President Obama’s declaration that the last U.S. soldiers will be coming home from Iraq by the end of the year should inspire all Americans to say a thankful prayer for the valiant sacrifices of our brave servicemen and women.
At the same time, the president’s announcement leaves many of us in the Iranian-American community with grave concerns about an impending humanitarian disaster in Iraq when American forces are gone.
Both my brothers live in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, home to 3,400 unarmed Iranian men, women, and children, members of the principal Iranian opposition movement, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK), which is committed to non-violent regime change and a democratic, nuclear-free future for Iran.
When U.S. forces leave Iraq, my brothers, and their families and friends, face almost certain annihilation by Iraqi President, Nouri al-Maliki’s government at the behest of Tehran.
Without question, the safety and security of the Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf is the responsibility of the United States government which gave a written guarantee of protection to each and every one of the camp residents.
Faced with growing international isolation due to its unrelenting drive to obtain nuclear weapons and brazen terrorist operations (the latest being the foiled attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington by Iran’s extra-territorial Quds Force) the Mullahs in Tehran view the MEK as an existential threat and are determined to eradicate Ashraf at all costs.
The clear and present danger is unmistakable: 36 Ashraf residents were brutally murdered and hundreds more wounded on April 8, when Maliki approved a military assault on the camp—the second unprovoked attack in as many years.
While bringing our troops home by December 31 may fulfill President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise, it also marks the arbitrary deadline imposed by Maliki for closing Camp Ashraf and dispersing its residents throughout the country where they can be killed out of sight.
Campaign pledges notwithstanding, the Srebrenica-style massacre that will almost certainly ensue is hardly the successful conclusion to U.S. military efforts in Iraq for which an American president would want to claim ownership.
In the course of the 2003 war between the U.S. and Iraq, my brothers and the other residents of Camp Ashraf remained neutral and voluntarily gave up their arms.
In 2004, the United States gave a written guarantee to my brothers and the other residents of Camp Ashraf that, in return, the United States would provide them with protection until such time that a peaceful solution could be found for their safe relocation.
Yet, since early 2009, when the U.S. handed over protection of the camp to the Iraqis, Ashraf has been under a suffocating blockade and many have lost their lives in attacks perpetrated by Maliki’s forces. They live in constant fear of the next attack.
The residents have been subjected to psychological torment, through the installation of more than 300 loudspeakers that blast profanities and threats against the residents 24 hours a day. They have been deprived of the most basic need: access to proper medical care, food, and fuel.
The April assault on the camp rightly sparked international outrage. Senator John Kerry, who was then Chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee demanded an independent, thorough investigation of the “massacre, as did Mrs. Catharine Ashton, the EU High Representative.
A senior bi-partisan delegation from the U.S. Congress travelled to Baghdad in June to visit Camp Ashraf and to investigate the April 8 massacre but, in an unbridled affront to our government, Maliki denied them access to the camp. The Congressmen, in a press conference held at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, declared in no uncertain terms that what transpired at Ashraf was a “crime against humanity.”
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees declared Ashraf residents “asylum seekers” and thus entitled to international protection. While the international community has repeatedly urged Maliki to postpone the deadline for closing Camp Ashraf and to stop obstructing U.N. efforts to protect and safely relocate Ashraf residents, he has not complied with their requests.
As we approach the December 31 deadline for removing U.S. forces from Iraq, the clock is ticking for my brothers and the other residents of Camp Ashraf: intervention by the U.S., EU, and U.N. is urgently needed to ensure that the illegal and arbitrary deadline for the closure of Camp Ashraf on Dec 31 is revoked by the Government of Iraq.
To save the residents of Camp Ashraf from annihilation, U.N. Blue Helmet forces should be put in place so that international agencies are able to continue their work to safely relocate the residents without hindrance.
The United States has a legal and moral duty to protect the residents of Camp Ashraf. To do otherwise would be to forfeit American credibility and honor--- and hand Iran the real victory in this high stakes game that no American can afford to lose.
Allen A. Tasslimi is president of the Association of Iranian-Americans in New York-New Jersey. He has two brothers in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.