US must protect Iranian Dissidents in Camp Ashraf

David Alton
Original Publication: The Hill
On April 6, early in the morning, the military forces of Iraqi government, about 2500 of them, stormed the campground of the main Iranian opposition movement, the Mujahedin Organization of Iran. They killed more than 30 people and wounded many others. Among the fatalities were many women.

Honorable Lord AltonIn a similar aggression, back in July 2009, the forces of Nuri al-Maliki attacked the camp killing a dozen and injuring 500. 

The two incidents have obvious similarities. They were both premeditated attacks with the intention of massacring the unarmed residents of the camp. The armed forces involved in the attack were taking orders from al-Maliki himself.

But there is one more, not so obvious similarity, between the two incidents. They both occurred when the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was in Baghdad. In fact the attacks both happened only hours after a meeting between Nuri al-Maliki and Secretary Gates.

Although Secretary Gates may not have had any knowledge of what was in the making by al-Maliki, this can hardly be a coincidence. There are not so many options: either Nuri al-Maliki has received some kind of green light from the Secretary Gates or he wanted to demonstrate that he carries some sort of pre-arrangement with the U.S.; or he is contemptuous of U.S. opinion.

Some internal sources within the Iranian regime have revealed that commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds forces have suggested that al-Maliki received an “implicit agreement” from Robert Gates during their meeting on April 7th – a day before the massacre.

What is more than curious is that Al-Maliki’s forces began to move into position five days in advance, with armoured vehicles and other military equipment. Normally, the United States keeps a minimum presence at Camp Ashraf to guard against mishaps.  But suddenly on Thursday evening of April 6th at 7 P.M. that small unit moved out.

The scene was so strangely ready for a massacre that any observer could see the danger. Also, the United States was informed of the build up of a potentially dangerous situation – yet the only possible protection for camp residents, the small American army unit, had been removed. If it had remained, none of this would have happened. Why was the protection unit removed just before the Iraqi forces began their aggression?

Now this is not a conspiracy theory article.

We are dealing with the loss of many human lives here. We leave the possibility open that Secretary Gates did not have the slightest idea of what was about to occur. Or maybe, once again, the Iraqis had provided assurances that they would behave humanely when they entered the Camp!! Hard to believe, of course, given the past record of  Nuri al-Maliki. Secretary Gates certainly has a hard job to explain this coincidence. In any event – if culpability is to be excluded, further explanation is most certainly needed. 

President Obama has only one option: to protect residents of Ashraf. The U.S. has responsibility for the protection of Ashraf. If Nuri al-Maliki is determined to do the bidding of the Iranian regime and continues to permit the execution of heinous crimes, then he should expect a tough response from the international community. He cannot continue under the pretext of “sovereignty.” He should also be reminded how he obtained his power. 

Camp Ashraf is about 100 Kilometers from the Iran-Iraq border. As far as the Iranian mullahs are concerned, that is too close for comfort. Iranian Ayatollahs have repeatedly asked the al-Maliki Government to remove the camp residents and, sadly, Al-Maliki has repeatedly shown his willingness to do anything to please the mullahs.

The MEK is outlawed in Iran and supporters of the organization face torture or death if they are identified and arrested there. While the Iranian regime tries very hard to downplay the organization’s influence, as a small, unpopular group, the size of their activities and achievements suggests otherwise. In fact, they are gaining more and more ground in the West, wining majority support in major parliaments of Europe including the European Parliament.

Internally, in the aftermath of the Iranian uprising, supporters of the Ayatollahs continue to blame the unrest on the MEK, accusing captive protesters to be a “Mohareb” which is enough to receive a death sentence.

Meanwhile, Nuri al-Maliki, being a puppet of the mullahs in Iraq, dances to the tune of Iran’s Ayatollahs. And he likes to do that very much when others pay the price.

It is time al-Maliki listened to the Iraqi people and to the voices of those Iraqis who want fundamental change rather than the fundamentalism of Tehran

David Alton is a life peer in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.