Tuesday, July 28, 2009

After the love is gone






Today Gabriel Gatehouse (BBC News) reveals that, oh, US troops? Still patrolling. US troops are patrolling in Mosul. The 'pull-back' was for-show as was Nouri al-Maliki's no-no-we-don't-want-US-troops-in-Mosul. The largest question Gatehouse's report raises is why the BBC is the one breaking the news? Don't several US papers have staff in Baghdad?

He's not patrolling (and he's hopefully not editing copying) but US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Iraq today. As always, it was an unannounced visit. They keep splashing waves of Operation Happy Talk but the US officials still can't visit Iraq openly. Kevin Baron (Stars and Stripes) reports that the press was told about the visit on Friday by someone at the Defense Dept and quotes the unnamed person telling them, "The purpose of going to Talil is so the secretary can get an understanding of the advisory and assistance brigades that are sort of being developed. This is what eventually we will be left with when we have a transitional force come September 2010." Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) is part of the press traveling with Gates and notes this his first visit to Iraq for 2009 -- seven months in, rather sad -- and that he plans to visit with both Nouri al-Maliki (puppet of the occupation) and Gen Ray Odierno (top US commander in Iraq). She also notes Gates will be playing an Amway salesman for US defense contractors as he meets with Iraqi officials to discuss "whether the U.S. will sell Iraq any F-16 fighter jets." Jim Wolf (Reuters) reports it more bluntly: "One of the topics they are expected to discuss is Baghdad's interest in acquiring Lockheed Martin Corp's (LMT.N) F-16 multirole fighter jets to counter possible threats from neighbouring nations after U.S. forces leave." And he will visit Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani. Al Bawaba reports that Gates' visit as 8 security guards were killed in a Baghdad bank robbery. AFP places the amount stolen at $3.8 million (US dollars). Gates was greeted with a parade. Well . . . a protest. Aljazeera reports followers of Moqtada al-Sadr staged a demonstration chanting "NO, NO TO AMERICA!" BBC reports, "At a news conference after his talks in Baghdad, Mr Gates side-stepped a question about whether some US forces might stay on beyond a 2011 deadline for withdrawal. The issue, he said, was best left until the end of 2010 or even 2011."

Whose funding the so-called "insurgents" in Iraq? For years General David Petraeus, Robert Gates and assorted others have insisted it was the government of Iran. Turns out, it may be the US. Free Speech Radio News explained yesterday:

Andrew Stelzer: The US Agency for Intenational Development, or USAID, has suspended a $644 million dollar program in Iraq because of two reviews indicating a portion of the money was ending up in the hands of insurgents and going to fund jobs that didn't exist. The government hired the Virginia-based International Relief and Development to run the public works job creation program. Former employees told USA Today that documents were faked and projects that didn't exist were included in progress reports.

Ken Dilanian (USA Today) explains the program "was designed to tamp down the insurgency by paying Iraqi cash to do public work projects such as trash removal and ditch digging." So the US government, not the Iranian one, has been funding the so-called 'insurgency.' Government officials in Iran are no doubt happy by another development. Nouri al-Maliki did their bidding today. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports that Camp Ashraf, to the north of Baghdad, was raided today by Iraqi forces who "used batons, hoses, pepper spray and sound grenades during the raid at Camp Ashraf, home to the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq [approximately 3500 people]. The raid came a day after the Iraqi government announced it would assume complete responsibility of the camp and vowed to 'protest the people inside the base'." You can't trust Nouri. The Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran is stating that "Peyman Kord-Amir, artist and singer, is in coma right now due to severe blows to his head." They note 2,000 Iraqi forces were sent in and they note that following the 300 wounded and the 4 dead, residents of Camp Ashraf have started a hunger strike and have issued a list of demands which include the immediate removal of Iraqi forces and the freeing of prisoners, returning protection responsibilities for the camp to the US, allowing attorneys and human rights organizations into the camp. Nouri's bag boy Ali al-Dabbagh insists to UPI, The entrance of the Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf is not a break-in but rather a well-coordinated operation to stabilize the security situation inside the camp." AFP is reporting that 150 were injured as Iraqi forces stormed the camp. Until recently, the US had been protecting the camp. Before the start of the illegal war, the Iranians were allowed in the country by Saddam Hussein. Nouri's close ties to Iran include the many years where his cowardly streak found him living there because it took to much strength and courage to fight to overthrow a government he didn't believe in. Much better to hide like a coward and wait for the US military to do so. AFP quotes US Gen Ray Odierno insisting the US had no prior knowledge of the assault: "We didn't know they were going to do this." Really? After May when Nouri ordered what was obviously the trial run for the assault, no one suspected? When he sent Iraqi forces into Camp Ashraf May 28th, no one had a clue?

