They delivered a special briefing on the situation in Camp Ashraf – a home to approximately 3,400 Iranian dissidents situated just northeast of the Iraqi town of Khalis, about 120 km west of the Iranian border.
What gripped me weren’t the stories of how my new friends were tortured in their time in Iran or how they felt when their wives were taken away from them or what went through their minds watching the execution of their brothers and sisters – it was something FAR more harrowing to them and eventually, me. Everything that these political prisoners have sacrificed, every moment of anguish and injustice endured would have all amounted to nothing if the attack by Iraqi forces on camp Ashraf was successful.
Camp Ashraf is home to over three and a half thousand members and supporters of the exiled Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojaheddin Organization of Iran (PMOI). The group have been living there for more than 20 years and the camp has developed from a community into a small town.
Shock and awe.
On 8th April 2011 at 4:45am (local time) eight battalions of Iraqi Army’s Ninth and Fifth Divisions began the attack. The massive fir by armoured vehicles’ heavy machine guns and snipers continued for six hours in various parts of Camp Ashraf. By the end of the onslaught, 34 unarmed and defenceless residents were massacred and just over 350 people wounded. Most of the victims were shot, a number were crushed to death by improvised Humvees mounted with spikes. 2500 armed Iraqi forces with 140 armoured vehicles continue to remain in Ashraf – sparking a fear of a second assault.
Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme commented “Iraqi troops moved into the camp this morning and used excessive force against residents who tried to resist them, according to the information we have received,” he added “This is the latest of a series of violent actions that the Iraqi government has taken against the Camp Ashraf residents, whose continuing presence in Iraq they oppose.”
In a short time, many were killed.
An Iraqi government spokesman said Camp Ashraf residents threw rocks at security forces in what he termed a “riot.” The spokesman went on to say that “Troops did not open fire” he said, but “force was used to push residents back inside the camp.”
Evidence has emerged in the form of video clips of the clashes that the PMOI has uploaded to YouTube. These appear to show Iraqi soldiers firing indiscriminately into crowds and using modified vehicles to try and impale and run others down.
The US ceded control of Camp Ashraf to Iraqi security forces in mid-2009, the PMOI has made repeated claims that the constant military presence has made it difficult to not only triage patients but also access essential medical treatment inside and outside the camp.
An Amnesty International report describe a vague ‘Iraqi security committee’ which controls the influx of medical supplies into the camp as well as deciding who can travel outside the camp for treatment.
Stand up, speak up.
These shocking scenes of human rights violations come against a history of oppression. In November 2009 amongst heightened tensions, Deputy Director of Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International warned “Whatever measures the Iraqi authorities decide to take with regard to the future of Camp Ashraf, the rights of all its residents must be protected and guaranteed at all times,” said Hassiba, he added “Further, no Iranian national in Iraq who is at risk of serious human rights violations in Iran should be forcibly returned there.”
I’m asking you to join me and many around the country on a meeting in Paris organised by the Solidarity Committee With Ashraf For A Free Iran to send a message to the world that these human rights violations will not go unnoticed. Coaches will depart from all over the UK on Friday 17 June. We will arrive in Paris in the evening and rest in the hotel. The event will be on the afternoon of Saturday 18 June. After the event, coaches will leave the same night, arriving in back on Sunday morning