The Hill: Last week the U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman attended a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The issue at hand was the fate of the thousands of Iranian dissidents who have been in limbo since the U.S. withdrew its troops from Iraq.
By Alejo Vidal-Quadras
Last week the U.S. Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman attended a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The issue at hand was the fate of the thousands of Iranian dissidents who have been in limbo since the U.S. withdrew its troops from Iraq and turned over the responsibility for their protection to the government of Nouri al-Maliki.
As the saying goes, that’s putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.
These 3000-plus men and women, members of the Iranian democratic opposition from the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI/MeK), had been living peacefully for almost thirty years in a city they developed by their own hard work called Camp Ashraf, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad.
They had fled Iran in fear of oppression by the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini and his successors shortly after the 1979 Iranian revolution. After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, they gave up their weapons and agreed to live under the protection of American forces and the dictates of the Geneva Conventions.
That was fine until the Americans left and the Maliki government began acting at the behest of its newfound friends in Tehran. First, Maliki wanted to disperse them or send them back to Iran, which would mean imprisonment or death. Then he agreed to a UN and U.S.-brokered deal to move them to a place ironically called Camp Liberty, near Baghdad airport, where they have lingered under very repressive conditions for more than a year.
Worse than the conditions has been the fear—and actuality—of deadly attacks. That’s what happened, first at Ashraf, then at Liberty and, most recently, the brutal slaughter of half of the 100 or so left behind to protect the dissidents’ property at Ashraf. Seven of them remain missing, being held hostage by Maliki’s forces.
It was that attack that was the issue under discussion at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing on October 3.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was questioning Wendy Sherman about U.S. promises of protection for the dissidents at Ashraf. He cited America’s personal guarantees that they would not be harmed and then brought up the murders that took place in September.
Sherman responded, “We strongly and swiftly condemned the attack … extend our condolences to the victims’ families and we are working with the government of Iraq and the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) to protect the surviving residents … because we do not want a repeat of this.”
Good words, but not deeds.
Then, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Committee joined McCain, saying “it is unacceptable to lose one more life when American commanders gave these individuals a written guarantee toward their safety and it sends a message to others in the world that when we say that we are going to do that and we do not, that they should not trust us.”
The clear reality is that Iraq under Maliki is no longer America’s friend; it is Iran’s puppet. It carries out Tehran’s bidding. Menendez pointed out that Iraq even permits flights over its territory by planes carrying arms to the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad.
Let’s face it; the U.S. may have won the war in Iraq, but they have lost the peace. It was okay to support Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war in the 1980s. After all, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?
But now, can the friend of my enemy still be my friend? Maliki is carrying out Iran’s nefarious deeds against these Iranian dissidents from the PMOI, right under American eyes.
Menendez told Sherman in no uncertain terms: “And let me also caution that the seven hostages, which we believe the Iraqi Government knows where they are, should they die, it would be complicating matters for all of that.”
The timing of the attack was also telling. As the Iranian regime was setting the stage for a new round of negotiations with the world, most notably with the U.S., it was bent on eliminating the only effective opposition that has the means and potential to unseat the mullahs and force the world to think that the only option would be to offer concessions to Tehran.
The U.S. cannot evade responsibility and from a geopolitical standpoint should not willingly or inadvertently fall into the mullahs’ trap.
These at-risk dissidents must be protected until they are resettled outside Iraq and the U.S. must tell Maliki to choose between our aid and support or that of Iran. He can’t have it both ways, and he can’t use unarmed civilians as pawns. It starts with releasing the seven hostages, six women and one man.
The plea of the son of the murdered Ashraf resident Asghar Emadi at a Washington D.C. conference last month underlines an unpleasant truth: When will America’s words actually mean something?
Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish center-right politician, has been vice-president of the European Parliament since 1999.