"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."
That old adage is being tested these days in Iraq, where the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki is doing its best to fool the 3400 members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) into a no-win move from their home in Camp Ashraf. But the Iranian dissidents and the world community is not buying.
Camp Ashraf had been under the protection of U.S. forces since its residents voluntarily handed over their weapons in 2003 and were recognised as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention. But in 2009, when the U.S. began its withdrawal from Iraq, that "protection" switched to the Maliki government - and so did the treatment of the men, women, and children there.
Since then, Ashraf has been besieged, forcibly attacked twice resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, and suffered harassment with everything from blaring loudspeakers, denial of food, water and medical services and have even been subjected to rocket attacks. To make matters worse, Maliki also set a 31 December, 2011, deadline for the residents to leave the camp, and be dispersed around Iraq thus breaking their cohesion and making them more vulnerable to personal attack.
At the same time, he blocked efforts by the United Nations refugee agency to screen the residents to allow them to qualify for political asylum elsewhere.
Then, a week before the deadline, the UN, U.S. and Maliki reached an agreement that would allow the dissidents to move to an abandoned U.S. Army base called Camp Liberty, near Baghdad, under the watchful eyes of UN peacekeepers and U.S. monitors.
It sounded good, and the MEK said 400 residents were prepared to go, providing reasonable guarantees were given, in order to test the Iraqi promises - but the euphoria was short-lived. This is where the "fool me twice" situation arises.
First, Baghdad reneged on its promise to allow Ashraf residents to take their vehicles and moveable assets with them. Then, it reduced the area of Camp Liberty to be used by the residents from 40 square kilometers to less than ONE! And it started building a wall that would make it a virtual prison.
The international community therefore rejected the Iraqi offer. They also gave a profound "No" to Maliki's actions having clearly recognized that he was acting at the behest of his friends, the Mullahs in Tehran, who fear the MEK and all dissidents, both at home and in the Iranian Diaspora.
"Fool me twice" was clearly not an option at an international conference held in defence of Ashraf in Paris on Friday, December 6, attended by leading politicians from across the world including representing both U.S. political parties, together with Mrs Maryam Rajavi, President-elect of the Iranian Resistance.
Indeed, Mrs. Rajavi, who lives in exile in Paris, offered to travel to Baghdad to participate in negotiations to resolve the fate of the Ashraf residents, but the Maliki government rejected that, just as it has blocked the UN relief agency from interviewing the dissidents at Ashraf.
Gov. Ed Rendell, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and governor of Pennsylvania put it clearly when he said: "There are two words that the United States and the United Nations haven't used that have to be used - 'why' and 'no.'" 'Why' to moving Camp Ashraf residents in the first place, since the camp is in the middle of nowhere and a problem to no one. And 'no' to the Iraqi government's objection to having United Nations blue helmets or U.S. troops protecting the residents of Ashraf until they were relocated.
Condemning these obstructions, the conference endorsed Mrs. Rajavi's proposal for a special meeting to be held in Paris, Brussels, or Geneva, to be presided over by the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Iraq (SGSR); and attended by herself or Camp Ashraf representatives; authoritative Iraqi officials; Ambassador Daniel Fried, Secretary Clinton's special representative on Camp Ashraf; the representative of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad for Camp Ashraf, and others.
Whilst standing with the Ashraf residents, the U.S. must also remove the shackles from the MEK, which it has listed as a terrorist organization for more than a decade, even though the UK and EU removed such listings years ago. Whilst the reasons may have been understandable, though wrongheaded, when they were originally applied, they surely don't apply today.
At a time when Tehran threatens to execute an American 'spy' and blockade the Straits of Hormuz, the U.S. needs the support of all the opponents of the mullahs they can get. There is no reason for the terrorist listing, as the U.S. Federal Court and courts in Europe and the UK have determined, and Secretary Clinton should act quickly to remove it.
The mullahs fooled the U.S. government into putting the MEK on the terrorist list; now the U.S. must show that it won't be fooled again.