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Envoys urge U.N. probe of massacre at Iranian exile camp in Iraq

LA Times, September 19, 2013

Alireza Jafarzadeh, Foreign Affairs Analyst and Iran Expert Contributes to the LA Times Story

September 19, 2013|By Carol J. Williams

A massacre this month at an Iranian exile camp in Iraq that killed 52 people under international protection was an act of premeditated slaughter and should be thoroughly investigated by the United Nations, two former foreign ministers told the world body Thursday.

Former foreign ministers Bernard Kouchner of France and Sid Ahmed Ghozali of Algeria told a U.N. panel in Geneva that the Sept. 1 raid on the exile refuge known as Camp Ashraf represents “a crime against humanity.” The former top diplomats also said they had grave fear for the safety of seven survivors of the attack who were taken hostage.

A Paris-based Iranian dissident group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has accused Iraqi security forces under Prime Minister Nouri Maliki of carrying out the raid on the last remaining exiles at the camp, which Baghdad has been attempting to close since U.S. forces withdrew two years ago.

Iraqi officials deny being behind the killings and lay the blame on infighting among the exiles.

Camp Ashraf was set up east of Baghdad in Iraq’s Diyala Province during the 1980s, when Saddam Hussein’s troops were at war with Iran and the Islamic Republic government’s enemies were given safe refuge. Some members of the exile group, known as the Mujahedin Khalq, or MEK, fought on the side of Iraq in their effort to see the clerical regime in their homeland defeated.

The Mujahedin Khalq has been accused of carrying out bombings and assassinations in Iran in the 1980s. The exile group had been on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations but was removed a year ago, after intense lobbying effort to convince Congress that the exiles had renounced violence.

Camp Ashraf housed more than 3,000 Iranian exiles at the time of the U.S. occupation, and an agreement between the departing Americans and Maliki’s government called for a phased transfer of the Iranians to the protection of other countries.

Since Hussein’s ouster and execution, the resurgent Shiite influence in the Iraqi government has grown closer to Tehran and hostile toward the exiles seeking the Iranian government’s overthrow. Iraqi officials in recent months began transferring large numbers from Camp Ashraf to a former U.S. base near Baghdad as a prelude for closing the exiles’ long-time refuge. Only about 100 were left at Camp Ashraf when the Sept. 1 raid occurred. Fifty-two Iranians were found slain execution-style, with their hands bound behind their backs and bullet wounds in the head.

Iran Freedom Committee, another Iranian dissident exile group, accused the Maliki government of “acting as a puppet” of the Tehran government in failing to protect the exiles, the Iran Focus news site reported.

“It was fine while the Americans were protecting the refugees, but they were transferred to the Iraqi government forces in 2009,” when the U.S. drawdown began, said Alireza Jafarzadeh, an author and analyst from the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The council acquired a gruesome dossier of photographs from the massacre site, which Jafarzadeh shared with the Los Angeles Times, and has been disseminating them in an effort to generate international outrage over the killings. Some members of Congress, including San Fernando Valley Democrat Judy Chu, have appealed for condemnation of the attack and investigation to show who was behind it.

Council President Maryam Radjavi was also in Geneva on Thursday to appeal to the U.N. human rights panel for intervention to protect the seven hostages, six of them women, from being handed over to Tehran and subjected to mistreatment at the hands of the government they had fled.

“I call on the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to take the necessary urgent measures to save these hostages,” said Radjavi. “A first step would be a call for their liberation.”

U.N. relief workers have provided assistance to Camp Ashraf for years but the world body has so far made no formal inquiries on the Sept. 1 killings.

A U.N. official in Iraq announced a week ago that “the successful relocation of the last group of Camp Ashraf residents” had been completed, as envisioned under agreements on the transfer of authority to Iraqi officials after the U.S. withdrawal, a report on the U.N. website said.

In a reflection of the enduring hostility between Tehran’s government and the Iranian exiles, Iran’s Tasnim news agency referred to the Mujahedin Khalq as a terrorist group in reporting that an member of the Iraqi parliament had demanded that all Iranian exiles be expelled. The article also referred to the deep-seated hatred of the exiles that pervades the Iraqi leadership.