In this interview, Camp Ashraf spokesman, Shahria Kia, talks to Top Secret Writers about the volatile situation concerning Iranian exiles of Camp Ashraf.
On February 21 this year, Top Secret Writers published an article about 400 Iranian exiles being transferred from Camp Ashraf in northwest Iraq to Camp Liberty near Baghdad.
Since the 1980s, Camp Ashraf has been home to about 3,400 Iran dissidents of the exiles Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) group.
The recent move is the first step in a process to eventually move the entire Camp Ashraf community from Iraq in an effort to protect them.
The safety and well-being of the Camp Ashraf residents has been under intense speculation in recent months. In late 2011, following written assurances by the United Nations and the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the security and welfare of the Iranian dissidents, Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the Iranian Resistance, persuaded Ashraf residents to finally make the move to Camp Liberty.
The move would mean that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could begin to establish the refugee status of the residents as a preamble to relocation to developing countries.
Despite promises made by the UNHCR and the US State Department that Camp Liberty, a former US military camp, is a medical and human rights centre, it has become evident with the arrival of the first 400 Iranian dissidents that Camp Liberty is more like a highly controlled prison for the residents there.
First arrivals noticed that there was no serviceable water supply, a lack of a functioning sewage system – with raw sewage spilling out into the residential quarters, shabby, dirty trailers with broken beds, and 15-metre-tall towers with powerful cameras installed, obviously designed to eavesdrop on its residents.
Residents liken the facility to a Nazi concentration camp. Regardless whether that is an exaggeration, Camp Liberty is certainly a far cry from the assurances made to residents by the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ambassador Kobler, and the State Department.
Shahriar Kia, spokesman for Camp Ashraf residents provided TSW with documentation showing that UNAMI is falsely claiming that the Iranian residents in Camp Liberty broke water pipes themselves, in order to show that Camp Liberty was not ready for the relocation of additional residents.
Shahriar also provided TWS with an exclusive letter from Mr. Mohadessin, the representative of Ashraf in Paris, in response to these claims in a report entitled: “A Report on the February 23 meeting between SRSG and GOI and the representatives of Liberty”. The report is aimed at apprising readers of some of the “inaccurate and distorted points” made at the meeting between SRSG Martin Kobler and Mr. George Bakoos, the Government of Iraq’s (GOI) representative in Camp Liberty.
Evidence and Misinformation
Mr. Mohadessin highlighted the fact that, despite resident opposition to the presence of a polic camp inside Camp Liberty, the meeting was held at Liberty’s GOI’s representative’s insistence and SRSG’s assent. Mr. Mohadessin regarded this as an ‘extremely provocative measure’.
According to Mr. Mohadessin’s report, during the meeting, Mr Kobler addressing the residents and said that during their talks with the UN monitors, the residents had called him a “liar” and a “war criminal”. However, Mr. Mohadessin noted that Kobler “never mentioned who had made such accusations against him.”
The report also informs that during the meeting, residents reminded officials of the lack of free access to medical services at Camp Liberty and pointed out the case of Ms Ashraf Taghvai, a cancer patient at Liberty, who missed her appointment with a specialist due to a several hour delay at the Iraqi battalion.
The serious lack of water at Camp Liberty was also brought up at the meeting. According to Mr. Mohadessin’s report, the residents’ representatives explained that currently, there is just one toilet for every 45 people. They also pointed out that although the residents need at least 120,000 litres of water a day, they have access to only 48,000. Hence, since arriving at Camp Liberty, residents have been unable to shower.
After Mr, Bakoos had heard what Mr. Mohadessin had to say on Camp Liberty, Bakoos responded:
“You intend to take photos of the feeble situation of the camp and the garbage out there in order to tell the world that residents have been deprived of water and services; this is propaganda, so we will bring along journalists, we would organize press conferences, we are committed to Human rights not on an organizational basis but on a personal basis. Your approach towards this problem is a political one for propaganda purposes.”
In attempt to shed some much-needed light on what continues to be a potential breach of human rights, even after the assurances of the Secretary of State. Shahriar Kia agreed to answer our questions regarding the volatile situation.
Q1: Why did the U.S. military allow Iraq to take control of Camp Ashraf in 2009?
