Throughout the Middle East and North Africa the Arab Spring is flourishing as dictatorial leaders of the region attempt to hold onto power. We only need to look back a little to see the roots of the movement can be found in the protests of the Iranian people which followed the fraudulent elections which brought Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power again.
Now, true to form, the Iranian regime is once again targeting Iran's largest opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) and 3,400 of its members who are resident at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The PMOI has played a major role in the leadership of the protests inside the country whilst also bringing to the world's attention key information about the Iranian regime's nuclear build up and its terrorist activities.
The PMOI, Iran's largest opposition group, has been resident at Camp Ashraf for over 20 years and was until 2009 protected by the US military following the ousting of Saddam Hussein. Since 2009 the 3,400 residents have come under the control of an Iraqi government determined to close the camp at all costs in order to please their Iranian mentors.
If anyone is under any illusions as to what 'at all costs' means they need only look back to April of this year when Iraqi forces stormed the camp and opened fire on unarmed residents. In a clear 'shoot to kill' policy residents were gunned down using armour-piercing ammunition and run over by Humvees and other military vehicles. The result was that 36 residents were murdered in cold blood and over 350 others were seriously wounded, the majority as a result of gunshot wounds.
The attack was the second of its kind since the control for the safety and security of the camp was handed to the Iraqis. In 2009 a further 11 residents were killed and over 500 wounded in a similar military style massacre carried out by Iraqi forces at the behest of Iran's leader Ayatollah Khamenei. These two attacks were state sanctioned acts of war against a civilian population, the worst kind of crime under international law, and the perpetrators of the two massacres must be brought to justice and tried for crimes against humanity.
The April attack continues to this day but in a different form. Some of the residents are in danger as the Iraqi authorities deny the wounded residents access to life saving medical treatment and supplies. Surely British and US military personnel did not give their lives to allow Nuri Al-Maliki's proxy Government to do Tehran's bidding and massacre a group of Iranians whose ideals of freedom and democracy correlate with ours.
Shamefully one of the most despicable elements of the April attack is that it must have been condoned by senior US officials who simply decided to turn a blind eye as the massacre was carried out in front of their eyes. Now rather than accepting their responsibilities, US officials such as Ambassador Lawrence Butler are proposing moving the Camp to a different location inside Iraq, a step that could well lead to another massacre. That proposal should be rejected immediately.
Nearly 3 months on from the attack the international community has done little to help Camp Ashraf residents as the Iranian and Iraqi regimes continue to plot against them. A further agreement has clearly been made between Iraqi and Iranian officials to close the camp by the end of year and it could be that another attack against Camp Ashraf is imminent. The United Nations and the United States authorities have a duty to intervene and William Hague and the British Government as members of the Coalition, also have a clear duty to act to ensure these acts of terrorism are stopped.
First and foremost, the residents of Camp Ashraf are 'protected persons' under the Fourth Geneva Convention. They are also protected under international law which permits the United Nations to act by allowing its team in Iraq, UNAMI, to intervene to protect the residents. This is clearly within the jurisdiction of the UN and UNAMI. The US authorities on entering Iraq in 2003 guaranteed that they would protect the Camp Ashraf residents and signed a personal agreement with each and every resident to do so. They have reneged on their promises and allowed defenceless civilians to be slaughtered by Iraqi forces.
The only way to ensure that the residents are not terrorised once again is for the UN to set up a permanent presence within the camp via UNAMI representatives on the ground until a European Parliament proposal to relocate the residents to welcoming third party states where their safety can be guaranteed is achieved.
Once a UN presence is set up within the camp and the immediate danger of a further attack is averted further steps must be taken to ensure the remaining European Parliament proposals are carried out and they can be summarised as follows:
- The removal of Iraqi forces from the perimeter of Ashraf
- An end to the siege of Ashraf (including lifting the ban on access to journalists, parliamentary groups, lawyers and family members of the residents)
- Immediate access of the residents, and particularly the wounded, to medical services of public hospitals and private clinics in Iraq at their own expense
- That an independent Inquiry be launched to look into the incident of April 8th, 2011 during which 36 residents were killed and hundreds wounded
- Finally, that all the belongings confiscated on April 8 be returned to Ashraf residents.
The Iranian Opposition movement is stronger than ever and the Iranian regime weaker than ever and the time to support the residents of Camp Ashraf and those opposing the regime both inside and outside Iran is now. Those who support freedom and democracy expect nothing less.