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Concerns over the Plight of Camp Ashraf

“A fictional world of female worker bees”, this is how Elizabeth Rubin, a contributor to New York Times, describes camp Ashraf, the Mujahedin Khalq (MKO) base in Iraq.[1]Concerns over the Plight of Camp Ashraf

In recent weeks this “fictional world” has been in the Western media’s limelight as the fate of about three thousand (mostly Iranian) residents of the camp has been discussed. The fate of these members has been a controversial issue since 2003 when the Iraqi former dictator Saddam Hussein fell and the camp was left in the hands of Americans, who protected them. The camp is full of former Saddam Hussein mercenaries whose leaders have strategically instructed them to interact with US forces in a peaceful manner. But even with apparently docile conduct, Iraq still doesn’t want them. And the fact that most are Iranians, doesn’t necessarily make them a welcome sight in Iran because ultimately, the public sees them as traitors, despite the fact that the Iranian Government has a special program to help ex-cult members reintegrate. But the group has caught the ear of the international community.

In the first place, one should know what kind of a place Camp Ashraf is. The most recent description about the camp was presented by Elizabeth Rubin in August 2011. She also authored an extended article on the group in 2003 after she visited camp Ashraf, Iraq. In the former article, she notes, “Everywhere I saw women dressed exactly alike, in Khaki uniforms and mud-colored head scarves, driving back and forth in white pickup trucks, starting ahead in a daze as if they were working at a factory in Maoist China. I met dozens of young women buried in the mouths of tanks, busily tinkering with the engines. One by one, the girls bounded up to me and my two minders to recite their transformations from human beings to acolytes of Ms. Rajavi.”[2]

Without including Iran’s input, how can the international community help resolve the complicated issue which will, in due course, either provide a path of freedom or otherwise for the members in the camp? Rajavi’s cult of personality has maintained its brainwashed army there in isolation for decades. For starters, the European Union has named a senior Belgian diplomat to work with the United Nations, Iraq and others to help resolve the plight of more than three thousand opponents of the Iranian government living at a Camp in Iraq, according to Reuters. [3] Jean De Ruyt, a former Belgian ambassador to the EU, will act as an advisor to EU foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton on Camp Ashraf, reported Reuters. [4]

The real challenge for international officials is not about the fate of these members, but how to deal with the cult leaders, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi. This challenge will continue until the day the Rajavi’s allow cult members choose their own futures, and unfortunately that day might never occur. But last week, Barbara Slavin of IPS reported that Vincent Cochetel, a Washington representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that an agreement was reached about 10 days ago through the MKO’s legal counsel in London. [5] "They have agreed to individual screening” he told IPS. “We have offered an alternative location near Ashraf.”[6]

The news sounds good because MKO leaders have so far refused a similar suggestion offered by a US Ambassador, Lawrence Butler.[7] Slavin reports that “in the past, the MEK leadership has refused to allow most residents of Camp Ashraf to apply for refugee status or to speak with UNHCR representatives without MEK officials present.” [8]

The real problem here is not the future of the MKO, who are beefing up their media campaign to legitimize themselves by burying their terrorist background, but the future of the individual residents. The group of MKO members, are in fact being held hostage at Camp Ashraf by the cult leaders, and certainly they deserve pity. The international community should be concerned about their fate because according to a 2007 RAND Corporation study on the MKO, up to 70 percent of the group’s members are held in the Camp against their wills.[9] What the international community needs to do is decide the fate of the criminal cult leaders, because once members’ testimony is revealed, it will further add to the enormous amount of evidence that the Rajavi’s are power hungry monsters with absolutely no moral backbones.

The role and input of the Iraqi government is crucial, because Camp Ashraf as a part of Iraqi territory has been in existence and occupied by the MKO for over thirty years. During the past month, Iraqi authorities have taken strong stances against the MKO’s presence in Iraq. In his meeting with Ms. Catherine Ashton, Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi Foreign Minister expressed that his government is committed to close Camp Ashraf by the end of this year. [10]

Most Iraqi authorities and civilians oppose the presence of foreign forces in their country. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, now the leader of Iraqi Shiite coalition, announced that a judicial ruling has been issued for a number of members of the cult. He says that lawsuits have been filed against a number of the members of the terrorist MKO group and rulings have been issued. He notes that, ”it has been emphasized that their presence in Iraq is illegal.”[11]

Iraq is no more an appropriate place for the MKO, and perhaps that’s why the Rajavis are pressing for residents to apply for refugee status, which—as part of the application process—requires them to be interviewed individually. The leaders’ decision to allow un-chaperoned interviews however is bizarre given their history as a cult. The decision indicates a strong change in an undercurrent of member oppression. Barbara Slavin has documented that the “[MKO] leaders insist that they have renounced terrorism and now advocate a democratic government for Iran. But their literature continues to treat their leader, Maryam Rajavi, who lives outside Paris, as the object of a personality cult."She continues that “the whereabouts of Mrs. Rajavi’s husband, Massoud, who led the group into exile, is unknown.”[12]

If members of the MKO are granted refugee status, which country would accept them? “The challenge for us is to find countries to receive them,” Cochetel told IPS. “The likelihood that they can remain in Iraq is very limited.”[13]The MKO is still on the US State Department’s list of designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTO), so American law forbids the group’s presence. European countries are probably not so eager to receive a group of military trained cult members who may still be dedicated to their leaders.

A time will come when the fate of the members of the MKO is decided. What will be the result of those long years of isolation, indoctrination and brainwashing? What will happen to the existence of the MKO?

By Mazda Parsi

[1] Rubin, Elizabeth, An Iranian cult and its American Friends, New York
Times Magazine, Augst13,2011
[3]Reuters, EU names advisor to help resolve Camp Ashraf issue, September
26, 2011
[5] Slavin, Barbara, Iranians in Iraqi camp seek refugee status, IPS
[7]Arango, Tim, Iranian Exile Group Poses Vexing Issue for U.S. in Iraq, New
York Times, July22, 2011
[8]Slavin, Barbara, Iranians in Iraqi Camp Seek Refugee Status, IPS,
[9] Goulka, Jeremiah, Lydia Hansell, Elizabeth Wilke, and Judith Larson.
"Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum." *RAND National Defence
Research Institute* (2009): Web. 3 Nov 2010.
[10]Iraq Foreign Ministry, Iraq Objects to EU in the issue of Camp Ashraf
September22, 2011 (translated by Iran-Interlink)
[11] Mehr News Agency, Iraq- US. Security agreement will not be extended:
ex-PM September25, 2011
[12] Slavin, Barbara, Iranians in Iraqi Camp Seek Refugee Status, IPS,
September29, 2011

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