Iraq plans to close Iranian dissidents' border camp
Base was used in sabotage and assassination sorties
US fostered sect as tool for regime change in Tehran
... Independent visitors to Camp Ashraf report that the inmates live in segregated barracks-style rooms. The International Committee for the Red Cross says several hundred former MEK members have left Camp Ashraf since 2003. The ICRC has helped more than 250 cross the border to Iran after conducting private interviews with each to ensure they are going voluntarily...
Jonathan Steele,The Guardian, Friday 2 January 2009
Iraq plans to close a camp for Iranian dissidents who used to cross into Iran to mount assassinations and sabotage - a decision that has sharpened political differences between Baghdad and Washington.
Camp Ashraf, about 80 miles north of Baghdad, came under Iraqi control yesterday in a broad security handover that forms part of the US withdrawal agreement concluded late last year.
Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffaq al-Rubaie, led a delegation of defence and interior ministry officials to the camp last weekend, warning its 2,500 male and 1,000 female inmates that "staying in Iraq is not an option". The Iraqi government said it "is keen to execute its plans to close the camp and send its inhabitants to their country or other countries in a non-forcible manner".
US troops disarmed the opposition group known as the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) after the 2003 invasion. They removed hundreds of armoured vehicles donated by Saddam Hussein but kept the camp intact because some Bush administration officials allegedly saw the MEK as a potential tool for regime change in Iran.
The Shia-led government in Baghdad has forged close relations with fellow Shias in Tehran and rejects such ambitions. It insisted that the US/Iraq security agreement contain a promise that Iraq would not be used for attacks on Iran or any other country.
Under the security deal Iraq yesterday took over the Green Zone and Saddam's former presidential palace. The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, declared a national holiday, saying it amounted to the moment when sovereignty was restored.
(Maryam Rajavi directly ordered the massacre of Kurdish people)
The MEK helped to bring the Shah's overthrow but soon clashed with Ayatollah Khomeini and his drive to put clerics in charge of the country. Like almost every other political party and group that had created the revolution, it lost hundreds of members to torture and execution in the early 1980s.
It now describes itself as "democratic and secular". Insisting the camp's inmates have conducted no armed operations in Iran since 2001, Nasser Razii, a London spokesman for the group's political arm, said: "Camp Ashraf provides hope to the Iranian nation and keeps the flame of resistance burning. We want to keep it on the doorstep of our homeland."
The US and EU placed the MEK on their lists of terrorist organisations after 9/11. Last year Europe's court of first instance ruled it should be removed from the EU list on the grounds it had not carried out terrorist activities for years. Lord Corbett, a Labour peer who has long supported the movement, and other British parliamentarians last month signed a letter to the Iraqi government urging it not to close Camp Ashraf. MPs in other European countries have made similar appeals.
Former members claim the MEK is a cult that forces members to break ties with their families, orders married couples to separate and demands they devote themselves totally to the movement. Closing the camp will restore members' human rights and allow them to decide whether to resume normal life, they say. But MEK members fear they will be deported to Iran, a fear Baghdad says is groundless.
Independent visitors to Camp Ashraf report that the inmates live in segregated barracks-style rooms. The International Committee for the Red Cross says several hundred former MEK members have left Camp Ashraf since 2003. The ICRC has helped more than 250 cross the border to Iran after conducting private interviews with each to ensure they are going voluntarily.
In spite of MEK claims that returnees face arrest and imprisonment or have been offered unfair inducements by the Iranian authorities, the ICRC is continuing the repatriation programme. "If we had any allegations of ill-treatment of people who have returned to Iran we would follow up with the authorities in Tehran," said Dorothea Krimitsas, ICRC spokesperson for the Middle East.
Also the same day:
Inside view: 'You have to be totally dedicated'
The Guardian, Friday 2 January 2009
(A cult session in Ashraf Camp Iraq - under the protection of Saddam)
Arash Sametipour, spokesman for a Tehran-funded organisation called Nejat (rescue), which helps the Mojahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) defectors, left the MEK in 2001 after being arrested in Tehran when an attempt to kill the city's police chief went wrong. Sametipour lost his hand while trying to kill himself by exploding a grenade. He spent nearly four years in prison.
"I was recruited by MEK as a student of computer engineering in northern Virginia in 1999," he told the Guardian. "They convinced me that if I wanted to be a fighter for jihad I had to abandon my parents and give up my education."
After months of training he was sent to Jordan and crossed into Iraq to Camp Ashraf.
