On Friday, February 27, 2009 President Barack Obama stood before a crowd of U.S. Marines and spoke of responsibly ending the war in Iraq after years of suffering and bloodshed for Americans and Iraqis alike. In his address, President Obama stated:
"...we will work to promote an Iraqi government that is just, representative, and accountable, and that provides neither support nor safe-haven to terrorists."
That promise has been broken by President Obama. The U.S. is on track to ignore Nuri Al Maliki's unaccountability and to strengthen his government, playing directly into the hands of the Iranian regime. A new dictator is today prowling the streets of Baghdad and it appears he still has the backing of President Obama.
One such example of Nuri Al-Maliki's dictatorial leadership is the massacre of Iranian dissidents at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. During the early morning hours of September 1st, Iraqi forces massacred 52 unarmed Iranian dissidents and took a further seven hostage. Those seven, six of whom are women and all of whom were unarmed civilians, remain hostage. Despite Iraq's denial that they are in possession of the hostages, evidence to the contrary has been overwhelming.
During a September correspondence with Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice-President of the European Parliament, the EU High Representative, Baroness Ashton had already expressed doubt regarding Iraq's denial stating:
"...we have reason to believe that up to seven camp residents are being held in captivity near Baghdad."
Since that time, the voices of a number of international organizations and government figures, including those in the United States, joined in agreement with the E.U.'s conclusion. Further, recent evidence has shown that the hostages are being held in a prison run by Prime Minister Maliki's son.
If the hostages are deported to Iran by the Iraqi government we know they will be brutally tortured and face certain death. They would meet this fate despite the fact that they are defined as Protected Persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and have been given explicit promises of protection by the U.S. government. The only way this gruesome outcome can be prevented is a united stand by those in the West led by the United States.
Europe has affirmed the importance of saving the lives of these seven innocent Iranians, adopting a resolution on October 10th that cut across routinely divided party lines. The resolution condemned the senseless attack on Camp Ashraf and called for the immediate release of those being held. Struan Stevenson, who chairs the European Parliament's Delegation for Relations with Iraq called the resolution:
"... a warning to the government of Iraq that if the 7 hostages are not released, the EU will no longer have business as usual with Maliki's government and we will use all measures to restrict Europe's trade links with Baghdad."
Such sentiment adds to the growing chorus of condemnation, which includes U.N. bodies, human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and a number of U.S. Senators.
Just as in the European Parliament, an earlier U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing revealed a sentiment of rare bi-partisan agreement. Republican Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez both condemned the actions of the Iraqi government and highlighted the importance of helping the 7 kidnapped Iranians.
Senator Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, showed just how harmful further bloodshed would be, stating:
"...it is unacceptable to lose one more life when American commanders gave these individuals a written guarantee toward their safety - it would send a message to others in the world that they should not trust us when we say that we are going to do something and we fail to do it."
With strong international and domestic support, which has shown the rare trait of cutting across party lines, President Obama and the United States must not adopt a platform of silence. To do so, would be to set back the credibility of the U.S, Europe and the international community and constitute complicity in the kidnapping and murder of innocent civilians. The first step in breaking this unacceptable silence is a simple one; to publicly demand that the Iraqi PM, Nuri al-Maliki, releases the seven Iranian dissidents his Special Forces are holding as hostages in Baghdad.
As long as the hostages are unjustly held, and suffering through abhorrent conditions, the U.S. should not adopt silence in dealing with the captors. Instead they must demand that Maliki releases the hostages now or future bilateral relations could be harmed.