The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Christopher Hill, could face questioning on Capitol Hill on Thursday on why the United States downplayed a warning from more than 500 members of the British Parliament alerting President Obama to “threatening developments” concerning disarmed Iranian resistance fighters in Iraq.
A parliamentary letter to Mr. Obama was dated June 30, about one month before Iraqi authorities stormed Camp Ashraf, killing 11 members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, injuring hundreds and arresting 36. A July 15 reply from a deputy assistant secretary of state assured the British lawmakers that Iraq had promised to protect the camp residents.
The British letter, organized by Robin Corbett, a member of the House of Lords, said the “threatening developments” included reports that Iraqi officials prevented trucks carrying food from reaching the camp and blocked lawyers, legislators and relatives of the residents from visiting the camp “in violation of international law.”
“We ask you to urgently intervene to compel the Iraqis to lift the siege of Ashraf and restrictions on the entry of all goods and people and uphold the judicial protection of the residents,” the parliamentarians said.
“We believe that Washington both has a moral and legal obligation under international law … to guarantee the safety and security of the residents of the camp.”
They noted that Iran’s supreme leader, AyatollahAli Khamenei, asked the Iraqi government to expel the Iranian rebels and expressed concern over “Iran’s influence on some parts of the Iraqi government.”
The United States declared the 3,500 camp residents to be “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, after disarming the rebels following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The United States signed an agreement in November that provided for Iraq to take over security operations, including control over Camp Ashraf.
The State Department’s reply, less than two weeks before Iraq stormed the camp on July 28, assured the British lawmakers that the United States relied on “written assurances” from the Iraqi government to protect the camp residents.
“Those assurances affirm that the residents of Camp Ashraf will be treated humanely and will not be transferred to any country where there are substantial grounds to believe they would be subject to persecution based on religious or political beliefs or to torture,” wrote Richard J. Schmierer, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. He added that he was responding on behalf of Mr. Obama.
The United States included the resistance, which some Middle East experts consider a cult, on a blacklist of terrorist organizations in 1997 when the Clinton administration was trying to open relations with Iran. The European Union removed the group from its own terrorist list in January.
Mr. Hill, testifying for the first time as ambassador to Iraq, will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 9:30 a.m. in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building and at 2:30 p.m. before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building.
The supporters of the Iranian resistance on a hunger strike across from the White House got a boost in morale Wednesday when the chairman of a House committee visited them to endorse their call for protection of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
Rep. Bob Filner, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, is a longtime supporter of the Iranian resistance. The California Democrat also is co-chairman of the Iran Human Rights and Democracy Caucus in the House with a fellow Californian, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.