Camp Ashraf Countdown by Anne Singleton

 Background  In a message issued in 2006, Mojahedin leader Massoud Rajavi set his cult members a deadline of January 2009 by which time he told them if the Mojahedin had not overthrown the Islamic Republic of Iran, then all the residents of Camp Ashraf would be free to stay or leave: “Anyone who wantsCamp Ashraf Countdown may leave, and I will myself throw out all those who are worthless. I will keep the rest who are pure, and then, I will tell them what they can do for me”. Although Rajavi has index-linked his group to the fortunes of the American Administration for the past five years, cult experts understand that such deadlines and threats are essentially meaningless in terms of actual action. But they are part of a powerful armoury of tactics which cult leaders use in order to threaten, frighten and coerce members into staying in a cult and not facing the outside world. Members of the Rajavi cult will certainly have been galvanized by fear provoked by this deadline. The worst fear of a Rajavi cultist is to be expelled from the cult and labelled an agent of the Iranian regime.  The main tactic which the Rajavi cult uses to inculcate artificial fear in members is to depict the world outside of the cult as peopled by ‘the enemy’. The Rajavi cult members are indoctrinated with the belief that they face an imminent, all-pervasive yet unspecified threat of annihilation from ‘agents of the Iranian regime’; a generic label which encompasses everyone who challenges the false reality which the members live by. In this way they see even close family members as enemies. It can produce such a climate of fear that cult members do not even trust one another any more.  In this atmosphere of induced fear and paranoia, the clock on Massoud Rajavi’s deadline is ticking. The focal point of events which will determine the future of his cult is Camp Ashraf. The following diary describes events at the camp.  December 2007 

 

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TIPF clearance – US military police told the 209 Iranian dissidents who had taken refuge in the US run camp that they must leave. Just over 100 refused to leave claiming that US authorities must arrange safe passage for them through humanitarian agencies such as the UNHCR and ICRC to go to third countries. Those who accepted to leave were taken separately in small groups of up to five to a nearby highway. They were filmed to prove they were fit and healthy before being dismissed with American issued laissez-passer which they were told would facilitate their exit from Iraq. According to Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor who followed their fate,

“No nation has taken the militants who left Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, some of them carrying US military letters for travel to Turkey. Documents of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees show that at one point in their saga nearly two weeks ago, 19 were turned back to Iraq by Turkey, dozens were picked up in Kurdish northern Iraq and some forced to return to the dangers of central Iraq, and 26 were missing.” (February 11, 2008)

Mohammad and Mabobeh Mohammady have been in Baghdad for three months – their eighth visit – in order to try to meet with their daughter Somayeh. On December 6 they arrive at Camp Ashraf. The following day Somayeh meets with her mother for 45 minutes. She refuses to speak to her father saying she is afraid because she has been told that he is ‘an agent of the Iranian regime’. The next day, American soldiers ask the parents to leave the camp since they have met with their daughter. As they began walking to the nearest highway three MKO members confronted the Mohammadys and American soldiers were forced to intervene to prevent further injury and abduction. The Baghdad Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against three leading members of the Rajavi cult following the incident.

 

January 2008

 

Mr. Massoud Khodabandeh of Iran-Interlink is invited to Iraq by Government officials to take part in various meetings addressing the problem of foreign terrorist entities in Iraq and how to deal with them.

