Iranian terrorists or refugees? Either way, MPs say those at Camp Ashraf are in danger

They are half-a-world away and there are only seven of them, but the members of Parliament on a House of Commons human rights committee are doing whatever they can for the 3,400 refugees at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, who, the MPs believe, are in imminent danger.

There are two Canadians among that group. They remain at Ashraf voluntarily despite offers from Canadian consular officials to get them out of what could, within days, become a very dicey situation.

Last month, diplomats convinced nine other Canadians to leave the camp. Today, Canadian officials will travel from Jordan to Camp Ashraf, at some risk to their own personal security, to check on conditions and on the two Canadians who refuse to leave.

The rest though are mostly Iranian refugees opposed to the ayatollahs who govern their homeland. Their political organization was created in the 1960s and is called the National Liberation Army of the Mujahedin e-Khalq or MeK. During the Iran-Iraq war they were armed by Saddam Hussein and used by that dictator to kill many thousands of Iranians.

They are also alleged to have killed Kurds, at Hussein’s urging, and committed other violent acts in the name of their cause. But since 2001, those at Camp Ashraf have given up their weapons.

Nonetheless, they are, above all else, enemies of the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But Iran’s president has a new friend in Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and, as soon as U.S. forces withdraws all its troops from Iraq at the end of the year, Maliki – many experts will tell you – will hand those 3,400 refugees and enemies of Ahmadinejad over to Ahmadinejad himself.

“They will face the prison and the gallows [and] the fight for democracy in Iran will take a severe blow,” Wes Martin told this small group of Canadian MPs last week. Martin is a retired U.S. marine colonel who was once the commander of Camp Ashraf while it was under U.S. control.

So why doesn’t the U.S. or its allies in the West save these 3,400 refugees?

We won’t because officially the MeK are all terrorists. Officially, we think they’re the bad guys because of those violent acts committed a generation or more ago. Canada has designated the MeK as a terrorist organization since 2005 and just re-affirmed that status in 2010. The U.S. has had them on the list since 1997.

Martin – whose other job in Iraq was being in charge of all anti-terrorism operations for the entire U.S. military — thinks we’ve got it backwards.

“I cannot say with enough emphasis that the MeK is not a terrorist organization,” Martin told MPs. “As a matter of fact, I found just the opposite when I was commander of Camp Ashraf, and they were my allies.”

But it’s not just Martin who holds this opinion. Republican Rudy Giuliani and Democrat Howard Dean are working to get the MeK delisted as a terrorist organization. The former chief of staff to George W. Bush Andrew Card, former CIA director Porter Goss, former FBI director Louis Freeh, and the first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge all think the MeK should be delisted.

But not our government.

Because MeK is on the list, banks and financial institutions are required to freeze its assets. Listing also prohibits all persons in Canada, as well as Canadians abroad, from knowingly dealing with this entity and its assets.

This apparent paradox – that credible law-and-order types are adamant that MeK is not a terrorist group while the bureaucracy finds them to be so – clearly had the committee of MPs confused.

“They’re just people,” Conservative MP Scott Reid told the committee Tuesday. “They’re probably going to be dead people pretty soon. That’s our worry.”

But, as Liberal MP Irwin Cotler noted, the issue of the terrorist designation is less urgent than the what he called the “imminent” threat to the safety of these refugees.

The West – including the U.S. and Canada – are labouring under the fiction that Maliki’s government will protect Ashraf’s refugees.

And yet, last April, Maliki’s soldiers brutally attacked Camp Ashraf. Unarmed people were run down by Iraqis driving American-made military vehicles. Soldiers fired point-blank into crowds of refugees. At the end the violence, 31 refugees were dead and more than 200 injured. You can watch it for yourself on YouTube.

This attack came in April, after Maliki promised in February to protect those at Camp Ashraf.

Cotler and others on the committee say Maliki has no credibility when it comes to protecting those at Camp Ashraf.

And, unless the West takes a more forceful line with Maliki, all the blood and treasure spent in Iraq – the war there has cost America 4,500 lives and $700 billion – will be lost.

“In the end,” Martin warned the Canadian MPs, “the final outcome of the coalition invasion of Iraq is to replace one brutal regime with another, this time aligned with Iran.”

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