In January through February, Iran-Interlink representative Massoud Khodabandeh was invited by the Iraqi Government for a series of consultation meetings on Camp Ashraf. His report has now been published.
Camp Ashraf is home to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Grizzly, but also contains 3,400 foreign terrorist fighters from the Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation (MKO or MEK) who were corralled and disarmed by US Special Forces in 2003. The fighters have been under US military police protection for five years and now the Iraqi Government wants them removed from the country.
MKO leader Massoud Rajavi has told his group to stay in Iraq at all costs until they can be re-armed, but human rights organisations agree that Iraq is extremely dangerous place for the Iranian group and that any who do not wish to be voluntarily repatriated must be taken to third countries as refugees.
While in Baghdad, Massoud Khodabandeh met with officials from Iraq’s Ministries of Human Rights, Defense, National Security as well as non-governmental agencies to formulate a two part solution. He reported Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs position that ‘both the MKO and PKK are foreign terrorist organisations. They are especially harmful to the relations between Iraq and its neighbouring countries at this point of time. Iraq cannot accept nor afford further problems by accommodating international terrorist organizations whether as a group or as individuals.’
An interim plan was immediately agreed by Iraq’s Ministry of Human Rights to permit the establishment of Sahar Family Foundation. Organised by former members of the MKO and families of people still trapped in the camp, Sahar now provides short-term rescue facilities for ex-MKO who are no longer being protected by US forces in Iraq before they are taken to third countries.
SFF can be contacted directly in Iraq on Tel: +964 – 7808481650 (Arabic and Farsi), and outside Iraq at Sahar, BM 2632, London WC1N 3XX, U.K., Tel: +44 – 2076935044 (English only).
In his conclusion to the report Mr Khodabandeh outlined a longer term plan which will enable western governments to protect the human rights of the MKO members by taking the whole group out of Iraq to safety.
In an interview with Alaraghieh television, Massoud Khodabandeh said he fully endorsed "the right of the Iraqi people to enjoy security and have justice served against the perpetrators of violent acts in their countryâ€¦" In January the Criminal Court of Baghdad issued additional arrest warrants for three leading MKO members in Camp Ashraf. It is believed that the handling of members of the foreign terrorist group which American soldiers are protecting will be a test of US-Iraqi relations over the coming months.
The report can be obtained online at www.iran-interlink.org or hard copy from [email protected]
Tel: +44 (0) 113 278 0503
Mob: +44 (0) 787 654 1150
Iran Interlink Special Report from Baghdad
Camp Ashraf and the Mojahedin-e Khalq
Massoud Khodabandeh,Iran Interlink, February 2008
link to pdf file (printable)
– Introduction “ What is the problem with Camp Ashraf?
– Why the MKO must leave Iraq
– What is Camp Ashraf
– What is happening at TIPF
– TIPF to close in six months
– Humanitarian intervention
– Consultation meetings
– Results of consultation in Iraq
– Families of MKO members
– Sahar Family Foundation statement
Introduction “ What is the problem with Camp Ashraf?
The Mojahedin-e Khalq (MKO) came into existence in 1965 to conduct armed opposition against the Shah of Iran. Among those killed during its first armed campaign the group were 6 American contractors in Iran. Most of its members were imprisoned during the 1970s. After the Shah was ousted in 1979, the MKO prisoners were released and after initially supporting the revolution for two years, then began to challenge Ayatollah Khomeini for more power. This led to exile first in France and subsequently in Iraq. Saddam Hussein gave financial, military and logistical support to the group and used it during his war with Iran and then to suppress Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in March 1991, thereby guaranteeing his grip on power.
First welcomed in the early 1980s by western governments for its opposition to the revolutionary government of Iran, the MKO’s violent and mercenary behaviour, which led to thousands of civilian deaths in Iran during its terrorist campaigns, led to its proscription as a terrorist entity. Following a report commissioned by the US State Department in 1994 the group was added to the US terror list in 1997. The UK proscribed the group in 2000, the EU in 2002, and Canada in 2005. In May 2005 Human Rights Watch published a report titled “No Exit” detailing human rights abuses carried out by the organization against its own members. The incarceration of dissenters in Abu Ghraib prison was made possible by the full integration of the MKO in Saddam Hussein’s security apparatus; well before 1991 the MKO had become Saddam’s private army.
