The Times: A group of Iranians in London vowed today to stay on a hunger strike to the death unless something is done to help thousands of fellow exiles living in a camp in Iraq following deadly clashes with the Iraqi security forces last week.
Deborah Haynes, Defence Correspondent
A group of Iranians in London vowed today to stay on a hunger strike to the death unless something is done to help thousands of fellow exiles living in a camp in Iraq following deadly clashes with the Iraqi security forces last week.
Adding his voice to the small but noisy protest outside the US Embassy, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale called on Britain and the United States to take action to stop what he described as the “atrocities” taking place at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, at the hands of the Iraqi Government.
Iraqi forces moved to take control of the sprawling refugee camp on Tuesday last week, sparking violent clashes with many of the 3,500 residents, all members of the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), a dissident group given refuge in Iraq by Saddam Hussein.
At least seven exiles were killed, though the PMOI puts the figure at 13, with several hundred wounded. It also accuses Baghdad of taking away 36 members of the group for questioning.
Iraq’s new, pro-Iranian Government has pledged to close the camp and send everyone there back to Iran or to a third country. The exiles oppose such a move, fearing execution or imprisonment if sent back to Iran.
Farzaneh Dadkhad, 47, is one of about ten Iranian exiles in Britain who say that they have refused food for seven days. She also says she is not drinking in protest at the raid on the camp, where four of her relatives live.
“I am here for Ashraf and I will continue this until I die,” Ms Dadkhad wailed, collapsed on a stretcher at the rally because she was apparently too weak to walk. It was impossible to verify her fasting claim.
“I am here so that my voice is heard by the US Government. They are responsible for what happened,” she said. In a message to Britain, she added: “Why are you silent, why are you doing nothing? You must take action.”
The PMOI has lived in the camp for more than two decades, made welcome by Saddam because of their fierce opposition to the Iranian regime.
The US military disarmed the group in 2003 following the invasion and took responsibility for guarding the camp – a responsibility that was handed to the Iraqi Government at the start of the year.
The existence of an anti-Iranian camp in Iraq is an irritation for Tehran. Baghdad, under pressure to resolve the situation, sent its forces in last week to set up a police station, a move that was applauded by Iran.
The claims of violence, however, caused concern among supporters of the PMOI. Lord Corbett, a Labour Peer who chairs the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, said he held a meeting with a Foreign and Commonwealth Office official to urge Britain and the United States to request a visit to the camp.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has already lodged such a request and hopes to visit Camp Ashraf on Monday, he told the rally of about two dozen PMOI supporters. “We don’t want pious resolutions and huffing and puffing. We want action by those with a prime responsibility, my Government and this [the US] Government,” he said.
Britain and the United States have said they are monitoring the situation closely to ensure the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with Iraq’s written guarantees that it will look after them humanely.