"We fear we will end up with a situation like Srebrenica," said an Iranian woman whose brother and a number of family members reside in Camp Ashraf, an area 40 miles north of Baghdad, where more than 3,500 exiled members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) and their families have resided since 1986.
This young woman and dozens of other Iranian-Americans whose family members reside in Ashraf have been protesting in front of the U.N. Headquarters in New York since September. Concerned with the possible transfer of Camp Ashraf from U.S. personnel to Iraqi security forces, she said "it is like putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop."
Iranian influence in Iraq is heavy. Iraq's governmental institutions are fragile and its security forces are heavily infiltrated by Iran's mercenaries, whose terrorist acts are well-documented by the coalition forces. How can one reasonably feel confident about such an arrangement?
Turning over the protection of these unarmed refugees to the Iraqi security forces would undoubtedly embolden the mullahs to take direct action against Camp Ashraf, situated only 30 miles from the Iranian border. Tehran has thus far avoided cross border attacks and missile strikes, due to the presence of U.S. forces.
Reports in the Iranian press are already quoting some elements of the regime seeking the massacre of the PMOI members residing in Ashraf. Iranian authorities have repeatedly called for the extradition of all the residents, ever since the talk of a possible transfer became public knowledge.
This entire affair constitutes a clear violation of international law, namely the Fourth Geneva Convention (GCIV). According to Article 27, "Protected Persons are entitled, in all circumstances, the respect for their persons, their honor, their family rights, their religious convictions and their manners and customs…." The Principle of Non-refoulement, a jus cogens of international law, also clearly forbids the expulsion of a refugee into an area where the person might be subjected to persecution.
In an interview on Sept. 4, then Multi-National Forces–Iraq Commanding General David Petraeus acknowledged the relevant international laws squarely placing the responsibility of protecting Camp Ashraf on the U.S. Command and Coalition Forces and, as a result, the government of the United States, the signatory to both international laws and the principal occupying force.
But at the same time, Petraeus said the transfer would take place after appropriate guarantees had been acquired from the Iraqi government and the relevant international organizations.
History teaches us that such guarantees do not hold water. One case in point is that of the return of refugees from Zaire to Rwanda and the closing of the border by the Tanzanian government at the height of the so-called "mass exodus," resulting in massacres of untold numbers of innocent people.
Appropriate stability, in this case independence from Iranian interference in Iraq, has not been achieved. It is thus incumbent upon the coalition forces, the commanding general of MNF-I, the United States, the United Nations, and all members of the coalition to honor international law, which defines the status of the residents of Ashraf as "protected persons." All are compelled to prevent a massacre that would bring ignominy to the very democracies advocating human rights and the rule of law in that region.
Too many atrocities are too recent in memory to take this issue lightly. All could have been avoided but for the lack of urgent preventive measures by those who could have stopped them. We look back in dismay; if only the relevant authorities had heeded the pleas of the innocent men, women, and children, instead of the pundits who were negotiating or dealing with the perpetrators.
The lives of the 3,500 refugees at Ashraf must not be put in jeopardy. The United States in particular has a crucial role to play, and must take all necessary action to prevent the transfer of Ashraf to the Iraqi security forces.
And in the final analysis, doing so is in U.S. interest. In August, Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, just recently promoted to commander of MNF-I, reported that 75 percent of the attacks that kill or injure Americans in Iraq are committed by Shiite militias trained, armed and funded by Iran. During his appearance on Capital Hill, General David Petraeus called Tehran's influence in the region "malign."
According to the U.S. military, since 2003, the MEK has exposed many of Iran's terrorist conspiracies in Iraq, thus saving the lives of countless Iraqis and Americans. On June 10, the PMOI revealed that the Iranian regime spends $2.5 billion a year on its meddling in Iraq, and provides militias with 80 percent of the arms used against coalition forces.
Former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain will forever be remembered for his historic words "peace for our time," spoken on 30 Sept. 1938 concerning the Munich Agreement. History has recorded the horrific consequences of that misguided attempt to appease a tyrannical regime bent on expansion. The United States and its allies must send a clear signal to Iran, and indeed to Iraq, that it will not allow the ayatollahs to acquire nuclear weapons, dominate Iraq, or otherwise pursue their aggressive agenda. Ashraf offers a morally sustainable and internationally lawful place to draw the line. It is the right thing to do.
Paul E. Vallely (MG, U.S. Army Ret) is the chairman of Stand Up America USA, and Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis." (Palgrave, 2008)