Police general, analyst discuss Iraqi takeover of camp Ashraf

Iraqi government-controlled Al-Iraqiyah TV, at 1910 gmt on 29 July carries a new episode of its "Al-Iraqiyah and the Event" talk show featuring a live 41-minute discussion, moderated by Nusayr Lazim and hosting, in the studio, Major General Abd-al-Husayn al-Shammari, chief of police in the Diyala Governorate; and Dr Adnan al-Sarraj, director of the Iraqi Centre for Media Development, on the legitimacy or otherwise of the presence of the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) on Iraqi territory and the Iraqi military operation at Camp Ashraf, home to the MKO followers, to impose Iraqi forces control over the camp.

Introducing the discussion, Lazim gives a brief history of the MKO, saying that the Iraqi government had discovered that the existence of this organization on Iraqi territory is illegal "because this presence contravenes article 7 of the Iraqi constitution, which stipulates that the state shall be committed to fighting all forms of terrorism and preventing the Iraqi territory from being a launch pad, a passageway, or an arena for terrorist activities." He says "the government had decided not to use force to evict them but to encourage them to leave Iraq for any other country that grants them asylum or to return to Iran voluntarily."

Lazim begins the discussion by asking General al-Shammari "when negotiations began to enter Camp Ashraf and impose Iraqi control," he replies: "After the Cabinet’s decision No 216 of 16 June 2008, a committee was formed under Dr Muwaffaq al-Rubay’i and a number of representatives of the security ministries and it decided to establish contacts with the residents of Camp Ashraf." General al-Shammari notes that a number of meetings and conferences have been held since then, and they continue to be held. He notes that given the fact that the organization is considered a terrorist organization, it was decided that it would be considered a political organization and must leave Iraq, "but not by force or by violating human rights but by understanding and dialogue and based on human rights, even though the MKO members are not considered political refugees." He adds: "International organizations, such as the UN High Commission for Refugees, declined to visit the camp because it is of a military nature."

Asked if there were "direct negotiations" with the leaders in the camp, he says the negotiations were direct and were held at Camp Ashraf, noting that the talks took normal course, adding that the camp was searched for weapons and the camp’s population was counted. He adds that the Human Rights Ministry was involved and special forms were distributed to the inmates to fill, indicating whether they wanted to return to Iran or to go to a European state. They were asked who wanted to leave the camp, "which is considered a prison." Asked about the "third option," allowing them to stay on Iraqi territory, General al-Shammari replies that this option was "introduced later on."

He says that many meetings were held with them "but they presented impossible demands, as though this land belongs to them, subjecting it to haggling." He adds: "They claimed that the government wanted to force them out of the camp, that it did not treat them as human beings." He says the US forces representatives attended all meetings with the representatives of the camp. Asked if the US forces were active participants in the talks or only observers, he says: "At the beginning they supported, sponsored, and defended them based on the principles of human rights and freedom, telling us: You are a new state and should behave in different way. They forgot that they themselves considered this organization a terrorist organization in 1997."

General al-Shammari says: "Thus, after 30 June, a decision was made that they must leave or they have to be moved to another place," and adds: "There was a proposal to send them to other places in Iraq, because this place is really unsafe to them. If they come under Iranian aerial bombardment or missiles we will not be able to protect them."

He says the Iraqis considered that this is an Iraqi territory and the facilities on the camp are Iraqi property and must be managed by the Iraqis. He says that state employees started to send water into the camp and a healthcare centre was opened.

Turning to Dr al-Sarraj, Lazim asks him if he agrees that they should leave Iraq based on international law, he says: "The MKO is a terrorist organization, and this was reaffirmed by the Iraqi Governing Council, which obligated the MKO to leave Iraq and hand over their weapons and all their facilities that are on Iraqi territory, and this decision was binding on all successive Iraqi governments. However, the national unity government under Mr Nuri al-Maliki, who is the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, wanted to resolve the Camp Ashraf issue as soon as possible. It issued a number of decisions demanding that the organization either leave or find refugee in other countries and outside the Iraqi borders." He says the organization has a "long history" of deplorable and "heinous" deeds. He says that MKO has been described as a "terrorist organization since the 1980s." He says it supported Saddam and helped him quell the Sha’ban uprising in 1991.

He says that the Iraqi government cannot tolerate the existence of such an organization on its soil, adding that MKO members are trained on most modern weapons, combat operations, guerrilla warfare, and the use of explosives, and they can act as human bombs, noting that there are 3,500 of them in this camp.

Lazim then asks General al-Shammari to give a briefing on the negotiations that were held on this issue from 30 June to 28 July. General al-Shammari says that the area of the camp is about 48 square kilometres, of which 180 donums [ 0.18 square kilometres] is arable land, which they have been "usurping for the past 23 years." He says the Army was responsible for the area around the camp and the police was responsible for the internal area. He adds: "When negotiations began, they agreed to let the Army be deployed outside but they prevented the police from entering the camp. We were negotiating with them and we, the police, wanted to protect and serve them and provide security for them because the US forces left all the towns." He says "it took three meetings of negotiations to allow us to enter a building inside the camp, which is on Iraqi territory." He says a decision was made ordering "the police to enter the camp and establish a police station."