In anticipation of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Massoud Rajavi told MKO combatants they would launch an all-out attack on Iran. An operation announced as “the black phase”. Instead, he escaped into hiding and in April 2003 agreed a ceasefire with US Special Forces. By June, Rajavi submitted to the US demand that his fighters completely disarm. All MKO members in Iraq were corralled into Camp Ashraf and have remained there since that time as prisoners under the protection of US military police aided by a Bulgarian unit.
The MKO remain at risk of revenge attacks by Iraqis. In spite of this threat, Massoud Rajavi has insisted that the active MKO members remain in uniform in Camp Ashraf and has resisted all humanitarian efforts to help them move or even to have members with residence rights in western countries brought to safety. Rajavi’s perverse insistence that the MKO be treated only as a whole entity and not as individuals and the fact that, ostensibly, the group presented no trouble, discouraged the American army from disturbing the status quo. American soldiers continue to protect a group which its own State Department has proscribed as a foreign terrorist entity, but which some in the west regard as a possible bargaining chip against Iran.
Currently, according to US figures, there are around 3,360 active MKO members remaining at Camp Ashraf in Iraq’s Diyali province. There are now 109 people in the Temporary International Protection Facility (TIPF) adjacent to Camp Ashraf who have left the MKO and are seeking refugee status and removal to third countries. Over 100 were turned out of TIPF in December 2007 and have met with an uncertain situation described later in this report. The US-led MNF also says 380 former MKO have accepted voluntary repatriation and have been helped by the ICRC and Iraqi Ministry of Human Rights to return to their families in Iran.
Now however, after five years, the Iraqi Government is insistent that the MKO be removed in totality from Iraqi territory. In spite of claims by the MKO in western circles that it has renounced violence, Iraq’s Ministry of Defence says there is no doubt the group is involved in ongoing violence in the country. A solution to deal with the group has become more urgent.
The legal status of the MKO combatants in Camp Ashraf is somewhat unclear. In 2004 the American army granted the MKO ‘protected persons’ status under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
According to a report by Robert Karniol, Defence Writer of the Straits Times, on February 4, the UN Fourth Convention Article 133 states that "’internment shall cease as soon as possible after the close of hostilities’."
"The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintains that the Iraq war ended with the transfer of sovereignty to the country’s interim government in June 2004, with the fighting since then characterised as ‘an internal conflict internationalised by the presence of multilateral forces’."
"’Neither the active MEK members nor the former MEK refugees are being detained,’ said Major Danielson [MNF spokesman]. ‘The Ashraf refugee camp refugees have every right to depart and travel in Iraq using an Iraqi-issued laissez-passer. They can also repatriate to Iran if they desire, or they may stay in the camp."
However, it is not only Massoud Rajavi’s insistence that his combatants wait in Camp Ashraf to be re-armed which blocks moves to deal with them. Since every major western country has proscribed the MKO as a terrorist group, it is virtually impossible to find a safe haven for the group outside Iraq.
The Straits Times report continues, "’They are definitely in a legal limbo. No one wants them,’ said Mr. Said Boumedouha, a researcher at Amnesty International in London."
"The US State Department’s 2007 report said the MKO maintains "the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts in Europe, the Middle East, the United States, Canada and beyond."
"The report notes the MKO’s "cult-like characteristics," such that "new members are indoctrinated in MEK ideology and revisionist Iranian history [and] required to … participate in weekly ‘ideological cleansings.’ "Children are separated from their parents, it adds, and Mrs. Rajavi "has established a ‘cult of personality.’."
"According to Said Boumedouha of Amnesty International, ‘Our position is that they shouldn’t be returned to Iran due to the fear of torture and the death penalty. And they shouldn’t be handed over to Iraq for the same reason. Their immediate future looks bleak.’"
However, events in Iraq are unfolding which make it imperative for western countries to address this issue