One year ago on April 8, 2011, the Iraqi army assaulted Camp Ashraf, the residence of 3,400 Iranian exiles, members of the opposition group MEK/PMOI.
The assault on Ashraf and massacre of its unarmed residents was planned well before April 8. The Iraqi army and police had amassed on the periphery of Ashraf before that date, and the Iraqi government had prepared the ground for the assault by fabricating stories about the ownership of the land Camp Ashraf sits on. The United States, UN, and others failed to heed the calls by Iranian exiles and their supporters warning about an impending massacre. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad simply trusted Iraqi assurances that there was no assault planned, even though Iraqis had attacked the residents once before in 2009, killing 11.
The April 2011 assault on Camp Ashraf left 36 residents dead, including 8 women, and hundreds injured. Iraqi soldiers fired on the residents and ran them over using U.S. supplied weapons and vehicles. The massacre at Ashraf was swiftly condemned by the U.S., UN, and EU, and many called for an independent investigation of the massacre. All of these calls have so far remained unheeded by the Iraqis.
A year after the April massacre, Camp Ashraf residents' fate remains uncertain. Under agreement brokered by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), Ashraf residents are in the process of relocation to a temporary site at Camp Liberty in Baghdad. So far, 1200 residents have been relocated to Liberty, despite sub-optimum and prison-like conditions there. Ashraf residents have been prevented from taking their belongings to Liberty, have complained of shortage of water and electricity, and are subject to constant monitoring within Liberty by armed Iraqis, some of whom were involved in the 2009 and 2011 massacres. Despite the cooperation of Ashraf residents in abandoning their home of 26 years and relocation to Liberty, the process of their resettlement has proceeded at a snail’s pace.
A major obstacle in Ashraf residents’ re-settlement is the blacklisting of the MEK on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. Despite calls by Iranian-Americans, over 40 distinguished former U.S. officials, 98 members of the House of Representatives, and multiple court rulings, the State Department has still failed to review this designation. At a time when the U.S. is pre-occupied with Iran’s nuclear drive, it is ironic that State Department chooses to keep the main opposition group to the Iranian regime in shackles by keeping it on the terrorist list. Delisting MEK, in addition to easing the way for re-settlement of Camp Ashraf residents, will embolden Iranians to focus their attention in confronting the regime and bring about a real change in Iran, which would eliminate the possibility of another devastating war.
On the international side, strong commitment by the UNAMI and UNHCR in resolving this issue and finding host countries for Ashraf residents will pave the way to solve this humanitarian issue and prevent further loss of life. In addition to the 47 residents massacred by Iraq, another 12 have lost their lives due to medical blockade of Ashraf since 2009, and another resident died on the eve of Iranian New Year on March 20, after enduring 48 hours of harassment by the Iraqis on his way to camp Liberty. Let’s hope prompt action by the UN and U.S. in re-settlement and delisting issues will end this saga without further loss of life.