Why Should We Care About The Fate of Iranian Dissidents in Iraq?

Perspective of a Danish politician and former military commander

The fate of a group of Iranian dissidents in Iraq may seem trivial compared to the big issues on stage in the Middle East and other areas of the world.

Since I became member of the Danish Parliament, I have tried to follow the situation in Iran and the people from Iran living outside the country.

It is my opinion, that the way the Baghdad government is handling the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) should be a vital factor to assess the extent Iraq wants to be considered as a member of the democratic international community.

My conclusions are unfortunately very bleak. Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is to a worrying extent, in thrall to the Iranian regime, and his government pays only minor respect to the US, the West and the UN. As a former Colonel, I am deeply sorry and deceived that all the efforts of my soldiers in Iraq ended in such results.

Iraq Ignores Human Rights, Massacres Innocents

The sorrowful situation of the PMOI is a clear proof that from the top to the bottom – from the top hierarchy of power to the Iraqi troops on the ground – there is a deep disregard for fundamental human rights.

The awful massacre carried out a year ago by Iraqi troops who stormed the dissidents’ home in Camp Ashraf and slaughtered 36 innocent, defenseless men and women is the clearest evidence. Furthermore, the subtle and extreme persecution of the dissidents in the new home they were forcibly made to accept, ironically called Camp Liberty is still ongoing.

The latest information from inside the refugee camp should act as an alarm bell to the UN and the US, both having committed them to protect the dissidents until they can be settled in third countries. It must also alarm nations taking part in the Coalition during the war in Iraq.

Make no mistake – the needs of these people are greater than ever.

In the years following the Iranian revolution in 1979, the PMOI settled near Baghdad and turned a barren piece of land, known as Camp Ashraf, into a modern city.

Wrongly Labeled Terrorists By U.S.

For 26 years the community thrived – surviving, in spite of being unfairly and wrongly labeled as terrorists by the U.S. in 1997. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, US Forces assumed control of Ashraf and a following investigation found not a single terrorist amongst the 3.400 members of the PMOI.

They were given official protection in Iraq, under the Geneva Convention. Three years ago, however, that protection was entrusted to the Iraqi government. Since then, the refugees have lived in fear. After the massacre of last April – carried out on behalf of the Iranian regime – Al Maliki took advantage of the lack of international reactions and planned an atrocity of even greater dimension and he announced the sudden closure of Ashraf.

Who knows what grim fate was in store for the dissidents, had a massive international campaign not saved the situation.

Subsequent to assurances by the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the UN, and the leader of the Iranian resistance, Maryam Rajavi, the Government of Iraq agreed to the transfer of residents to Camp Liberty, a former US military base. The plan being that the inhabitants would be interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, prior to their transfer out of the country.

But Iraqis have violated the agreement on a daily basis. Iraq created a “prison”, not a refugee camp, in which the armed and physical threat is blatant. Iraqi officers are stationed within and armored vehicles steam through the camp on a regular basis.

On the first anniversary of the Ashraf April 8 massacre – where these same troops and same vehicles were used to crush the defenseless dissidents – a total of 29 residents were beaten and injured, as I have been told.

The second danger is more subtle – a war of attrition, a slow suppression and persecution of the PMOI through leaving the dissidents to suffer in desperate, inhumane conditions. The very basic requirements are lacking. A water shortage is reaching crisis point, with those being housed in Camp Liberty now receiving a third less water than the average person in Iraq – less than 150 liters per capita. Residents call it a form of “torture”.

Iraq violates agreements daily

Every request to provide the bare minimum of human standards is after my opinion turned down. The requests to be connected to the city’s water supply and the national grid, transferring equipment and belongings from Ashraf, which they were forced to leave behind, has been turned down. Building sunshades, laying cement sidewalks so that wheelchair-bound residents can move around, even just spraying insecticide in the hot season when snakes and mosquitoes are in abundance, are all turned down. The residents are thus left to suffer.

Meanwhile, what is Al Maliki doing? I have heard, that he has just returned from Tehran, where I fear he positioned himself ever deeper into the pocket of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It is inconceivable that the PMOI were not on the agenda, and because of that, the rest of the world must be ready and aware. The UN must guarantee the dissidents’ minimum rights at Camp Liberty, and protection against further humanitarian disaster.

Furthermore, the US should follow the UK and the European Union by taking the PMOI off its list of designated terrorist organizations. This unfair and unjust inclusion was just the excuse Iraq needed to launch the Ashraf attack, and has been a gift to Tehran, which uses the listing to justify its own crackdown on domestic resistance. The terrorist label also complicates the process of finding third countries where the residents can once again live in peace and dignity deserved.

In February, the US Secretary of State said that “PMOI cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf” would be “a key factor in any decision” on the delisting. Make that decision the right one, Mrs. Clinton, and make it fast. It is the right decision Mrs. Clinton.

Jens Christian Lund

Jens Christian Lund was a soldier for 42 years, ending as a Colonel. A Social Democrat in the Danish Parliament for six years, his interests include politics, energy, and military.