When Author Joseph Heller wrote Catch-22 half a century ago, little did he know that was adding a new phrase to the dictionary.
Merriam-Webster describes it as a "problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule, an illogical, unreasonable, or senseless situation."
In the real world, the plight of the 3,400 Iranian dissidents still besieged at Camp Ashraf in Iraq is a Catch-22. They are members of the People's Mujahadin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) who have agreed to leave Iraq for safety in third countries. The Catch-22 is that they can't be accepted by most of those countries while the MEK remains on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organisations (FTOs).
This is exactly what dozens of prominent international figures including Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York and the U.S. presidency candidate; General Hugh Shelton, former Commander of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff; Judge Michael Mukasey, former US Attorney General and Porter Goss, former Director of CIA, and many others, reiterated in an international conference in Paris on January 20 where I took part.
What is ironic about the situation surrounding the MEK is that after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they agreed to be disarmed; then, American officials vetted each and every one of the 3400 and cleared them of any terrorist activity. They were designated 'protected persons' under the Fourth Geneva Convention and lived in relative peace under American oversight for several years.
But when the U.S. agreed to leave Iraq in 2009, the government of Nouri al-Maliki took over their 'protection' and has continually harassed, persecuted and attacked them, all at the behest of Iraq's new-found friends, the mullahs in Iran.
From intimidating loudspeakers blaring round-the-clock to armed attacks that cost dozens of lives; deprivation of basic medical and others necessary supplies, and demands that they leave Camp Ashraf by last December, life has been intolerable for the dissidents, who really wanted nothing but to be left alone.
Finally, at the urging of Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, the charismatic president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella organization that includes the MEK, they agreed to leave Camp Ashraf for Camp Liberty, a former U.S. Army base close to Baghdad's international airport, on the proviso that there would be supervision by U.S. and UN monitors.
There, they would be screened by the UN refugee agency as a first step toward being classified as political refugees who could emigrate to third countries.
Of course, Iraq never has explained why Camp Ashraf - near no populated area - had to be evacuated, or why the UN screening couldn't be conducted there. Even so, the Ashraf residents are willing to go the Camp Liberty, but only with some guarantees that Iraq has already reneged on.
For instance, the Maliki government insists on reducingthe area for the MEK members from 40 square kilometers to just one and to build a prison-like wall around it.
In reality it seems that the mullahs' regime and the Government of Iraq are intent on defying UN proposals and to transfer the Ashraf residents from a threatening situation to a disastrous one akin to a concentration camp of the worst kind. The Government of Iraq is neither willing nor able to live up to its pledges to the UN and the international community. Nouri al-Maliki is totally in thrall to the mullahs in Iran. Yet, inexplicably, the UN has kept silent. To be credible the U.N. cannot abrogate or shirk its responsibility and agree for transfer of residents to Camp Liberty, while the conditions there are so utterly inhumane.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would claim to be strong in her support of the Human Rights of the Camp Ashraf residents, as have scores of world leaders and a bipartisan cadre of congressmen and former U.S. government officials.
But the Catch-22 - the terrorist listing of the MEK, an action taken in 1990s in a failed effort to appease Tehran-s rulers - remains. While the MEK's hands were tied behind their backs the mullahs were gloating, knowing full well what the effect at home would be if these dissidents were unshackled to inspire a resistance movement towards democracy and would mobilize Iranians at home and abroad at a time when there already is considerable unrest among Iranian youth.
The world needs the Leadership of Iranian resistance to be as strong as possible. And the 3400 residents of Camp Ashraf need their path cleared towards achieving that democratic objective.
In defiance of the world community, Tehran has continued nuclear research and demonstrates a clear intention to develop a bomb that would threaten the entire region and, indeed, the world. It plotted to assassinate a Turkish diplomat on U.S. soil, causing a major embarrassment for Washington. It is currently threatening to blockade the Straits of Hormuz, the world's major route for Middle Eastern oil shipments. It continues to tighten its grip on the Maliki government in Iraq, leaving that 'new democracy' on the brink of civil war.
What is Secretary Clinton waiting for? Her State Department is actually in conflict with a 2010 U.S. court ruling that has sanctioned the delisting of MEK.
The European Union and United Kingdom acted in 2008 and 2009 to delist the PMOI, after successful court battles. In 2010, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed that the listing was unreasonable and asked the State Department to reconsider.
A simple action by the State Department to remove the PMOI/MEK from the list would resolve the Catch-22 that has existed for far too long in contravention of U.N. objectives.