1 October 2009 Edition
Concern for safety of 3,500 Iranians in Camp Ashraf
BY PEADAR WHELAN
IRANIAN EXILES in cities across the world are continuing their protests aimed at highlighting the plight of members of the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), besieged in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, since 28 July.
Concern for the safety of the 3,500 inhabitants of the camp arose after the attack carried out on Ashraf by the Iraqi armed forces on Tuesday 28 July which led to the killing of 11 Iranian exiles and the wounding of many more.
Up to 36 Iranians who have been taken from the camp by the Iraqi forces have embarked on a hunger strike in protest at their abduction.
It has since emerged that the judge hearing the hostages’ case in Al-Khalis, the town near Camp Ashraf in Diyala province, Iraq, called for their immediate release but Iraqi police have refused to implement his ruling and the detainees are continuing their fast.
Camp Ashraf is the home of some 3,500 PMOI members, where they have lived for over 20 years. The group has campaigned against the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Khameini and was provided with sanctuary and support in Iraq by the Saddam Hussein regime, which it supported during the US-backed Iraqi war against Iran during the 1980s.
While the PMOI has made many political enemies in both Iraq and Iran due to this alliance with Hussein, the Camp Ashraf residents have the status of refugees and ‘protected persons’ under the Fourth Geneva Convention and are unarmed.
Following the US-led invasion of Iraq, the residents surrendered their weapons to US forces in 2003 after signing an agreement that stipulated, in part, that the US accepted the responsibility to protect them until the determination of their final status.
In February this year, Ashraf’s protection was transferred to Iraqi forces, despite the warning by parliamentarians, jurists, and human rights organisations that strongly opposed the transfer.
In July Iraqi forces moved against the inhabitants of the camp, leaving 11 dead and wounding at least 1,000, 50 of whom are now in a very critical condition and in need of urgent medical attention.
Iraqi forces prevented the transfer of the injured to hospitals and refused to allow international journalists and aid agencies to enter the camp, in North Western Iraq about 100km from Baghdad.
Amnesty International voiced its concerns in an 11 August statement which highlighted the killings and said that the 36 Iranian residents of Ashraf who are being detained by Iraqi forces risk being forcibly returned to Iran where they could face torture or execution. They have sought access to lawyers, so far unsuccessfully.
However, several legal experts, including the British Law Society, have stated that, as the occupying power, the US has a continuing duty to protect Ashraf’s residents under the terms of the Geneva Conventions which afford them ‘protected status’.
Many Iranian and international observers believe that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, at the request of the Iranian regime, ordered the attack on Ashraf and oversaw the operation himself.
After the Iranian popular uprising following the disputed election result in June, Iran asked the Iraqi government to close down Camp Ashraf, accusing the PMOI of involvement in the subsequent anti-regime protests.
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.
As the Iranian hunger strikers, including the 36 in Iraqi custody, pass their 50th day on hunger strike their health is seriously deteriorating. A number of people have chronic respiratory problems. They have muscle aches, shortness of breath and weakened eyesight.
Iranian exiles in major cities throughout the world have also embarked on hunger strike in solidarity with their compatriots in Camp Ashraf. Hunger strikes are continuing in Washington, London, Berlin, Ottowa, The Hague and Stockholm.
The Iraqi government is still preventing medical aid or food from reaching those housed in the camp and seemingly digging in despite the international outcry.
The situation demonstrates the hypocrisy of the US occupation forces and is only one example of the repressive nature of the US-installed and backed Iraqi government, which has jailed and abused the human rights of large numbers of Iraqi opponents of the occupation and the regime.
Ambiguous attitude of US
The US has an ambiguous attitude towards the PMOI, as it does to most Iranian opposition groups, with persistent efforts to exploit them to further the US goal of replacing the anti-Western clerical elite in Tehran with a regime more willing to comply with American orders.
The PMOI has demonstrated its willingness to collaborate with the US forces against the Iranian government as it did with the Hussein regime in the past.
However, while the group may have problematic politics that alienate it from many Iranians, and potentially allies it with an imperialist attack against Iran, the camp residents are still entitled to the protection of their human rights.
Despite the efforts of the mainstream media to portray the recent pro-democracy protest movement in Iran as being pro-Western, the overwhelming majority of the Iranian people who oppose the undemocratic regime are also entirely opposed to a US invasion or intervention into their country.
The hostility to the West among most Iranians stems from the long history of aggression from Western powers that goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. A major source of anger was the British and US-backed coup that overthrow the elected government in 1953 after the oil industry was nationalised and installed the extremely repressive absolute monarchy of the Shah.
Iran also shares borders with, and hosts refugees from, Iraq and Afghanistan. The bloody US-led wars in these countries serve as warnings to the whole Iranian people that Western-imposed “regime change” can be worse than even the most tyrannical regime.
The current regime developed out of the 1979 anti-Shah revolution. The pro-democracy movement that shook Iran during June-August was sparked by the 12 June election, after which contender Mir-Hossein Mousavi disputed the declared victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
While the political differences between the two presidential contenders were actually very narrow, the protests developed their own momentum and were potentially more anti-regime than pro-Mousavi.
The US and other Western governments undoubtedly aimed and acted to take advantage of the mass protests to advance their goal of installing a regime favourable to Western interests in the oil-rich state. But the Iranian people have their own interests and goals – more equality and democracy, not a return to dictatorship like the pro-US Shah regime.