Dire warnings are being issued in right wing western political circles that an American troop drawdown will leave Iran too influential in Iraq. The solution they are touting is to push for the reinstatement of Baathists into Iraq’s political establishment. This solution includes demands for the restoration of the terrorist Mojahedin-e Khalq (aka Saddam’s private army), which is still holed up in Camp Ashraf for this very purpose, as an ‘opposition’ force. (Is anyone in any doubt that the American soldiers who have remained at Camp Ashraf after the handover to Iraqi authorities are there for any other purpose than to protect the group’s leader Massoud Rajavi who has been in hiding there since 2003?)
The MKO’s backers do not specify at this stage what is meant by ‘opposition’ in the context of Iraq. One scenario is that Baathists in the Government of Iraq would be hostile to Iran and could provide political cover for the MKO to launch military attacks against Iranian targets. Another, more likely scenario is that the MKO would undertake political lobbying inside Iraq on behalf of anti-Iran groups just as they do in western democracies.
Certainly, the recent U.S. drive to create dialogue with Iran has been a blow to the MKO. Massoud and Maryam’s promise of ‘regime change’ lent the group popularity with western anti-Iran lobbies under the last U.S. president. Now, as the threat of military action against Iran has diminished to a few crumbs on the negotiating table, the role of the MKO has similarly diminished. The MKO’s place has been reduced to that of a nagging irritant sponsored by anti-Iran regimes and interests in the region and the west. Even then, they do not expect to have to fight, but merely to have their presence in Iraq act as an annoyance to Iran.
In the pro-MKO hype that is part of this solution the usual lies and deception are being regurgitated as fact – such as that the group is protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, a status which the UN never granted and which in any case could not apply after 2007. Doomsday prophesies that the Government of Iraq would forcibly expel the group to Iran and that Iran would actually accept this group of sick, ageing, disturbed and brainwashed exiles have proven unfounded.
Instead, the Government of Iraq has put into action a sophisticated humanitarian plan to slowly, carefully dismantle the terrorist infrastructure of the group and detoxify its brainwashed members and restore their humanity.
Iraq has called not on Iran but on western governments to help in this plan. So far, the response has been underwhelming. Since the legal de-proscription of the MKO in Europe and the UK came into force in 2008 this surely is the only logical destination for members of the group who have renounced violence but who wish to continue democratic opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Indeed, while the concept that a foreign terrorist mercenary group which belonged to Saddam Hussein and undertook the massacre of tens of hundreds of Iraqi Kurds in 1991 on his orders should be integrated into the new Iraqi political process must be treated with the withering contempt it deserves, the calls for removal of the MKO from America’s list of terrorism should be heeded. Allowing MKO members to take refuge in the U.S. is a minimum humanitarian gesture.
The Government of Iraq and the people of Iraq must make their own decisions about the political make-up of their country. But, the fate of the 3,400+ individuals in Camp Ashraf is of concern to the international community. Those lobbies intent on recruiting a fresh force to act against Iran must employ such people directly as mercenaries.
The existing MKO must not be ‘cut and pasted’ wholesale into this role. It is simply not acceptable to force people to be terrorists.
The Government of Iraq believes that every individual inside Camp Ashraf must be allowed to determine their own future. This freedom of choice is something the MKO leaders rigorously and even violently deny the members. The Government of Iraq is currently making efforts to facilitate the process of individual choice. Iraq’s national security advisor has explained that under his plan to “separate individuals from the all-encompassing domination by their leaders, we can allow them to begin to exercise their rights as individuals and make appropriate choices. That is, we hope to remove them from the toxic effects of their indoctrination and leaders.”
The MKO in turn have thrown up provocation, obstacles and staged demonstrations to delay this process. What is urgently needed is a temporary refuge for those who wish to leave Camp Ashraf but who because of western intransigence have no other place to go. The Government of Iraq must restore the temporary international protection facility (TIPF) adjacent to Camp Ashraf which was operated by the American army and which led to the successful rescue of around 800 former MKO members.
Groups campaigning to help the victims of MKO leaders have already helped many to escape the group. Sahar Family Foundation was established in Iraq to provide such help and most of those who left the TIPF when the American forces closed it precipitately in 2008, have been able to reach safety in Europe. The names of around two hundred more dissidents currently trapped inside Camp Ashraf are already known. Perhaps more want to leave. We will not know until someone gives them the freedom to choose.
Daily it is becoming clearer that the ordinary members of the MKO are being denied that freedom of choice and freedom of thought only because American soldiers have been tasked to protect Massoud Rajavi. The MKO leaders are threatening a ‘humanitarian disaster’ – which cult experts translate as acts of mass suicide – if the camp is opened up to external inspection and control. The Government of Iraq says that Camp Ashraf, its administration and its residents, must be subject to the rule of law.
The U.S. must withdraw its soldiers from the base – their presence is supporting the MKO’s outlandish resistance to the minimum exercise of control by Iraq’s elected government. The Government of Iraq must facilitate the establishment of a separate facility outside Camp Ashraf where individuals can initially take refuge before being transferred to third countries.
If President Obama’s promise of change is to have meaning beyond simply being words on the page, the standoff at Camp Ashraf is an ideal place to start putting words into action.
Anne Singleton, April 09, 2009