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Loud protests as Obama hosts Iraqi leader


Wall Street Journal: More than 1,000 demonstrators marched in front of the White House Friday to protest President Barack Obama’s meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Iraqi leader was meeting Mr. Obama seeking approval for new military equipment and other aid.
The Wall Street Journal

By Rebecca Ballhaus

WASHINGTON — More than 1,000 demonstrators marched in front of the White House Friday to protest President Barack Obama’s meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The Iraqi leader was meeting Mr. Obama to cap a visit to Washington, where he was seeking approval for new military equipment and other aid.

However, Mr. Maliki is unpopular among many Iranian dissidents in the U.S. and elsewhere who hold him responsible for attacks against camps in Iraq that house Iranian exiles, including one in September that killed dozens. The Maliki government has denied any responsibility for the attack.

During the White House visit, former U.S. legislators joined in demands that Mr. Maliki be held accountable and that his forces release seven people abducted during the September attack.

The protesters and their supporters waved flags and toted signs reading “Maliki = Dictator” and “Stop Violating Human Rights.” Protesters also urged Mr. Obama to keep U.S. promises to ensure the safety of Iranian dissidents in the region.

“This is a matter of American honor at stake,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, appearing in support of the dissidents, told the Journal. “If Maliki is not prepared to be an honest partner, then there’s no reason for the United States to prop him up—if in fact he’s going to be an Iranian agent.”

Addressing the protesters, Mr. Gingrich urged Mr. Obama to instruct the State Department to “cut the red tape” and issue U.S. visas to more than 3,000 Iranian refugees who remain in Iraq.

The refugees, once supported by Iraq, are no longer welcome there and the United Nations is working to resettle them.

Supporters criticized the administration for continuing to send financial aid and weapons to the Iraqi government when it has violated an agreement with the UN to provide for the safety of the Iranian refugees.

“We shouldn’t be allowing him to disregard human rights and simple U.S. agreements … and think that he can come back and ask for more American tax dollars and sacrifice,” former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D., R.I.) told the Journal. “It just doesn’t add up.”

The rally was organized by Iranian dissidents who are supporters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, which backs the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which until last year was classified by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.

Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said by teleconference that Mr. Obama “bear[s] a greater amount of responsibility” for the fate of the refugees following his meeting with Mr. Maliki.

Afal Afzalnia, an Iranian-American whose brother was killed in the September attack, said he hopes the rally puts pressure on the Obama administration to “at least ask [Maliki] what happened to the broken promises.”

He said the president should have cancelled his meeting with Mr. Maliki.

White House spokesman Jay Carney, asked about the demonstration and the September attack, said it was a subject of the meeting Friday between Messrs. Obama and Maliki.

“We remain deeply concerned about the fate of the individuals abducted from Camp Ashraf as well as the security of the residents remaining in Iraq at Camp Hurriya,” Mr. Carney said. “We are pursuing these matters actively and daily.”

Members of the Syrian American Council also attended the rally to protest Mr. Maliki’s role in allowing the Iranian government to send weapons to the Assad regime.

“Now the Syrian opposition to the Assad regime is fighting on two fronts—against [President Bashar al-Assad] and al Qaeda extremists from Iraq,” said Kenan Rahmani, a Syrian-American citizen who is a member of the Council.

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