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Outside View: U.S. ban on MEK used to justify massacre

By
TARSEM KING, UPI Outside View Commentator

LONDON, April 26 (UPI) -- As Iraqi forces raided an Iranian opposition camp this month in what has been described by the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations as a "massacre" and by British politicians as a "crime against humanity," it is clear that the continued ban on the MEK in the United States is being used by Iraq and Iran to justify the massacre of members of this group.

The MEK -- the People Mujahedin of Iran -- Iran's largest opposition group and the greatest thorn in the side of the Iranian regime, has for more than 20 years had its main base in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Home now to 3,400 members of the group, Camp Ashraf has become a thorn in the side of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who sees the group as a barrier to him developing improved relations with Tehran's theocratic leaders, with whom he had spent much of his time while in exile.

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Now, Maliki, much like the Iranian regime has done for many years as it has continued to execute political opponents, points to the U.S. ban on the MEK as justification for attacking the group. Sending in a military force of 2,500 soldiers, riot police and Special Forces, Maliki commanded an attack on the camp which the United Nations has confirmed has left 34 unarmed residents killed and more than 300 wounded. The majority of the dead were killed as a result of gunshot wounds and others were crushed under Humvees and military vehicles.

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The U.S. government now finds itself in a strange trio alongside the Iraqi and Iranian regimes in continuing to blacklist the group. It appears that rather than follow in the footsteps of judgments from the highest courts of the United Kingdom and European Union, which concluded in the ban on the MEK being removed in the United Kingdom and EU, U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continue to cling to the ban in a vain hope of appeasing the Iranian regime.

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One day, long ago it may have been the case that such political justifications made prudent political sense in the case of Iran. The ban has now been in place for 14 years, within which time the Iranian regime has increased its support for terrorism in the region, increased its human rights abuses at home and plowed full steam ahead in its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons. If any prudent political reasoning ever did exist, no sensible analyst could say it any longer does.

The ban on the MEK is no longer a political issue but an issue that in day-to-day reality is leading to deaths in Iran and Iraq. Hardly anyone would consider an end to the U.S. ban to have any impact on the Iranian regime in terms of its continued human rights abuses, however in Iraq there can be little doubt that an end to the ban will save lives.

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The lives of the Camp Ashraf residents are lives that the United States not only has a duty to protect under the "protected persons " status granted to the residents under the Fourth Geneva Convention but further as a result of personal guarantees as to their protection provided by the U.S. authorities to each and every resident. As former NATO commander Gen. Wesley Clark recently stated: "We did make a promise they would be protected persons. That's the word of the United States of America."

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Obama and Clinton need to act now and immediately remove the MEK from the U.S. list of banned organizations, not only because there remains no legal justification for the continued ban but because it is this continued and clearly unjustifiable ban that the Iraqi authorities point to in justifying a massacre of unarmed civilians.

The time has come for the U.S. government to realize the Iranian regime simply cannot be appeased and rather than continue an unjustified ban against Iran's largest opposition group, Obama should stick to his and the U.S. word in protecting the Camp Ashraf residents and supporting the Iranian people's democratic ambitions.

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(Tarsem King is a member of the United Kingdom's House of Lords from the Labor Party, is a 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.)

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