This Sunday marks our Easter Sunday. That is always special. But this year there are two days next week with special significance for the Iranian dissidents. One is a day of mourning incidentally the Easter Sunday; the other a day of anticipation.
Sunday, April 8, marks the first anniversary of the darkest day for 3,400 members of the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MEK) who had turned Camp Ashraf from a barren piece of land in Iraq into a vibrant, complete, self-sufficient town.
On that beautiful spring day in 2011, the mood turned from joy to anguish with the sound of Humvees and armored vehicles - which once had been used by Americans to protect these people but now were in the hands of pro-Iranian Iraqi forces that surrounded the unarmed and defenseless civilians.
In the days prior to April 8, there were fears of an upcoming attack as Iraqi forces massed outside of Ashraf. The Government of Iraq assured the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that no violence was planned and the U.S. Embassy relayed that message to Ashraf residents. But the Iraqis reneged within a few hours.
Later, it was revealed that plans to attack Camp Ashraf had been drawn at the highest levels of the Government of Iraq at Tehran's behest. As a result, 36 residents, eight of them women, were shot to death at close range or were crushed to death by Iraqi forces. Hundreds were severely wounded.
In the subsequent months, things have gone from bad to worse for the residents of Camp Ashraf. The Iraqis vowed to close Ashraf by the end of 2011, but relented just a little under pressure from the UN and U.S. Then, Iraqi leader Nouri al-Maliki agreed to give enough time for the residents to go to a former U.S. Army base, Camp Liberty, while UN refugee officials processed them for relocation to third countries.
With assurances by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the UN that the safety and welfare of Ashraf residents would be protected, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the leader of Iranian Resistance agreed to ask the residents to move to Camp Liberty. So far, 1200 of the residents have moved to Camp Liberty where they are suffering intolerable conditions in a prison-like atmosphere.
While the issue here is clearly a humanitarian one, it is much more. As international concern grows over Iran's drive to acquire nuclear weapons, its meddling in the affairs of other countries, and its fomenting of Islamic extremism, the need to defend the Iranian dissidents has become a geopolitical imperative.
With the Arab Spring sweeping throughout the region, Tehran is facing growing isolation, international sanctions, and an internal power struggle at the highest level. That's why the ruling mullahs sense a dire need to destroy their opponents, especially the Resistance.
Coincidentally, two days after the anniversary of the Ashraf attack, the UN Security Council, on Tuesday, April 10, will get a report from the UN Secretary General's Special Representative in Iraq Martin Kobler. That day is the day of anticipation. On that day, the case of Iranian dissidents should be at center stage. The way Iraq deals with the Iranian dissidents is a good barometer of how it participates in the international community.
On that day, Ambassador Kobler should make it clear to the world body that Ashraf residents have forsaken many of their rights and gone out of their way to go to Camp Liberty, despite all the shortcomings and profound deficiencies. Indeed, it was Kobler who accepted these conditions as tolerable, though they clearly are not.
The Ashraf residents lived up to their part of the agreement, even though they were fully aware that they would be deprived of their most rudimentary rights. Now, Kobler should insist that their minimum expectations be met by Iraq making Camp Liberty inhabitable. Also, the U.S. should continue with its commitments to them and the UNHCR should expedite the process of interviewing them and relocating them to third countries.
The best way to respect the memory of those who fell a year ago would be through modification of the U.S. policy on Iran and the opposition. That starts by removing the MEK from the State Department list of terrorist organizations. There was no acceptable reason for the listing in the first place and the U.S. surely has no excuse to continue this listing today.
On February 29, Clinton told a congressional committee that "M.E.K. cooperation in the successful and peaceful closure of Camp Ashraf" will be "a key factor in any decision" on its longstanding request that the State Department lift its unjustified designation.
The MEK has lived up to its part of the bargain; now the U.S. should follow Clinton's words with actions.
The only Iranian terrorists are those in the Tehran government. The MEK has not been, and certainly is not now, a terrorist organisation. It should be delisted without delay. A year after the massacre of 2011, it is time to unshackle the Iranian Resistance so it can work to unshackle a great nation. This is the best way to honor the fallen.
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