Shahriar: Handing the defenseless residents of camp Ashraf over to the Maliki administration, who implements the Iranian regime’s policies in Iraq, is part of [the] US policy to appease the Iranian regime by offering them concessions. As such, the defenseless residents were left to the wolves; whereas, based on agreements the US government has signed with each resident of Ashraf, it is obliged to guarantee their protection pending final settlement of their fate.
But the US breached its obligations. By handing over its responsibilities to protect the residents to Maliki, [the U.S.] extended a big concession to Khamenei. Many internationally renowned jurists believed the situation in camp Ashraf was a direct result of a conflict, in which the MeK and residents of Ashraf was not a party to and as such, America bears responsibility for their fate. The US government totally disregarded this responsibility.
The US government was under the impression that by extending this incentive to the Iranian regime, number one; it’ll be able to contain Iran’s clandestine nuclear project and, number two, strike some sort of a balance of power with the Iranian regime in Iraq and deter the Iranian regime from fueling tensions and instability in Iraq. But its outcome was a comprehensive, inhumane, 3 year long siege on residents of camp Ashraf and two deadly incursions into the camp resulting in the death of 47 residents and 1000 wounded.
In addition, this has encouraged the Iranian regime to charge ahead with its project to obtain atomic bombs and increase its domination in Iraq, and it succeeded in bringing the Iraqi government and it’s prime minister under its hegemony. The US government remains the first party which bears responsibility for the current situation of camp Ashraf residents and will be held accountable.
Q2: What is preventing having the Camp’s residents removed from the terrorist list?
Shahriar: The designation of MeK as a foreign terrorist organization by the Clinton administration was part of an appeasement policy which looked to consolidate moderates within this regime. It was meant to please the mullahs, and it exacted a heavy price on the MeK and on all activists who were protesting in Iran, both in that it endangered their lives and also because it postponed their efforts to overthrow the religious dictatorship in Iran which had begun well before the Arab Spring.
Keeping the MeK on the list is an indication of a weak policy and fear of the mullahs. Notwithstanding the fact that this flawed policy has also threatened world peace.
Unfortunately, there are still those in the US State Department who advocate the policy of appeasement vis-à-vis the mullahs.
Although the MeK has been de-prescribed from the EU and UK black lists, and despite growing calls by former high-ranking American officials – especially those who in one way or another were themselves involved in the listing of MeK – insisting the MeK be removed from the State Department list, and despite a Washington district court ruling, which has asserted that sufficient evidence does not exist which would justify maintaining the MeK on the list; those who shamelessly support the mullahs in this particular branch of the State Department refuse to distance themselves from the religious dictatorship in Iran, which is looking to obtain nuclear bombs and uses terrorism and coercion as part of its foreign policy.
Keeping the MeK on the list has exacted a heavy price on the Iranian people and their resistance movement. Residents of camp Ashraf, MeK’s members who’ve fled persecution in Iran, are the focal point of such conspiracies, and the detrimental consequences of this [are] lasting.
The decision to keep the MeK on the list with the pretense that removing the MeK will propel the Iranian regime to use more road-side bombs against American soldiers, was an enormous mistake by US policymakers and a sign of weakness on their part, to the mullahs in Iran.
The massacres perpetrated in camp Ashraf, the forcible relocation of Ashraf residents from their home to a prison known as ‘camp Liberty’, were executed by Noori Maliki and the Iranian regime using the MeK listing on the US terror list as their main pretense.
You’ve probably heard that in 2004, during a period spanning 16 months, the residents were screened by 9 US intelligence agencies, including the FBI, CIA, DIA and etc. The New York Times announced at the time that during this screening process, not a single piece of evidence was found that could link any resident of camp Ashraf to terrorism.
As a result of this conclusion, according to the international conventions, the US government recognized the residents as Protected Persons under the 4th Geneva Convention. In his speech to the January 20 Paris conference, General Phillips, who in 2004 commanded US, forces protecting Ashraf, said:
“I lose sleep because I was the spokesperson for the coalition forces with the MEK at Camp Ashraf. As the commander of the 89th MP Brigade, I conducted sweep operations looking for violations of the agreement the MEK made to disarm. I never found a violation. I directed my forces to search every square inch of that 36 square kilometer facility and not one piece of contraband, not one violation was found. My forces also participated with other government agencies in determining the status of every one of those 3,400 hundred people. And not one was found to be associated with terrorism or even any criminal acts.”