31st Centre for International and Inter-governmental Studies in the University of Baghdad holds a Symposium on the problem of foreign terrorist entities in Iraq. Mr. Massoud Khodabandeh is consulted about the situation of the Mojahedin-e Khalq at Camp Ashraf.  During the consultation process Mr. Khodabandeh met with various ministers and experts who all expressed the same view: the MKO is a foreign terrorist group and is a danger to Iraq’s national interests. Some of them must be prosecuted for crimes committed against Iraqi people and the remainder must be expelled in totality from the country.  February 2008  Mr. Ali Bashiri and his daughter from Norway meet with the girl’s mother at Camp Ashraf. She is accompanied by MKO members. She stands at a distance of three metres and swears at her daughter before leaving.  10th The Baghdad Criminal Court issue arrest warrants for three leading members of the Mojahedin. They are Abbas Davari, the political liaison of MKO in Camp Ashraf, Mozhgan Parsaii, the Commander of Rajavi’s army in Iraq and Sediqeh Hoseini, the Secretary General of the MKO.  11th Mr. Reza Akbari Nasab travels to Camp Ashraf to visit his brother and nephew. His other nephew Yaser killed himself in 2006. Mr Akbari Nasab is hosted by American soldiers for some hours at Camp Ashraf before he meets his brother Morteza. His brother is accompanied by MKO members. He stands at around three metres distance and swears at his brother whom he has not seen for several years and says he is ‘an agent of the Iranian regime’. Then he leaves. Mr. Akbari Nasab’s nephew Musa has German citizenship and does not meet with his uncle. Mr. Akbar Nasab’s request to visit the grave of Yaser was refused.  15th The establishment of Sahar Family Foundation in Iraq, a humanitarian, non-governmental organisation is formally announced. Sahar was established in Iraq at the instigation of Massoud Khodabandeh in response to the crisis created by the expulsion of people from TIPF who had taken refuge there and who were now facing prison in Iraq or even risked being summarily shot as members of a foreign terrorist group.  23rd Mr. Teymur Khattar and Mrs. Khattar make an appeal to the Iraqi legal authorities to investigate the suspicious death of their son Soheyl Kattar in Camp Ashraf in 2003. The Khattar family have been given various explanations of the death by the MKO. They now want to know: ”Was he killed in a border clash by the Iranian guards as my brother told me? Was he killed under the US and its allies’ bombings as published in Mojahed weekly publication? Was he killed because of an accidental shot as we were told by the MKO officials in Camp Ashraf? Or did he commit suicide as one MKO commander mentioned? I would say none of these stories are right and they fabricate these lies to cover the truth which is my son was killed in Iraq by the MKO.”  26th Massoud Khodabandeh publishes a Special Report from Baghdad on Camp Ashraf and the Mojahedin-e Khalq. The report concludes that the American military must facilitate family visits under the terms of protected persons’ status which Camp Ashraf residents enjoy. The report also concludes that the MKO can be removed from Iraq to safety following de-proscription of the organisation in the UK and other western countries. De-proscription will allow the 3000 plus former fighters to be taken to safety and be granted refugee status in whichever countries no longer consider them as terrorists. So far no western country has been willing to de-proscribe the MKO.  March 2008  2nd Nejat Society Gilan branch met in Rasht. Families of MKO members in Camp Ashraf state their determination to prevent Rajavi using their relatives as hostages.  6th Ms. Batul Soltani speaks from Baghdad about her escape from the Rajavi cult. Up to 2006 Ms Soltani was a member of the MKO’s Leadership Council (Massoud Rajavi’s appointed group of 12 women who ‘lead’ the organisation under his lieutenant Maryam Rajavi’s direction). Soltani escaped to TIPF where she remained until December 2007 when the US military police tried to empty the camp. She made her way to Baghdad and was helped by the Sahar Family Foundation. Soltani has pledged to stay in Iraq and help SFF, even though passage to a third country had been arranged for her by SFF. She said: “I will do anything in my power to help these families”.  6th A round-table meeting is held in Europe among Iranian human rights activists to discuss ways to help the people of both Camp Ashraf and TIPF. Batul Soltani talks to the group by telephone from Baghdad.  11th Batul Soltani visits Camp Ashraf to see her husband. 19th In its programme ‘Frankly Speaking’, Al-Arabiya TV, Dubai Eli Nakuzi in Amman interviews Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih. He says the Iraqi Government “is committed to preventing the presence of elements that harm neighbouring states…” Noting that the MKO have protected persons status he said, “We do not want this organization to operate in Iraq and thus spoil relations with Iran, and equally we do not want Iran to use any cards against us internally…”  25th Mr. Keyvan Radbin, former member of the MKO who escaped to Canada shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, writes to Sahar Family Foundation about his experience of Camp Ashraf. 31st NZZ Online in Switzerland interviews Mr. Hoshiar Esmail, a former refugee in that country. He is now among the tens of MKO defectors stuck in Iraq after being asked to leave TIPF by the American Army.  The article explains: “…the leadership ranks of the Mojahedin-e Khalq handed their weapons to the Americans and offered them their services. [In 2003] The Americans interned the remaining Mojahedin-e Khalq in Camp Ashraf and put them under their protection. Two years later, about 200 ex-fighters applied to become UN Refugees (UNHCR). Walpurga Engelbrecht of the UNHCR in Baghdad said, with the recognition of political persecution the ex-fighters were given refugee status. But no country was prepared to take the refugees. In European diplomatic circles in Baghdad, it is assumed that the Americans’ Camp Ashraf [TIPF and FOB Grizzly] will soon close and that they want to get rid of the separated Mojahedin-e Khalq fighters as quickly as possible. Now Hoshiar and several dozen former Mojahedin-e Khalq have travel documents. Some 50 of them are stranded in Kurdistan. One of them, Mohammed Rostam, has twice tried to get to Turkey but each time he was re-arrested and deported to Iraq where the Kurds also briefly put him into jail. His attempt to get to Baghdad also ended in prison. The security chief of Erbil, Ismet Ergushi, confirmed the arrests and gave assurance that the Government is trying to achieve a lasting solution.”  April 2008 3rd Mr. Gholam-Reza Sadeghi,travelled to Camp Ashraf to obtain evidence for his court case from the American military about his mistreatment by the Mojahedin-e Khalq while in the camp. The MKO falsely and maliciously told the Iraqi police he was an Afghan suicide bomber and he was arrested outside the camp. Intervention by an American colonel secured Mr. Sadeghi’s release and a full apology from the Iraqi police who “assured me that from now on he would brief his forces not to react immediately on misinformation received form the MKO. He said that such mistakes would not happen again and we would not be trapped within their conspiracy any more. He emphasised that now they are sure the MKO has deliberately misguided them and he is happy that his forces did not harm me when they were provoked by the MKO. . . "  4th Mr. Asghar Farzin, Mr. Reza Sadeghi, and Mr. Ali Biglary, former members of the MKO, plead for justice against the organisation to the Iraqi judicial authorities and urge them to deal with the situation in Ashraf camp.  6th BBC Persian reports on the first public appearance by seven of the series of survivors of Camp Ashraf who have now arrived in Europe with the help of the Sahar Family Foundation. At a press conference in Paris organised by the Association for the Protection of Iranian Refugees in France the former MKO members from TIPF described their experiences. Among them, Ms. Nasrin Ebrahimi, 26 years old, who served in the group for over 10 years explained how two years ago she used a military vehicle to escape the terrorist run camp and take sanctuary with the American Army. She alleged that Marjan Akbari, daughter of Bashir Akbari, was killed by the organisation about two years ago.

Anne Singleton, April 10 2008

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