Barack Obama's administration has failed. Following the election, they knew this was one of the issues that the previous administration would be dumping in their laps and they knew it was time sensitive. They refused to seriously address it and, in fact, took the promises of thug Nouri at face value in order to be done with the matter and wash their hands clean. They knew this was a serious issue and instead of treating it seriously, they passed the buck. On an issue that was early on desginated as "a litmus test" regarding Barack's dedication to human rights.

August 8, 2004, the US Embassy in Baghdad [PDF format warning] sent a report by John Negroponte which noted:


32. (U) 3,839 members and former members of the USG-designated foreign terrorist organization Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) are currently resident at Camp Ashraf in Diyala Province under Coalition guard and protection.

33. (U) MF-I has designated these 3,839 individuals as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention and considers the restrictions placed on MEK travel outside the compound and on visitor entry as "measures of control and security" permitted under Article 27 of IVGC.

34. (U) Those 74 residents of Camp Ashraf who are citizens or legal residents of third countries are permitted to repatriate with the approval of their respective governments. MNF-I and Post are currently facilitating a number of possible repatriations.

35. (U) IRC has been invited to vist Camp Ashraf to conduct individual interviews with the residents of the Camp. It is expected that these interviews may result in ICRC's recommendation that UNHCR make a determination of refugee status in many cases.

The term "terrorist" may be applied to the group. That was being re-evaluated by the US government (prior to the assault). Already this year England and the European Union took the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq off their list of terrorists groups. If "terrorist" is used, don't let that distract from the fact that this was a camp for exiles, that children were present during the assault. In March 2008, the International Red Cross' Juan-Pedro Schaerer explained, "The main responsibility to protect civilians lies with the States that have effective control over them -- in this case, the governments of the United States and of Iraq have to find a suitable solution in accordance with international law and relevant provisions of national law. Our main concern is to ensure that the authorities meet these obligations. In particular, they must always protect the lives, the physical and moral integrity and the dignity of those concerned. Morevoer, should anyone in Ashraf be suspected or accused of committing criminal offences, judicial guarantees must be respected as provided for in international law." The residents of the camp had rights. Those rights were not respected and the camp was assaulted. April 20th, Amnesty International issued "Iraq: concerns regarding the future of Camp Ashraf resident:"

Amnesty International has written directly to the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki about recent developments relating to the more than 3,000 Iranian exiles currently living in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, who Iraqi officials have said should leave the country. The Iranians are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI).

In particular, Amnesty International expressed concern at a recent statement reportedly made in an interview with al-Forat, an Iraqi TV channel, by National Security Advisor Dr Muwaffaq al-Rubaie, in which he said that the authorities intend gradually to make the continued presence of the Camp Ashraf residents "intolerable". Shortly after this, possibly in a related development, a team of medical doctors were denied access to the Camp for several days. One purpose of their visit was reportedly to provide treatment to a woman in the Camp in need of surgery for an internal cancerous tumour. The doctors were later allowed into the camp.
In its letter, Amnesty International urged the Iraqi Prime Minister to ensure that no action is taken by the Iraqi authorities that violates the human rights of the Camp Ashraf residents and to clarify the government's intentions towards them in the light of Dr al-Rubaie's reported threat to make their lives "intolerable." Amnesty International has previously called on the Iraqi government to ensure that none of the Camp Ashraf residents or other Iranian dissidents are forcibly returned to Iran in view of fears that they would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights violations there.
The PMOI is an Iranian opposition organization and many of its members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the organization was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union (EU) and governments of non-EU states, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran. Following the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the US forces provided protection for the Ashraf Camp residents, who were designated as "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions. This situation has apparently been discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments which came into force on 1 January 2009, although the SOFA does not make any reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents. The Iranian government is said to be putting pressure on Iraq to expel the PMOI members and supporters from Iraq.