Q3: Why is it that despite the Camp’s residents having been already granted the status of “protected persons” under the 4th Geneva Convention, Iraq has denied any resettlement efforts and the residents have been subjected to attacks and mistreatment by Iraqi officials? Shouldn’t, given that the Camp has the status of “protected persons”, the US be able to intervene?
Shahriar: Of course, this is to be expected of an administration whose prime minister carries out Tehran’s agenda in Iraq and whose ministers (the likes of Hadi al-Ameri) are often seen in Tehran as they’re paying homage to Khamenei, the greatest sponsor of terrorism, by kissing his hand.
But what remains unacceptable, is the way the US government and the UN Special Representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler, are treating the residents of camp Ashraf and their decision to yield to these pressures and demands by the mullahs for annihilation of their opposition. By breaching its obligation, under the fourth Geneva Convention, to protect residents of camp Ashraf until the final disposition and by keeping the MeK on its list of terrorist entities, the US, itself, has facilitated the justification used by Maliki to slaughter and annihilate camp Ashraf residents.
The latitude the Iraqi prime minister, Noori Maliki, has been given on this issue has been to the extent that he openly describes a population which has lived in Iraq, as immigrants, for 25 years; as individuals who have no legal status; which gives him an open hand, of course, to violate their human rights as he pleases.
Indeed, anyone who believes in and respects human rights and universal humanitarian laws would agree with you that the US government is the first country which bears responsibility for the status of camp Ashraf residents. The residents’ current state of affairs is a direct result of the invasion of Iraq by the US, in which the MeK was not a party to; a conflict which was headed by the US.
Residents of camp Ashraf put their trust in the US government but in return the US broke its promises that it had made to the residents, and dealt a serious blow to its credibility and the trust put in it across the globe, and especially among Islamic nations.
Q4: Do you think that the meeting held recently between Members of Congress, prominent scholars and former U.S. officials, which called for a speedy and peaceful end to the standoff over the fate of the dissidents, has been too long coming and that such action and intervention should have occurred earlier to help ensure the safety of the group?
Shahriar: There are genuine representatives of the people of America, who believe in human rights and freedom and have respect for it, who are today on the side of MeK and the residents of Ashraf. The U.S. Congress and senior former U.S. official have repeatedly reminded president Obama and Secretary Clinton of their obligations to protect the residents of Ashraf and support the MeK.
Even U.S. military commanders who have served in Iraq for years – some of whom were directly in charge for the case of Ashraf – have called for an end to the failed policy of appeasement. Yet, the U.S. government has so far tried to restrain from engaging in the case of Ashraf by any possible means, and has ignored these calls by not living up to its commitments, merely due to its wavering policy towards the Iranian regime’s empty threats.
A clear example thereof is the forcible relocation of Ashraf residents to camp “Liberty”. Despite being aware that there has been no reason for any relocation from the very beginning, the U.S. and the UN have been promoting this initiative – favored only by the religious fascism ruling in Iran.
Not only did they fail to respect the international humanitarian laws and human rights standards with regard to camp Ashraf, but they have further complicated this case. Ever since the residents of Ashraf sent written applications to the UNHCR to have their refugee status reviewed and reaffirmed, it was an easy task for the UN refugee agency to start this process at a neutral location in camp Ashraf.
And many of the residents had already been resettled in third countries during the past six months. But according to the statement by UNHCR – dated February 1, 2012 – it was the Iraqi government that insisted UNHCR’s work should be carried out outside camp Ashraf.
Obviously, obstruction of this process by the Iraqi government was done at the behest of the Iranian regime. Ultimately, the UNAMI offered an unrealistic picture of the prison at Liberty through photographs that were retouched using Adobe Photoshop to depict it as the ‘heaven on earth’, and pushed the residents to be forcibly relocated.
Nonetheless, the U.S. government also pressured Ashraf residents to accept such irrational move that was dictated to Baghdad by Tehran.
Q5: Why are supporters of Camp Ashraf in opposition to the dissidents being moved to Camp Liberty in Baghdad?
Shahriar: If until now there had been any doubts lingering, the relocation of 397 Ashraf residents to camp Liberty on February 17 made it all clear.
Liberty is a prison planned by the Iranian regime and carried out by Nouri al-Maliki’s government to dismantle this movement (the MeK) at any price, and remove the sole opposition that has been making relentless efforts to overthrow the regime in Iran.
