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Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Page: 7313


Senator MARSHALL (7:43 PM) —Tonight I rise to condemn the appalling attacks recently launched by Iraqi forces on the unarmed, defenceless residents of Camp Ashraf in Iraq. There continue to be grave concerns in the international community for the safety of the exiled Iranian dissidents living in Camp Ashraf. Camp Ashraf is located 60 kilometres north-east of Baghdad and is home to nearly 3½ thousand exiled Iranian dissidents who were members of the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran, the PMOI. Many of them have lived in the camp for more than two decades. As opponents of the Iranian regime, they fled their homeland fearing persecution, torture and murder. For years they have opposed the brutal Iranian regime and survived in Iraq mainly due to their usefulness to the former dictator Saddam Hussein.

The name Camp Ashraf tends to conjure up the image of rows of tents and makeshift buildings, but this could not be further from the truth. Ashraf is a fully functioning, developed city that has served its residents’ needs well. The residents of Ashraf have built the city from nothing. When it was founded in 1986, it consisted of a few makeshift buildings in the Iraqi desert. Today, Ashraf is like any other developed city. It houses schools, a university, a hospital, bakeries, shops, sporting facilities and even a zoo. It has a vibrant cultural life and, until now, it has provided safety and security for its people, who have no other home.

When the US-led invasion took place in 2003, the Iranians at Camp Ashraf immediately turned over what weapons they had to the invading forces and willingly cooperated with them. After the invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime, US forces guaranteed the safety of Camp Ashraf’s residents, understanding that forcibly returning them to Iran would likely be a death sentence.

In January this year, the Americans handed over control of Iraq to the new Iraqi government. That transfer of power saw the Iraqi government also take direct responsibility for Camp Ashraf and its residents. When the United States forces withdrew from Camp Ashraf, the US and Iraq signed an agreement that the Iraqi government would guarantee the safety of the Iranians living in Camp Ashraf. That guarantee has now, it seems, been proven worthless.

The Iranians living at Camp Ashraf are classified as protected persons under article 27 of the fourth Geneva convention. On 28 July this year, Iraqi forces attacked the camp and its unarmed residents in a shocking display of violent human rights abuse. Eyewitness accounts and film footage of the attack have highlighted the brutality employed by the Iraqis in this event. Some media reports described the attack as a ‘clash’ between Iraqi security forces and the Iranian exiles. This language suggests that there was an almost even-handed fight. Having seen the film footage of the Iraqi attack on the camp, I find it difficult to understand how this event could be referred to as anything other than a brutal assault on a group of unarmed, defenceless people at the hands of well-armed, aggressive attackers. In a sickening display that harked back to the days of Saddam, the Iraqi forces used batons, chains, water cannons, bulldozers and firearms against the unarmed Iranians at Camp Ashraf. Film footage of the attack clearly shows Iraqi forces driving humvees at high speed into crowds of Iranians desperate to escape injury.

Up to a dozen Iranians were killed in this attack and hundreds were injured. The Iraqi forces took 36 Camp Ashraf residents into custody after the attack and they remained imprisoned with no charges laid against them for 72 days. It was only after two Iraqi court orders to release these detainees followed by a massive international outcry that the Iraqi authorities finally returned them to Camp Ashraf.

The outrage over this has been worldwide, yet there remains no firm commitment from the Iraqi government to ensure the safety and protection of the Iranians in Camp Ashraf. Members of the US congress, the European parliament, Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, Human Rights Watch as well as various churches and religious leaders along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have all called for the rights of Camp Ashraf residents, as protected persons under the Geneva convention, to be respected.

It has been suggested by many sources that the attacks on Camp Ashraf are a determined and organised attempt by the Iraqi government to force the Iranian exiles to return to Iran where they face persecution, torture and possibly death. There appears little doubt that this is indeed the case. The increasingly close relationship between the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and the Shiite regime in Tehran is well documented, and Iraqi government members have spoken openly about the government’s intentions with regard to the Iranians at Camp Ashraf. Indeed, earlier this year, Iraq’s national security adviser, Dr Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, sat for an interview with Iraqi television in which he reportedly said that Iraqi authorities intend to gradually make the continued presence of the Iranian exiles in Camp Ashraf ‘intolerable’.

Iran’s so-called supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in late February and left little doubt as to what he expected from the Iraqis. He was quoted as saying:

We await the implementation of our agreement regarding the expulsion of the hypocrites.

On 17 June last year, the Iraqi Council of Ministers adopted a directive stating that members of the PMOI will be expelled from Iraq. The extremist regime in Iran has barely contained its delight at the attacks on Camp Ashraf, with senior members of the government, such as the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, claiming the attack was long overdue. He said:

Although this measure was taken late by Iraq, it is admirable that they have decided to clear Iraq from terrorists.

According to a 4 August 2009 report by Reuters news agency, the regime in Tehran is particularly asking the Iraqi government to arrest and extradite 55 individuals who constitute the leadership of the PMOI at Camp Ashraf. The demand was repeated on August 18 this year by Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, who, according to United Press International, asked Baghdad to extradite PMOI members.

I think it is important to note that the PMOI are a significant member of the wider coalition known as the National Council of Resistance in Iran—the NCRI. The Paris based NCRI have played a crucial role in exposing details of Iran’s secret nuclear programs. In this respect alone, they have performed an enormous service for the world. Their exposure of Iran’s secret nuclear programs has been hugely important in the struggle to ensure that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons. The West needs to recognise the importance of these acts. More importantly, we need to recognise that the exposure of these secrets has almost certainly further infuriated the regime in Tehran, almost guaranteeing that PMOI members returned to Iran would be subject to the most extreme persecution.

As a party to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Australia has a moral responsibility to help ensure the protection of the Iranians living at Camp Ashraf. Australia, when it joined the so-called coalition of the willing, took on a responsibility to the Iraqi people and to those exiled Iranians living in Iraq. Australia and the US, along with the international community, must press the Iraqi government to respect the human rights of exiled Iranian dissidents and to ensure that they return to Iran only when their safety and human rights have been guaranteed. Given the fact that it is impossible to fully trust the current regime in Tehran, the only circumstances under which a safe return to Iran could take place would be after a truly democratic government has come to power.

The silence of the Obama administration on this issue is particularly disturbing. The United States made specific guarantees of safety and protection to the Iranians at Camp Ashraf, and a failure to follow through on those guarantees would be a grave betrayal of the Iranians that would likely end in further and even greater bloodshed. At the very least, the US forces remaining in Iraq must ensure that United Nations human rights monitors and representatives of the International Red Cross are allowed access to Camp Ashraf in order to ensure the safety of its residents until their final status can be established. The brutal and violent repression of Iranian protesters in the aftermath of Iran’s 12 June elections is just the latest example of the lengths that that country’s extremist regime will go to in order to maintain its grip on power. There can be no doubt that the forced return of these exiled Iranian dissidents will put them at direct risk of persecution, torture and murder.