"I had to watch videos of [MEK leader Massoud] Rajavi and write reports on my feelings. There were also meetings for self-criticism. They said you have to put away any love for belongings and for family.
"At first I resisted but you have no way out. You have no other news. I started to change in the way they wanted me to change.
"Finally in 2001 they gave me a mission. I was taken to Basra and, with the support of the Iraqi security service, was brought across the border."
He argues that closing Camp Ashraf will give MEK people the chance to escape from cult pressures and have a free choice of where to live.
Mahmoud Tabrizi, a UK-trained engineer who left Iran during the Shah's time and joined the MEK, spent three years at Camp Ashraf in the 1990s. "You have to be totally dedicated. If you have the smallest doubt, you have to leave. I decided to go, even though I still support their activities. It's the only army which treats deserters in the same way as its members. They paid my ticket to return to Britain," he said.
(MKO members in European Countries 2003)
MEPs intrigued by accounts of newly arrived escapees from Camp Ashraf
Discussion of the Mojahedin-e Khalq/National Council of Resistance and its activities in the EU Parliament
... Ms Ebrahimi said she saw Mr Paulo Casaca when he visited Camp Ashraf. We were not allowed to approach him and speak to him, she explained to delegates. If they had somewhere to go, she told delegates, without doubt ninety-nine percent of the people in Camp Ashraf would leave the camp and the MKO...
Reported from EU Parliament, Sep. 09, 2008
On Tuesday 9 September a meeting was held by the Delegation for Relations with Iran in the European Parliament. The meeting focused on ‘Discussion of the Mojahedin-e Khalq/National Council of Resistance and its activities in an exchange of views with:
Ms Anne Singleton expert on the MKO
Representative of the NCR (declined invitation)
Three Residents of Ashraf Refugee Camp who arrived from Iraq in the last couple of weeks: Ms. Ebrahimi, Mr. Hassan Piransar and Mr. Hamid Siah Mansoori.
Also present were former MKO members Karim Haggi, Mohammad Sobhani, Hadi Shams Haeri and Ali Ghashghavi, who accompanied the new arrivals to provide support to these vulnerable people.
Ms Angelika Beer, President of the Iran Delegation (Greens/EFA), began by describing the MKO and its activities up to the present time.
Anne Singleton briefly described her own involvement with the MKO for over twenty years.
Asserting that the MKO will not give up the use of violence to achieve its aims, Ms Singleton went on to explain why, in spite of that, she believes that the MKO has currently little to do with the Iranian political scene, but that precisely because it is a cult, its danger is that it interferes in parliamentary democracy in western countries in ways that may even involve criminal activity.
Whilst agreeing that the MKO’s platform of ‘total regime change’ in Iran could be attractive to some politicians in the west, Ms Singleton challenged the delegates to consider whether the MKO would be able to achieve its stated aim – ‘will it do what it says on the tin’? Since its last major offensive against Iran in 1988, the MKO has achieved little to further its aims. She told delegates that they should also consider the possibility that, even if they believe the MKO has changed tactic and intends to pursue its aims only through political opposition, the MKO may not actually be ‘fit for purpose’ She urged them to consider the evidence of the three former residents of Camp Ashraf who have arrived in Europe from Iraq only in the past few weeks, and who would speak later in the meeting about conditions inside the MKO.
Ms Singleton asserted that Iranian people – as those delegates who have visited Iran are aware – are not waiting to be rescued by the MKO and are capable of opposing their own government. Iranian women are not waiting to be taught about feminism by Maryam Rajavi who leads an organisation which – as Batul Ebrahimi will testify - badly abuses women members.
Then Ms Singleton described the current situation of the MKO in Iraq. Control of Camp Ashraf, the MKO’s headquarters, has been transferred from the American military to the Iraqi military. Ms Singleton said that Iraqi government officials are angry at reports which suggest that the MKO would be ‘massacred’ if the Americans handed over Camp Ashraf.
Instead, the people inside the camp are facing a humanitarian crisis because they are not allowed even basic freedoms such as the right to enjoy contact and visits from their families. A rumour has arisen that the Americans have removed around 300 of those captive in Camp Ashraf and left the others. Ms Singleton said that if this is the case then she would consider the remaining 3000 individuals in Camp Ashraf to be ex-members of the MKO. They should be brought to western countries as soon as possible.