Surrounded by international sanctions and popular uprisings inside the country, the Iranian regime views MeK as the only alternative threat to its regime. Iran knows well that it could deceive the West and buy time to acquire nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it can dominate Iraq at a time when the U.S. troops have pulled out, and the current Prime Minister is doing Tehran’s bidding.
Given the lack of firmness by Europe and the U.S. towards Iran, there is no greater threat to the mullahs in Tehran than a well-organized opposition movement that enjoys widespread support both inside Iran and abroad. Hence, Iran feels that the MeK and its members at camp Ashraf must be eliminated at any price.
According to a document from inside of the regime, received by the Iranian Resistance – a copy of which has been sent to Khamenei’s office as well – specifies:
“The relocation of MeK members from Ashraf and confining them in Camp Liberty under direct control of Iraqi forces would paralyze this organization. It does not matter to the Government of Iraq how long they would stay in Liberty; what matters is that they should not be able to have any activities. In Liberty they would be like the dead.”
The document goes on to say:
“In one stage, we have planned to separate the organization officials from the members; this is going to be the most difficult part of the transfer operation and it is possible that the organization’s members and officials may create problems. This stage will not proceed easily and smoothly.”
On Tuesday morning February 21st, Ramin Mehmanparast, the clerical regime’s Foreign Ministry spokesman also thanked the United Nations for helping to expel MeK from Iraq. The regime acknowledged the fact that the project to transfer Ashraf residents was completely designed and guided by the religious fascism ruling Iran.
Ramin Mehmanparast said:
“Transfer of Mojahedin from Camp Ashraf to temporary Camp Liberty for a final expulsion from Iraq, we welcome this initiative of the Iraqi people and the will of the Iraqi government and we will support it. This is the determination of the Iranian nation (read Iranian regime) and the will of the Iraqi government that they would leave the region and Iraq. Also we welcomed the help of the United Nations and UNHCR with respect to the expulsion of MeK from Iraq and support these actions in every possible way.” (Iranian regime State-run TV, February 21, 2012)
These are sufficient reasons explaining why human rights advocates and supporters of Ashraf residents are opposing forcible relocation of these residents to the prison at camp Liberty.
The first group that was transferred to Liberty on February 17 has witnessed various control & surveillance cameras positioned to monitor the camp’s internal area as well as 15 meter-high antenna poles installed around the camp to even inspect and wiretap dialogues inside the living trailers.
It’s certain that pictures and conversations captured by these devices will be directly transmitted to the terrorist Quds force as well as the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.
Q6: How do you foresee the fate of Camp Ashraf? Do you think that Iraq will collaborate to relocating them safely and quickly?
Shahriar: Since Iraq has so far been reluctant to cooperate and reach an understanding with the residents of Ashraf, the idea that Nouri al-Maliki’s government could come to some sort of understanding in the future is beyond imagination.
Despite our goodwill and cooperation with the Iraqi government during the past 3 years, their response has come in forms of massacre, brutal killing, psychological torture and threats to make our sick patients suffer to death by preventing essential medical care.
We have been calling for a peaceful solution and will remain committed to it in the future. Certainly, just as any other human being, it’s hard for us to leave our home, which we have built by spending several hundred million dollars to turn camp Ashraf into a magnificent city.
I quote Alejo Vidal Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament, who after returning from his visit to Ashraf in 2008 described it by saying, “Ashraf city is a pattern for today’s civil societies.”
However, our goal is not camp Ashraf, but we are struggling for a regime change in Iran. We are seeking to establish freedom and democracy and a peaceful life that respects the global community. We are seeking to form a state that remains committed to international standards and principles; a state that respects the human rights conventions and is void of nuclear weapons.
Therefore, we will choose to follow the path which leads us to these goals. The MeK and the residents of Ashraf will not surrender to any sort of pressure or conspiracy by the Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq, or by those who try to facilitate the mullahs’ plans. And we’re ready to pay whatever the price it takes.
Since this interview took place, Kia Shahriah informed TSW of an important announcement made by Mrs. Rajavi that all residents of Ashraf and Liberty are prepared to leave Iraq in March.
In a press release made by the Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran on March 3, 2012, Mrs. Rajavi informs Secretary Clinton that if minimum assurances are not provided at Camp Liberty, all residents of Ashraf and Liberty are prepared to leave Iraq in March, with their moveable properties, and temporarily relocate on the Jordanian side of the border under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross and UNHRC.
During the 2003 war, the IRCR and the UN had set up tents to accept tens of thousands of asylum-seekers in that area.