Iraq's License to Kill

03/11/2011 22:50 GMT | Updated 03/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Have you ever heard of someone be given an official deadline to be killed? Imagine you are sitting in your home and you are told by the government: in less than two months we will attack and kill you. And you have nowhere to go.

Well, that's exactly what seems to be happening with the 3400 inhabitants of Camp Ashraf, an Iranian opposition camp set up 25 years ago in Iraq, 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.

The residents, who are completely unarmed and defenseless refugees, including over a thousand of women and children, have been told that on 31 December 2011 - when American troops will completely withdraw from Iraq, the camp has to be evacuated. But they have not been given an alternative place to go.

In the past two years, since the US handed over security of the camp to the Iraqi forces, the camp residents have been continuously harassed and attacked by Iraqi army who under the orders of Prime Minister Maliki seem to be doing Tehran's bidding. According to UN, at least 34 residents were shot dead or crushed under Iraqi army vehicles in the latest assault in April.

Tehran is obviously increasingly worried for popular uprisings with deepening internal division and crises over recent multi-billion fraud scandals and the fall of its ally-dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East.

It therefore sees the residents of Ashraf who form the core of the People's Mojahedin of Iran (MEK/PMOI) - the best-organised opposition to mullahs' dictatorship, as an existential threat.

Realising that the Assad government's days in Syria are numbered, the Mullahs do not want to have an organised group of dedicated men and women who campaign for human rights, separation between religion and state, gender equality, right for ethnic and religious minorities and a nuclear-free Iran next to their borders.

After being given a deadline to leave, Ashraf residents sent applications for asylum to UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Having confirmed receipt of the applications, the UN now says it has to conduct individual interviews with all residents to decide on each case and to find host countries, something that could take up to a year to accomplish. The High Commissioner therefore sent a letter to Iraqi premier asking him to extend the deadline until UN has accomplished total transfer of the residents to third countries.

But Iraq has rejected any extension of the deadline. On Monday, in a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the press: "We have declared that the decision to close down Ashraf by the end of the year shall be implemented. In letters to the United Nations Secretary-General, the High Commissioner for Refugees, and the European Union, we have emphasized the government's decision in this regard."

Earlier this week over 180 Members of European Parliament expressed their outrage over Iraq's non-compliance with the international community to find a peaceful solution for Camp Ashraf. "This deadline could be used as a pretext for a large-scale massacre", the lawmakers warned in a joint statement.

Amnesty International in a Public Statement and an Urgent Action just urged the Iraqi government to comply with international calls to extend the deadline for closing Camp Ashraf.

Last night the US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a new resolution on harsher sanctions against Iran which also urged Iraq to postpone the closure of Camp Ashraf. "If history is any guide, it will see another massacre," Congressman Ted Poe warned during the debate.

At a same time a letter signed by nearly three dozen US lawmakers urged UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to prevent a fresh outbreak of violence at Camp Ashraf. The camp residents have been subjected to "deadly incursions and repeated incidents of harassment" by Iraqi forces, the lawmakers stressed.

The President of the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq, Struan Stevenson, in an article published in Washington Times this week expressed his outrage of Americans walking away from Iraq leaving Ashraf in the hands of Iran's mercenaries.

"If the United States does not keep its word and honour its unfinished business with the men, women and children of Camp Ashraf, rest assured that Iran will settle its own unfinished business with them.

"Time is of the essence. Only eight weeks are left until the last American soldier leaves Iraq. The lives of 3,400 Iranian dissidents are at stake - and so is American credibility in the eyes of the rest of the world.

"Make no mistake about it: A Srebrenica-style massacre will happen at Camp Ashraf. When it does, no Americans will be able to say they weren't warned," Stevenson wrote.

The US may think it can walk away and let a massacre happen, but history will tell, as the Dutch government finally failed in international tribunals 16 years after walking away from Srebrenica.