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Action needed to save Iranian dissidents in Iraq

By STEVE MCCABE, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Oct. 31, 2013 at 11:56 AM   |   Comments

LONDON, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- Imagine if seven British citizens had been taken hostage in a foreign land and couldn't be located, that's exactly what has happened to seven members of an Iranian opposition group but there has been little news coverage of this affair.

They were seized Sept. 1 from a refugee camp in Iraq while supposedly under the protection of the United Nations.

The hostages were residents of Camp Ashraf where opponents of the Iranian regime have sought refuge from the mullahs. They handed over the weapons, used for self protection, in return for guarantees from U.S. troops and the United Nations.

Former U.S. Sen. Howard Dean, D-Vt., points out that they were disarmed with the assurance that each of them "has a piece of paper that says that the United States would protect them. We have not done that."

On the fateful September morning a group of Iraqi troops stormed the compound at Camp Ashraf and seized six women and one man and then went on a killing spree. Film of the event, captured on the mobile phones of the desperate refugees, shows unarmed civilians, including those in the camp hospital, being gunned down.

It's estimated that of 100 people in the camp more than 50 have been slaughtered. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq found that most of the victims were handcuffed or tied and then shot in the head.

There has been condemnation from the United States, the British government, the United Nations and Amnesty International but so far nobody has been called to account and no one has admitted to holding the hostages.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki denies involvement but there is strong evidence to indicate otherwise. The troops that stormed the compound were Iraqi; the UNHCR believes the hostages are being held in Iraq; and Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, told the European Parliament in a letter on Sept. 19 that, "we have reason to believe that up to seven camp residents are being held in captivity near Baghdad, and that there is a significant risk that they could be sent to Iran."

Surely this isn't what British troops fought and died for in Iraq; to establish a puppet regime that does the bidding of the mullahs in Tehran?

The United Nations and Western governments should act now to pressure Maliki into securing their release and guaranteeing their safe passage and that of the other Iranian refugees still trapped in Iraq.

There is pressure that can be applied. Maliki can be told, in no uncertain terms, that there will be no visits to the United States until the hostages are released; the European Union and United States can review the economic and military support given to Iraq; Iranian President Hassan Rouhani can be asked, as a sign of good faith, to use his good offices to aid their release.

That shouldn't be too difficult as they are being held at the behest of the Iranian regime.

I and 30 prominent members of Parliament and peers from all political parties, such as Baroness Betty Boothroyd, in a conference Monday at Westminster Assembly Hall, called on the British government or prompt action to pressure Maliki to release these hostages.

The United Nations and Western governments need to take a stand now. There are around 3,000 Iranian refugees in Iraq, many of them living at the ironically named Camp Liberty, which more readily reminds one of a concentration camp.

We need to safeguard their wellbeing and ensure that they are given safe passage to a neutral country as promised by Maliki and guaranteed by the United Nations; and, we need an internationally supervised investigation into the events at Camp Ashraf.

It's not too late to save these hostages and make clear that the West won't be complicit in their illegal return to Iran where they will be tortured and executed.

Rouhani wants us to believe he's a moderate with whom we can do business. Let's judge him by his deeds. He and Maliki must be told to release these people now.

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(Steve McCabe is a Labor member of Parliament of the U.K. House of Commons and a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.)

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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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