Another 400 Iranian political refugees left today to be relocated from the notorious Iraqi Camp Ashraf after the departure of US troops has led to more brutal treatment by Iraqi guards and fears of another even worse massacre of camp residents than what occurred in April 2011 when the Iraqi army invaded the camp and killed 36 and wounded hundreds of the refugees.
“The United States welcomes today’s safe arrival of the sixth convoy of approximately 400 Ashraf residents to Camp Hurriya, the first such convoy in over three months,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland.
“We call on the Camp Ashraf leadership to continue this progress by cooperating with the expeditious relocation of the approximately 800 remaining residents at Camp Ashraf,” she added.
The United Nations top envoy in Iraq today also hailed the relocation of the Iranian exiles to the new location, which the statement said was the preliminary to their eventual resettlement in third countries.
“I welcome the residents’ decision to re-commence the relocation process from Camp Ashraf to Camp Hurriya,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler, said in a news release issued by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), which he also heads.
The issue of Camp Ashraf – located in eastern Iraq and made up of several thousand Iranian exiles, many of them members of a group known as the People’s Mojahedeen of Iran – has been one of the main issues dealt with by UNAMI for more than 18 months.
The 2011 attack, described by the Chairman John Kerry of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as “massacre”, left 36 dead and hundreds wounded. In both attacks US forces refrained from intervening to stop the bloodshed.
Since transfer of Camp Ashraf’s security from the US military forces to Iraqi government, the camp has been under a siege by the Iraqi army and camp guards have hampered delivery of food and basic staples, as well as visits by family members, human rights organizations, and residents’ lawyers. Independent journalists have also been disallowed.
The camp houses the remnants of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK)—once described by Ayatollah Khomeini as “a syncretic mix of Marxism and Islam.” It started in Tehran universities in the late 1960s, attracting idealistic students who fought guerrilla battles against the shah’s secret police, but whose dreams of a secular state were soon dashed by the rule of the ayatollah. Hundreds were killed in student protests by his Revolutionary Guards, whilst thousands were arrested and then executed or (if lucky) sentenced to long prison terms.
Some escaped to Paris, but the fickle French expelled them in 1986 under pressure from Iran. They had nowhere to go but Iraq, where Saddam Hussein welcomed them to Camp Ashraf and used them as a “Free Iran” force. After the truce in 1988, Khomeini issued a secret fatwa ordering that all MEK supporters in Iranian prisons should be killed. In a bloodbath that ranks as the worst prisoner-of-war atrocity since the Japanese death marches at the end of World War II, thousands were summarily executed, under the orders of Ali Khamenei, then Iran’s president and now its supreme leader, and Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the MEK and the Tudeh Party at first chose to side with the clerics led by Ayatollah Khomeini against the liberals, nationalists and other moderate forces within the revolution. A power struggle ensued, and by mid-1981, MEK was fighting street battles against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. During the Iran-Iraq War, the group was given refuge by Saddam Hussein and mounted attacks on Iran from within Iraqi territory.
The group claims to have renounced violence in 2001, and today it is the main component organization of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an “umbrella coalition” calling itself the “parliament-in-exile dedicated to a democratic, secular and coalition government in Iran.”
The group has had thousands of its members for many years in bases in Iraq, but they were disarmed in the wake of the US-led invasion and are said to have adhered to a ceasefire.
The United States, Canada, Iraq and Iran have designated the MEK a terrorist organization. On January 26, 2009, following what the group called a “seven-year-long legal and political battle”, the Council of the European Union removed the MEK from the EU list of organizations it designates as terrorist.
The MEK/NCRI is thought to have provided the United States with intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program in 2002 and 2008.
International concerns have been that camp residents could face a massacre by Iraqis after the U.S. withdrawal in December,
In line with a “memorandum of understanding” signed in December by the UN and the Iraqi Government to resolve the situation, some two-thirds of the residents, or 2,000 people, were re-located to a temporary transit location near Baghdad known as Camp Hurriya – formerly known as Camp Liberty – where a process to determine refugee status is being carried out by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“Three-fourths of the residents, 2,400 persons, have now moved to Camp Hurriya,” Kobler stated. “I thank them for their cooperation, and call on those remaining in Camp Ashraf to act in the same spirit and start preparations for additional moves without delay, in order to peacefully complete the process.”
The news release further noted Kobler’s request that the Government of Iraq “be generous” to the camp residents in regards to their humanitarian needs, while also reiterating his appeal to Member States to accept the refugees upon resettlement in their countries.
Prior to today’s transfer, close to 1,300 individuals were still awaiting relocation from Camp Ashraf to the transit center.
UNAMI staff have been monitoring the human rights and humanitarian situation during the relocation process and provide round-the-clock human rights monitoring at Camp Hurriya.