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Do you know what is happening in Camp Ashraf?

Probably not. Yet there are 3,400 refugees in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. Not only are they being subjected to psychological intimidation but last Friday they were attacked by Iraqi Special Forces and Iranian agents. Many hundreds, including women and girls, have been injured, some seriously. To add insult to injury, they have been turned away from the hospital and denied treatment.

Since the US withdrawal, the humanitarian situation has been deteriorating and is currently pretty bleak, as recently reported by the BBC.

Camp Ashraf, 60 kilometres north of Baghdad, is home to members and supporters of Iranian opposition group the People’s Mojaheddin Organization of Iran (PMOI), which is banned in Iran. Ashraf, which has developed from a refugee camp into a fine university city, has come to represent a bastion of democracy and human rights to Iranians in exile abroad and for those continuing to suffer under the repressive regime of the mullahs.

It seems obvious that the mullahs are angered by the continuing presence of this strong opposition party in neighbouring Iraq and by the Spanish central court ruling that Iraq has a case to answer in connection with the killing of 11 residents in Camp Ashraf in July 2009. The Iranian regime wants the opposition to be driven out of Ashraf, and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki is complying. Since mid-2008 the Iraqi government has repeatedly indicated that it wants to close Camp Ashraf, and that its residents should leave Iraq or face being forcibly expelled. Support by the Iranian regime for Nouri al-Maliki relies heavily on his carrying out demands for the suppression of Ashraf and for the refugees to be evicted.

Camp Ashraf was held under US control from April 2003 until mid-2009 when the Iraqi government took charge of it. Despite being recognized in July 2004 by the Multi-National Force-Iraq and the International Committee of the Red Cross as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Ashraf citizens are now coming under sustained attack. In 2009 Iraqi forces, acting as the proxies of the Iranian government, forcibly entered the city, terrorizing women and children, injuring many, and killing 11. Around 36 residents were detained without trial and tortured and beaten before eventually being released following an international outcry.

Conditions in Ashraf have worsened since the US withdrawal, despite assurances from the Iraqi government. Since the transfer to Iraqi control, residents needing medical care have found it extremely difficult to gain access to medical treatment in or outside the camp because the camp is surrounded by Iraqi security forces. In December Amnesty International appealed for action after receiving reports of medical restrictions being imposed on residents by the Iraqi authorities. Pressure to prevent essential supplies from entering the city has been part of the campaign of intimidation and harassment. Recently, residents have been subjected to psychological attacks from loudspeakers set up around the camp relaying threatening messages, even opposite the hospital,where there are seriously and terminally ill patients.

In November 2010 the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom of cross-party MPs and peers called on Britain, the US and EU to urgently request a permanent UN monitoring outpost at Ashraf to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.

Five thousand mayors in France have also united in support of Ashraf by embracing Ashraf as a sister city and urging their colleagues to post banners in city halls throughout France in solidarity with Ashraf. The European Parliament has called on the UN to provide urgent protection to Ashraf. And former mayor of New York, Rudi Giuliani, also declared his commitment to Ashraf and the movement for Peace and Democracy at a conference in Paris in December.

However, despite this apparent show of international support, the siege of Ashraf continues unabated. Without pressure on the Iraqi authorities a humanitarian tragedy is inevitable.

Joan Stewart is a New Internationalist reader.

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  1. #1 Mahi 13 Jan 11


    Yes, someone had to speak out in an international forum. Ashraf residents suffered in every imaginable ways under the regime of Mullahs in Iran. Their exodus from Iran started since 1979, followed by the life of exile all over the world. Many chose the opportunity to further their education in their host countries. So the universities in the Western world were filled with such individuals. That did not fulfill their dream of a democratic and a free Iran. They chose yet another place of exile where they could be with like minded people, starting to work towards that dream. The only place accepting such numbers was Iraq.
    Since they gathered together in Iraq, they were lead by a well know person who previously like many of such people languished a period of their life, in the Shah and Sheikhs’ notorious prisons.
    They were sold a few kilometers of barren land on the outskirts of Diala Provice in Iraq. As these people came from all walks of life and were generally committed to the cause, they raised oases of a city from the barren desert in over the last 20 years.
    They used to have some arms to protect themselves from any of the Tehran’s governors attacks and harrasments. At the time of the invasion of Iraq, the allied forces entered an agreement that the residents give up their arms in exchange for security provided for them by the allied forces lead by US.
    Since the US forces left Iraq and Ashraf, the resident endured scaled up atrocities of a new kind imposed by the Iraqi police authorized by the Iraqi Prime Minister Mr. Al-Maleki.
    The residents deserve our support. Please see that if this touches your heart, recommend Joan’s article to your friends and let us get active on facebook, twiter, other public spaces and perhaps extend the issue to talking to your MPs and newspapers. Ask what is stopping them from supporting the security for Ashraf, liberty for Iran avoiding various types of policies such as appeasement or ratcheting up the idea of attacking Iran.

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