About 3500 refugees in Camp Ashraf, in Iraq close to an hour's drive
from both Baghdad and the Iranian border, are at serious risk. They
are members and supporters of the main Iranian opposition, the
People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), formed in the 1960s in
opposition to the Shah's absolute monarchy and currently seeking to
replace the Iranian regime with a secular and democratic government.
The PMOI became the largest democratic political movement in the
country following the 1979 revolution. Soon, however, it found itself
in opposition to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's religious tyranny.
After June, 1981, its members were persecuted mercilessly by the new
regime and its Revolutionary Guards. An estimated 120,000 PMOI
supporters, including children, have been murdered by the regime both
inside and outside Iran in the following years
In 1986, the French government, as part of a quid pro quo with Tehran
to secure the release of the French hostages in Lebanon, put pressure
on the PMOI, which had offices and supporters in France since 1981, to
leave. The PMOI, therefore, relocated to Iraq. Camp Ashraf was built
on a piece of arid land in the northeast of Iraq. Before the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq in 2003, the PMOI officially declared its neutrality
in the conflict. Unfortunately, dozens of residents of Ashraf were
killed during unprovoked air strikes on Ashraf.
Later that year, the PMOI agreed to consolidate all of its supporters
within Iraq at Ashraf. Following a 16-month investigation by seven US
government agencies, every resident of Ashraf was cleared of any
violation of American laws and all were recognized as "protected
persons" by the US government under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Ashraf has since 2003 been protected by a detachment of American
Recent assaults on Ashraf by Iran's regime have included the bombing
of its water supply station (February 2008) and two missile attacks
(May and July 2008), which luckily caused no deaths. In mid-June of
this year, more than three million Iraqi Shiites signed a petition
condemning the meddling by the Iranian regime in Iraq and declared
support for the PMOI and Ashraf. Such support underscored the positive
role played by the PMOI at Ashraf, seen as welcomed guests assisting
with the rebuilding and providing of support for surrounding Iraqi
Matters have not gone as well diplomatically. In 1997, the Clinton
administration added the PMOI to its list of terrorist organizations.
In 2002, at the request of the UK government, the European Union
included it on its list. In 2005, the Martin government did so in
Canada. Fortunately the Court of First Instance of the European Court
of Justice ruled in December 2006 that the PMOI was wrongly listed.
Then the Proscribed Organizations Appeal Commission (POAC), a branch
of the UK High Court, ruled in late 2007 that the listing of the PMOI
in the UK was "perverse", unlawful, null and void.
The UK Court of Appeal later agreed with POAC, noting that neither the
classified nor unclassified evidence provided a basis for terrorist
activity or intent for such activity by the PMOI since 2001. Both
houses of the UK Parliament accordingly de-proscribed the PMOI in June
2008. In mid-July, however, the EU Council of Ministers, claiming
unspecified "new evidence", left the PMOI on its terrorist list.
The Tehran regime relies on the continuing terrorist labeling of the
PMOI in the EU, US, Iraq and Canada to insist that its supporters in
Ashraf and elsewhere around the world be harassed by governments. This
includes pressuring the outgoing Bush administration to turn the
protection of Ashraf over to the government of Nuri al-Maliki in
Baghdad, whose ministers' comments have created no confidence in their
willingness to provide continuing adequate protection to Ashraf
On June 17th this year, for example, the Iraqi council of ministers
issued a statement saying that the PMOI "will come under the full
control of the Iraqi government until it is expelled from Iraq." The
Interior Minister declared recently that the present joint patrols by
American and Iraqi forces indicate that "Iraqi forces have taken
control of Ashraf and that its residents have a six-month deadline to
leave the country." During a visit to Iran in August, the Iraqi
Justice Minister added: "If it were not for the presence of coalition
forces at Ashraf, you would have seen that the people of Iraq
attacking and destroying Ashraf."
A legal opinion by Eric David, professor and president of the Centre
on International Law at the Free University of Brussels, concluded
that under both The Hague and the Fourth Geneva Conventions the US
must ensure the protection of the refugees at Ashraf. He added that
there is no other authority in Iraq capable of protection them except
the American forces.
The International Committee of Jurists in Defence of Ashraf,
representing many concerned lawyers in Europe, the US and Canada,
wrote earlier this month to the outgoing Commanding General of the
Multi-national Force-Iraq, stressing that "the transfer of the
protection of Ashraf by the US forces to Iraq would pose major risks
to the safety and security of the residents there…we are gravely
concerned about a wholesale slaughter of the residents of Ashraf."
There are terrible examples in recent years of what can happen when
the international community and the United Nations fail to protect
vulnerable communities, including Rwanda, Bosnia (Srebrenica), Kosovo
and Darfur. The residents of Ashraf must not be added to this 'list of