Self-Sacrifice by Struan Stevenson

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Authors: Struan Stevenson
also by theUS and many other countries, and their continued presence in Iraq created ongoing problems with neighbouring Iran. Notwithstanding all of these issues, Dr Abdullah said that he was prepared to allow a permanent UNAMI presence in Camp Ashraf so long as UNAMI remained neutral in that position. ‘Those who are not with us are against us,’ Abdullah said. He also agreed that the Iraqi government would cooperate with the re-settlement of the 3,400 residents to the US, EU and other countries, although he reserved the right to exercise Iraq’s sovereignty over Ashraf and to temporarily relocate the 3,400 residents to another camp. This should be done before the elections scheduled for April 2010, a terrifyingly short timescale.
    This news set the alarm bells ringing. I arranged an urgent meeting with Baroness Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, to urge her to encourage the 27 Member States to take their share of the Ashraf refugees. ‘If they take 125 each, we will solve the problem overnight,’ I said. In Baghdad, Ad Melkert called together ambassadors from six EU countries as well as the ambassadors from the US, Japan and Australia. He told them that this was a priority issue that required extreme urgency.
    As expected, Nouri al-Maliki now issued an ultimatum. Camp Ashraf was to be closed by 31 December 2009. The timescale was impossible. A letter dated 15 November to the protocol section of the European Parliament underscored the decision: ‘The Iraqi Government is left with no choice but to evacuate the camp based on principles of sovereignty, and transfer its residents to other camps in Iraq.’ The letter went on to explain that the Iraqi government regarded the Ashraf men and women as terrorists and claimed that they had no status or protection under the Geneva Conventions or international humanitarian law.
    This ultimatum from the Iraqis was tantamount to sending the residents to their deaths, and an obvious prelude to a massacre devised by the neighbouring Iranian regime. Camp Ashraf’s residents were in fact all protected persons under the Geneva Convention. But since early 2009, when the US handed over the security of the Camp to the Iraqi government, Ashraf had been under a suffocating siege. Maliki had done everything possible to provoke a response from the West. Clearly he and his puppet-masters in Tehran were once againtesting the international water. If the West displayed its usual pusillanimous response to these provocations, then an all-out assault on Ashraf was inevitable.
    On 19 October 2009 al-Yasseri brought a team to Camp Ashraf to meet the PMOI leadership and inform them of the Prime Minister’s ultimatum that they had to get out of the camp. He said that buses would be brought to the camp on 15 December, and the 3,400 residents would be relocated to al-Muthanna province. The PMOI spokesmen, led by Mehdi Baraei, said that they were now regarded with outright hostility in both Iran and Iraq, and that therefore their only option for leaving Ashraf was for them to be relocated to countries of safety outside Iraq. He said that failing this solution, they would refuse to leave Ashraf.
    As threatened by al-Yasseri, a convoy of buses duly arrived at Ashraf on 15 December, and the Iraqi army roared up and down the camp’s streets in military vehicles using loudspeakers to blare out orders for the residents to board the buses. They had brought a large contingent of journalists to witness the entire evacuation of the camp. Of course not a single one of the residents agreed to leave. In fact many spoke to the journalists, telling them that they refused to move. Finally, after several fruitless hours, the buses left empty. This humiliating defeat by the Ashrafis caused a predictable reaction by Maliki. He now ordered punitive action against the camp’s residents to soften them up and force them to leave.
    Iraqi troops now guarded Ashraf and all visitors were immediately banned.

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