Finally, Ms Singleton presented delegates with one solution to the crisis at Camp Ashraf, remove the MKO from the European terrorist list and bring ALL 3,300 residents to Europe where those who are mentally, physically and emotionally sick would be able to receive help.
Ms Singleton finished by reminding delegates that continuing support for the MKO would, of course, mean that the European Parliament accepted to have a cult operating in its midst and continuing to interfere in parliamentary democracy. However, if that is the decision to be made, then so be it.
Ms Beer thanked Anne Singleton for her contribution and asked the three recently arrived, former Camp Ashraf residents to speak.
Ms Ebrahimi (speaking in Farsi) told delegates that she had gone to Camp Ashraf when she was sixteen years old and although she quickly realised she wanted to leave, she was captive there for another ten years. She described conditions for women in the camp. Not only does the MKO not allow women to marry, women are made to work in the scorching sun for hours at a time so their complexions are ruined and they become ugly. This is so they do not develop the vanity to think they could be attractive to a man, she told delegates.
In order to remove hope from the women of ever having a family, they are being sent under surgery for spurious medical conditions to have their wombs removed [hysterectomy] and around ten percent of women in Camp Ashraf have now undergone this surgery. When they tried to impose it on her, Ms Ebrahimi ran away. She begged delegates to take doctors to Camp Ashraf to check the veracity of what she was telling them.
The MKO told her that if she left the camp and went with the American soldiers, they would rape her. For this reason it took two years before she was able to have the courage to escape.
Ms Ebrahimi said she saw Mr Paulo Casaca when he visited Camp Ashraf. We were not allowed to approach him and speak to him, she explained to delegates. If they had somewhere to go, she told delegates, without doubt ninety-nine percent of the people in Camp Ashraf would leave the camp and the MKO.
Mr Hamid Siah Mansoori (speaking English) told delegates he had been in the MKO for over twenty five years. He described how he had gone to Iraq from Canada. He had a good education, and a good life in Canada and had his own business before leaving everything behind in the mid 1980s to go to Iraq. He then described the MKO’s attitude to family. He said no one is allowed to contact their family, except in a few cases where people were told to contact their family to get money from them. He said the MKO told his family he was dead. They came to look for him five years ago – at the beginning of the American occupation – but were told he was dead.
Mr Hamid Siah Mansoori said he had arrived only a week ago, but had lost any contact details for his family. Nevertheless, his first priority now was to make contact with his parents and the rest of his family.
Ms Beer asked delegates if they had questions. One delegate asked how the MKO continued to be financed which allowed them to continue to undertake such expensive campaigns in parliament and elsewhere. Another delegate asked for more detail about the role of the Americans in supporting Camp Ashraf when the US State Department so strongly describes them as a terrorist group.
Anne Singleton answered these questions, pointing out that during the reign of Saddam Hussein the MKO had received almost unlimited finance from Saddam Hussein, as well as from Saudi Arabia and some western governments from behind the scene. Now, however, although it is clear that MKO finances are dwindling somewhat, it was unclear how the MKO could continue to spend so much money, and the only people to answer that are the MKO themselves.
Ms Singleton pointed out a five year rift in policy toward the MKO between the US State Department – which has a very thorough knowledge of the MKO – and the US Defense Department under Donald Rumsfeld. Some in the US Administration wanted to use the MKO in confronting Iran and therefore Camp Ashraf has been protected by the US military in Iraq for five years. Ms Singleton conceded that this protection was beneficial in keeping the MKO out of danger in the midst of a war zone. But that the Americans had also flouted the UN Fourth Geneva protocol by not allowing MKO to meet their families and not enabling them to leave the situation.
Ms Beer then introduced Mr Mohammad Sobhani who had previously addressed the Delegation. Following that meeting he had been the subject of unfounded accusations of having attacked MKO members in Paris. Instead, Mr Sobhani was the victim of a violent attack when some fifty MKO supporters ambushed a meeting at which Mr Sobhani was a speaker.
Following this, Mr Hadi Shams Haeri briefly pleaded with delegates to help him have contact with his children whom he has not been allowed to see for eighteen years. He asked that Mr Paulo Casaca accompany him to Camp Ashraf and help him meet with them again.
At the end of the meeting Ms Beer expressed her appreciation for the speakers and said it had been a valuable meeting. One which, given the ongoing situation at Camp Ashraf, might soon be repeated.
After the meeting, several of the attendees stopped to talk to the visitors – in particular the three who had just arrived from Iraq - and asked them to keep them informed of developments.