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Ashraf, the litmus test for our democratic values

By MURIEL TURNER, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Feb. 15, 2012 at 6:52 AM   |   Comments

LONDON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The vexing problem of Iran is the most difficult, complex and arguably over the next several years, the most consequential regional security issue the world faces today.

In search of a durable solution for the Iranian crisis and Tehran's quest to acquire nuclear weapons, the mullahs' enemy within should and could play an integral part.

I was glad to see this issue raised in a cross-Atlantic conference Feb. 11 in Paris. Dozens of dignitaries from the United States and across Europe, told thousands of Iranian expatriates that the West's approach toward the residents of Camp Ashraf would be a good barometer of its approach toward the Iranian regime and its opponents.

Camp Ashraf, just north of Baghdad, has been home to 3,400 men and women, members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the main Iranian opposition movement, for almost 26 years.

In recent years, they have been under permanent siege, surrounded by gun-toting Iraqi guards, barbed wire and loud speakers for their psychological torture that remind them periodically just how precarious their situation is. Those in need of medical assistance, some suffering from cancer, have been prevented from leaving the camp. Their guards, the Iraqis, have stopped even basic supplies, such as heating oil, from entering.

On two occasions, at behest of the clerical regime in Iran, Iraqi troops raided Camp Ashraf with murderous intent and with weapons supplied by the U.S. military. Nearly 50 unarmed civilians have been killed; some shot, others run over by army vehicles. Hundreds have been injured.

In December 2011 they were facing a deadline imposed by Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister and close ally of the Iranian regime. Camp Ashraf would be closed before the New Year, he told the media. All residents were to be dispersed in small groups. Given that these people are members of the PMOI, you can imagine what fate Maliki had in store for them. They would not have even been granted the right to die alongside the people they loved.

The deadline was pushed back but it has only been replaced by another, equally ugly fate. Camp Ashraf residents are now to be displaced and relocated in Camp Liberty, a former U.S. military base in the Iraqi capital.

How brutally ironic it is that this new concentration camp bears the name "Liberty."

The 3,400 residents will be housed it what can only be described as veal crates, in an area not much more than half-a-kilometer-square. Martin Kobler, the U.N. special representative to Iraq, has admitted to Ashraf residents that they will still be denied medical facilities. There will be no way to care for the disabled and nowhere to tend to the injured.

There isn't even any drinking water!

Their instructions mandate that, residents can only take "individual belongings" with them -- basically as much as they can carry. Vehicles and other property that they have worked hard for over the 30 years in Ashraf will have to be abandoned.

The Iraqi government has designated Camp Liberty to be a "temporary transfer location." That's because it does not meet the standards required of a refugee camp.

Once inside Camp Liberty, the 13-foot-high walls will close in on them and they will no doubt be forgotten. They will have no way of contacting U.N. observers other than by telephone, which the Iraqis will disconnect as they please. They are to be fingerprinted upon arrival, as if they were prisoners of war. One report said Iraqi guards, perhaps even the same guards who killed their friends and relatives, will be based inside the camp.

All of this has been ignored and in a way sanctioned by the U.N. Assistant Mission in Iraq, which seems to have abandoned its role of protector of the underdog. The latest official U.N. declaration that Camp Liberty is fit for purpose flies in the face of all the evidence collected so far.

If this is the case, then why won't the Iraqi government let Ashraf representatives to conduct inspections? Is the United Nations so keen on appeasing the Tehran regime that it is willing to sacrifice more than 3,000 people on the altar of expediency?

Ashraf is of course just an element in a much bigger power game. Yet it is an important element, actually a very telling one.

As the clerical regime, Iranian people and the world community are watching the West and the United Nations should do the right thing by protecting the rights of Ashraf residents based on International Human Rights Law and send a message of strength to the Iranian leaders. Anything short of that would be disgrace and a huge political folly at such a sensitive time.

The United Nations and United States must make sure the minimum guaranties for the protection and well-being of Ashraf residents are secured. It is essential for them and for the world and a litmus test of our democratic values.

--

(Baroness Muriel Turner of Camden was deputy speaker of the British House of Lords until 2008. She is a ranking member of British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.)

--

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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