General al-Shammari says that the inmates of the camp prevented the establishment of the station and the raising of the Iraqi flag. He adds: "Then we held further negotiations and a decision was made that the police force must go inside, basically to protect them." He says after two hours of talks, they rejected the demand of the police forces to enter and open a police station. He adds: "Thus, our command told us to open the gates. We drew up a plan and wanted to go in peacefully but we found thousands – there are 3,428 inside – confronting us." He says they placed obstacles on the gates from which we might enter, noting that some were armed with sticks, some with knives, and some even with swords.

General al-Shammari says: "The police force was composed of two squads of a mechanized regiment – there were only nine Hummers," adding that about 325 entered the camp and "we faced stiff and sustained resistance, and you know they are experienced in terrorist operations." Al-Shammari says: "We were forced to enter the camp, occupy our target, raise the Iraqi flag, and open the police station. We sustained losses, including the injury of six of our best officers and 66 other personnel. We had been instructed to adhere to human rights principles and to avoid any friction or clashes with them. However, they staged a stiff attack and they wanted to jump over the wall, and indeed some of them crossed the wall and arrived at us, and we were positioned 200 meters from the wall. Some of them wanted to do something to us but we arrested them. We now have 33 detainees."

Lazim says that the media blew what happened out of proportion and described the operation as a "grinding battle." He asks Al-Sarraj to comment on media reports. Al-Sarraj says the MKO is known for its cunning in using the media and exploiting its international relations, and has always exploited the media to achieve its purposes. He says that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has failed to provide a full report on Camp Ashraf, noting that not a single international organization has reported that the camp had been exposed to Iraqi violations, noting that "the MKO has tried time and again to give the impression that the Iraqis are oppressing them," and adds: "They are continuing to do that. Look at these dramatic actions that they have taken, such as confronting the police and carrying sticks." He says "they give the impression to the world that an annihilation campaign has been launched, even though the security forces did not fire a single bullet."

He says Iraq is always wronged and adds: "There are agendas against the political process in Iraq and there are states that have not yet made a decision to recognize the political process in Iraq."

Lazim asks General al-Shammari if it is true that some of the inmates of the camp were killed and that 350 were injured, he replies: "We have no information on how many were injured. We heard this on the media. We informed our men to avoid any friction." He says: "Our police and army personnel responded only in self-defence because the occupants of the camp were reckless and terrorists, prepared to burn themselves or throw themselves into our vehicles." He says the Iraqi police and army were surprised by their resistance, "because we had wanted to open a police centre on Iraqi territory and raise the Iraqi flag, in order to protect them, and apparently they were not convinced." He adds that the security forces received instructions from the prime minister and Dr Ali al-Yasir, to remove the magazines of our weapons to avoid any possible impulsive action by any policeman or soldier in case there were provocations."

General al-Shammari says that the police had not been certain about the existence of weapons inside the camp, and adds that "when we entered they put up an excellent military plan to prevent us," adding that they expected us from a certain gate but we move in from another direction. There have been no human rights violations. He adds: "We heard on the media yesterday that two of them died. Our own physician in the health centre inside the camp, Dr Ammar I believe, said that no dead bodies were brought to him. We told him to ask them to give us the names of the dead so we can prepare death certificates for them." He adds: "They refused to give names and we are not certain that there were fatalities among them." Al-Shammari says: "If there were fatalities, I would expect that it was one of their ploys. I remember that in the past they planned to kill a woman in order to tell the media that the Iraqi forces killed her. They are adept at such ploys. We did not use weapons and the Army did not use weapons."

He says the inmates of the camp used "stun grenades, smoke bombs, and burned tires and threw them in front of the police." And adds: "They used chlorine and we had three casualties and they are in hospital, cases of poisoning."

Asked if he thinks that a solution to this problem exists, Al-Sarraj say that some of the inmates, 22 of them, returned to Iran through the ICRC and were pardoned and the Iraqi government received a report that they were living a normal life without any harassment." He says MKO leader Rajavi’s "terms to Iran" prove that "she has lost the battle." Asked if they are going to leave, he says: "They will not leave easily because there are international measures to be taken. They want guarantees and Rajavi’s letter mentioned guarantees from the United Nations, the ICRC, the Iraqi government, and the US government."

Al-Sarraj is asked if Iraq will wait until Iran accepts Rajavi’s terms, he replies: "No, I think the problem will be resolved over the next few months. I believe that the Iranians are serious in receiving them but they themselves are not serious. This is one of their ploys. They want world nations to accept them as political refugees." He says not all of these people support the MKO, adding that "half of them are under the influence of the other half." He says: "For Iraq, this is neither a military nor a political problem. This is a terrorist organization and it is over politically. Militarily, the Iraqi army is capable of overcoming them."

In conclusion, General al-Shammari is asked who he thinks is controlling the Camp Ashraf now. He asserts that "Camp Ashraf is under the supervision of the Iraqi security forces." He denies that the inmates are oppressed by the Iraqi forces, and adds: "They have no other option except to ask for asylum or leave for Iran, benefiting from the amnesty decision, and we are resolved to solve this problem because it causes trouble to the Iraqis and has political and economic consequences." General al-Shammari adds: "At 1500 today, the Diyala Operations Commander and his delegation started another round of negotiations with them – they refused to negotiate at the beginning – and the negotiations continued until 1700 and they are still recalcitrant and refusing to yield." He says "God willing, this will eventually prove to be a very simple problem." 
Al-Iraqiyah TV, Baghdad, in Arabic – Translated by: BBC Monitoring Middle East

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