Amnesty International wasn't the only one raising concerns. April 24th the European Parliament adopted the following resolution:

The European Parliament,
- having regard to the Geneva Conventions and notably Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War,
- having regard to the Geneva Convention of 1951 relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol thereto,
- having regard to the Status of Forces Agreement between the US and Iraqi Governments, signed in November 2008,
- having regard to its resolution of 12 July 2007 on the humanitarian situation of Iraqi refugees(1) and its resolution of 4 September 2008 on executions in Iran(2), which include references to Camp Ashraf residents having legal status as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention,
-having regard to Rule 115(5) of its Rules of Procedure,
A.- whereas Camp Ashraf in Northern Iraq was established during the 1980s for members of the Iranian opposition group People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI),
B.- whereas in 2003 US forces in Iraq disarmed Camp Ashraf's residents and provided them with protection, those residents having been designated "protected persons" under the Geneva Conventions,
C.- whereas in a letter dated 15 October 2008 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Iraqi Government to protect Camp Ashraf residents from forcible deportation, expulsion or repatriation in violation of the non-refoulement principle, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security,
D.- whereas following the conclusion of the US/Iraqi Status of Forces Agreement, control of Camp Ashraf was transferred to the Iraqi security forces as of 1 January 2009,
E.- whereas, according to recent statements reportedly made by the Iraqi National Security Advisor, the authorities intend gradually to make the continued presence of the Camp Ashraf residents "intolerable", and whereas he reportedly also referred to their expulsion/extradition and/or their forcible displacement inside Iraq,
1.- Urges the Iraqi Prime Minister to ensure that no action is taken by the Iraqi authorities which violates the human rights of the Camp Ashraf residents and to clarify the Iraqi government's intentions towards them; calls on the Iraqi authorities to protect the lives and the physical and moral integrity of the Camp Ashraf residents and to treat them in accordance with obligations under the Geneva Conventions, in particular by refraining from forcibly displacing, deporting, expelling or repatriating them in violation of the principle of non-refoulement;
2.- Respecting the individual wishes of anyone living in Camp Ashraf as regards his or her future, considers that those living in Camp Ashraf and other Iranian nationals who currently reside in Iraq having left Iran for political reasons could be at risk of serious human rights violations if they were to be returned involuntarily to Iran, and insists that no person should be returned, either directly or via a third country, to a situation where he or she would be at risk of torture or other serious human rights abuses;
3.- Calls on the Iraqi Government to end its blockade of the camp, to respect the legal status of the Camp Ashraf residents as protected persons under the Geneva Conventions, and to refrain from any action that would endanger their life or security, i.e. to afford them full access to food, water, medical care and supplies, fuel, family members and international humanitarian organisations;
4.- Calls on the Council, the Commission and the Member States, together with the Iraqi and US Governments, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to work towards finding a satisfactory long-term legal status for Camp Ashraf residents;
5.- Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Government of the United States of America and the Government and Parliament of Iraq.

The issue was debate by the UK House of Lords at the start of this month with the Labour Party Whip repeatedly assuring that England was on the issue and conveying this message to the Iraqi government and that message, and monitoring and they have "sought assurances" and received them. At the US State Dept today, spokesperson Ian Kelly was asked about the assault and responded, "We've seen these media reports and we're looking into them. As you know, the government of Iraq has assumed responsibility -- security responsibility -- for Camp Ashraf and its residents. We continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure the residents of Camp Ashraf are treated in accordance with Iraq's written assurance that it will treat the residents there humanely. This is in accordance with the constitutional laws and the international obligations of Iraq and the government has stated to us that no Camp Ashraf resident will be forcibly transferred to a country where they have reason to fear persecution on the basis of their political beliefs, poitical opinions or religious beliefs or whether there are substantial grounds for believing they would be tortured."

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