Recent reports of upheaval in the Middle East have been relatively quiet on the subject of Iraq. The local Iranian community in Australia has not been quiet, but few have been listening to their plea for action in response to a series of attacks on Ashraf City, home to 3,400 Iranian refugees in Iraq.
The refugee camp in Ashraf City in Iraq's Diyala City is currently home to approximately 3,400 Iranian men women and children. Two of these are Australian citizens; reminders that even in struggles and skirmishes between far away, those that are affected have a human face just like our own.
Ashraf is a city that has been much contested. It is named after Ashraf Rajavi who was held as a political prisoner in the time of the Shah. The formal control over the camp was transferred from the US to Iraqi Government hands on 1 January 2009 with assurances that the US Government would maintain a presence, and that the residents would be treated in accordance with International and Iraqi law.
The city houses Iranians who have fled Iran, including many who fled because they are members of the People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). In recent years PMOI has been the main Iranian opposition party. The party's demands include a democratic government for Iran and the removal of the current absolute clerical rule. The UN has stated on numerous occasions that the residents of Ashraf should be considered protected people.
Over time the PMOI, because of its consistent struggle against the Iranian government, has been listed as a terrorist organisation by many countries, including Australia and the US. In the last few years however this is changing and it has increasingly been delisted. The US listing is regarded by some as designed to appease the Iranian regime – the Court of Appeal in Washington declared the listing as unfounded and directed a re-evaluation by the State Department. The EU no longer lists it as a terrorist organisation. Australia however, continues to list PMOI on the consolidated list of organisations and as such has taken no action.
This May 2010 article in NM considers whether the PMOI can be considered a terrorist organization in greater depth.
Since the early 1980s it has been unfeasible for supporters of the PMOI to live in Iran given the consistent level of persecution they face. Refugee camps like Ashraf have become more than just temporary places to take shelter but increasingly becoming long term protective shelters.
Pressure from the Iranian Government is understood to have lead to direct action from the Iraqi military that, at the end of March deployed two army divisions including armoured vehicles within the perimeter of the city. This is the same Iranian Government that was involved on at least three separate missile and bomb attacks on the camp in 2008.
More recently, on 8 April an attack by Iraqi forces on the camp was carried out, with orders directly received from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. This attack resulted in a reported 34 immediate fatalities and at least 350 innocent people were wounded. Wounds include gun-shots, broken limbs and serious internal injuries as a result of beatings. There were even reports of people being run over by vehicles. Eye-witness stories consistently report that a number of the wounded were transferred to Baquba hospital where they receive minimal the care causing further unnecessary loss of life.
The US Secretary of Defence issued widely-publicised orders to provide medical care for the wounded after this attack. Despite this to date only 7 wounded residents have been transferred to US forces’ military hospital and no response has been provided to the Ashraf residents appeals on this matter.
Now, we hear reports that all US forces will withdraw entirely from Ashraf by the middle of this month when, if nothing is done, we will likely be witnessing of another massacre in the camp.
Amnesty International has repeatedly spoken out against the attacks, calling for calm and protection for Camp Ashraf’s residents.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
2 posts so far.