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Trust in Maliki harms U.S. credibility

By RAMESH SEPEHRRAD, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 13, 2013 at 12:10 AM   |   Comments

ARLINGTON, Va., Sept. 13 (UPI) -- It is hard to characterize the United States' relations with Iraq in recent years.

More often than not, Washington hesitates to hold Baghdad accountable for its continued support of the Syrian president and carrying out deadly raids against the Iranian refugees at Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty.

Such dithering erodes America's credibility and reputation, especially in the midst of a national debate and international campaign to devise an appropriate response to the crimes against humanity in Syria.

Addressing the Syrian situation, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently told Congress, "The word of the United States must mean something."

Back in 2003, it was the very words of the U.S. government that guaranteed the residents of Camp Ashraf of U.S. protection, words that remain unfulfilled today.

In early 2009, in a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Washington recklessly transferred the protection responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government.

There was ample evidence at the time that Iraq's loyalty to Tehran was making it less than willing or capable of providing the level of protection stipulated by the international law.

Since then there have been five deliberate deadly attacks against the unarmed residents who are members of Iran's opposition group, the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran.

Every attack has been a test of America's willingness to stand by its words and effectively pressure the Iraqis. Escalating violence against this group shows the United States has failed in every test.

The deadliest attack took place Sept. 1. Based on the shocking images, video clips, and witness accounts, victims were killed, execution-style, by a well-trained and highly disciplined SWAT team. The array of techniques used last week indicates that the main objective of this attack was to massacre every single individual.

Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security acknowledged the attack within hours saying, Iraqi government has been forced to confront the terrorists residing in Ashraf Base. The masked SWAT team received high praises from Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps for killing of 52 men and women of PMOI declaring it as a strategic significance for region and fulfillment of a Divine Promise.

There are strong indications that the killings at both camps were carried out under direct command of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and in close coordination with the office of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khameini.

In early 2012, Maliki publicly said, "We endured them [PMOI] for long ... and we will see that if the United Nations will be able (to resettle them) or not. If it couldn't, then we will act because we own this country and we are the authority."

U.N. agencies, however, have only resettled 198 of these refugees over the last 12-18 months.

As noted by Shirin Ebadi, 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Maliki refuses to fulfill his obligation when it comes to safety and security of the PMOI in Iraq. According to recognized and accepted international laws, every government is responsible for the security of the residents of that country, and if Maliki believes that he has no responsibility, then he must resign, she said in an interview.

Amnesty International's statement criticized the Iraqi authorities for their failure to conduct effective investigations of the previous attacks and the fact that no one has been held accountable for these incidents and that residents live in constant fear for their safety.

Head of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi, considers the atrocious massacre in Ashraf a crime against humanity. Members of the U.S. Congress and prominent political figures, including former Cabinet members of U.S. President Barack Obama and his predecessor, continue to press for actively holding Maliki responsible and fulfillment of U.S. promises concerning these refugees.

In 2011, Kerry, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, declared the attack on Camp Ashraf a massacre carried out by Iraqi forces. Last June, Kerry, as secretary of state, called the mortar attacks on Camp Liberty, where more than 3,000 Iranian refugees of Camp Ashraf were transferred to in 2012, vicious and senseless terrorist attacks.

He personally called on the highest level of the Iraqi government to investigate, send in medical aid and ensure their safety. The Sept. 1 attack, regrettably, hasn't produced specific and effective U.S. measures to prevent future attacks and secure the immediate release of seven PMOI members abducted by the Iraqis. As reported by Amnesty International, the seven are facing threat of imminent torture and extradition to Iran.

On Sept. 11, the 42 surviving residents of Camp Ashraf were transferred to Camp Liberty. With five attacks, 120 killed and kidnapped, refugees at Camp Liberty, however, are still left without meaningful protection, a slow prospect of resettlement elsewhere, and broken promises from the United States. U.N. peacekeepers are also nowhere to be found in the camp.

Meanwhile, Khamenei and Maliki, chief supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, are intensely reading America's ceremonial and passive commitment to Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty as a signal for their next moves.

The credibility of the United States' sincerity in building an effective international campaign against Assad hinges in part on its firm response to Maliki's mistreatment of the PMOI members in Iraq. Three months ago Kerry reaffirmed U.S. obligations concerning the PMOI members in Iraq saying, "We must find a permanent and long-term solution that ensures their safety." Anything short of that will be seen as another betrayal of America's word.

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(Ramesh Sepehrrad is a scholar practitioner from School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University. She has focused her research and field work on Iranian affairs as it relates to human rights, gender equality and U.S. policy on Iran for more than two decades.)

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(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.)

© 2013 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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