Iraqis.
Fate of Ashraf Residents Uncertain
A year after the April massacre, Camp Ashraf residents’ fate is still uncertain. Under agreement brokered by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), Ashraf residents are in the process of relocation to a temporary site at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. So far 1200 residents have been relocated to Liberty, despite sub-optimum and prison-like conditions there.
Ashraf residents have been denied to take many of their belongings to Liberty, have complained of shortage of water and electricity, and are subject to constant monitoring within Liberty by armed Iraqis, some of whom were involved in the 2009 and 2011 massacres. Despite the cooperation of Ashraf residents in abandoning their home of 26 years and relocation to Liberty, the process of their resettlement has proceeded at a snail’s pace.
A major obstacle in Ashraf residents’ re-settlement is the blacklisting of the MEK in the US list of foreign terrorist organizations. Despite calls by Iranian-Americans, over 40 distinguished former US officials, 98 members of the US House of Representatives; and ignoring multiple court rulings, the US State Department still reneges in reviewing the designation and revoking it.
At the time when the United States and the world are pre-occupied with Iran’s nuclear drive and threat of export of terrorism, and when the winds of change are sweeping throughout the Middle East, it is ironic that US State Department chooses to keep the main opposition group to the Iranian regime in shackles by keeping it in the terrorist list.
Delisting MEK, in addition to easing the way for re-settlement of Camp Ashraf residents, will embolden Iranians to focus their attention in confronting the regime and to bring about a real change in Iran, which would eliminate the possibility of another devastating war.
On the international side, strong commitment by the UNAMI and UNHCR in resolving this issue and finding host countries for Ashraf residents will pave the way to solve this humanitarian issue and prevent further loss of life.
In addition to the 47 residents massacred by Iraqi, another 12 have lost their lives due to medical blockade of Ashraf since 2009, and another resident died on the eve of Iranian New Year on March 20, after enduring 48 hours of harassment by the Iraqis on his way to camp Liberty.
Let’s hope prompt action by the UN and US in re-settlement and delisting issues will end this saga without further loss of life.