By Tahar Boumedra, Source: The Hill
The Iranian opposition exiles in Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad were forcibly relocated to Camp Liberty near Baghdad Airport in the course of 2012. Based on an agreement between the Government of Iraq, the UN, the U.S. and the residents’ representatives, the Government of Iraq (GoI), authorized 100 residents to remain in Camp Ashraf as caretakers of the properties left behind while lawyers are working on a settlement.
On first of September 2013, the Iraqi security forces attacked the 100 caretakers in Ashraf, killed (52), abducted (7) and in the process used explosives to blow up buildings and vehicles. The next day the Iraqi Prime Minister announced that his government knew nothing about what happened in Camp Ashraf.
Those who know the security setting in and around Camp Ashraf would agree with me that it is impossible for an operation of this scale to take place without the direct involvement of the Iraqi security forces. The Rapid Deployment Force in Ashraf and the 36th brigade of the 5th mechanized infantry division are based at the east gate (Lions’ Gate); the 19th mechanized infantry brigade is based in the north at ex-FOB Grizzly; the 3rd Company of the RDF is in the North West. This heavy military presence constitutes the outer security ring. A unit of the Diyala police force stationed inside the camp near the residential area constitutes the inner security ring; in addition to the watch towers built all around the Camp.
With this security setting, it is impossible for a group of assailants to reach Ashraf, enter the camp, and spend enough time to chase and kill 52 people, use explosives to blow up buildings and vehicles and abduct six women and one man, drive them out of the camp, without being detected.
In a similar attack on April 8th 2011, I followed the events hour by hour and alerted the Iraqi authorities and the international community. While the onslaught was ongoing, I went on Friday morning on April 8th to the residence of the National Security Advisor. I urged him to give the order to stop the massacre. He told me nothing had happened. When I went on a fact-finding mission to Ashraf, I found 28 bodies and a large number of injured in the camp and 8 more were confirmed later on dead in Ba’quba and Baghdad.
To bring the matter to the attention of the international community I had to send the fact-finding report to Geneva in irregular manner as I was not able to send it through the UNAMI regular channel. That means if I had not taken that initiative, the international community would have never found out the realities of that massacre.
It is an insult to the intelligence of everyone to hear the Iraqi authorities saying we do not know who attacked Ashraf on the 1st of September. It is also absurd to hear the spokesperson of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Coleville commenting on the abduction of 7 residents saying “If they have indeed been kidnapped.” This phrase is not innocent, not to say malicious. It casts doubt on facts and reinforces al-Maliki’s statement intended to direct the responsibility away from his office. As a former representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Iraq, I would say Coleville’s statement is a misrepresentation of the facts dictated by political expediency.
The world silence on the fate of the seven hostages and the direct role of the Government of Iraq in the September 1st massacre cannot be explained except by political expediency. While, politics may explain the silence of certain governments, such consideration by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is unacceptable.
To salvage the UN integrity regarding the Iranian exiles in Iraq, it is imperative to establish a truly independent and impartial commission of inquiry to probe into the extra-judicial killings and abductions that took place in Ashraf. The UNHCR needs to expeditiously adjudicate the pending refugee status determination cases before it, regardless of any political consideration. Members states of the former Multi-National Forces in Iraq need to come forward to assist the UNHCR by offering settlement places.
Boumedra was chief of the Human Rights Office of United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), and adviser to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) on Camp Ashraf affairs from 2009 until 2012.