- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 1, 2011

WILL U.S. BREAK PROMISE?

Two Republican senators are pressing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to guarantee the safety of thousands of Iranian dissidents in Iraq, where the government is planning to evict them from a former military camp by the end of the year and possibly deport them to Iran, where they would be killed as terrorists.

Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked Mrs. Clinton in a recent letter how the United States can keep its promise to protect the 3,400 unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf after all U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31.

“These individuals seek protection from the oppressive government in Iran and fear, with good reason, that a forced return to Iran would be tantamount to a death sentence for them,” said Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“Once U.S. troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq, it is hard to see how the United States will be able to honor our pledge to protect the lives and basic human rights of the civilian population of Camp Ashraf.”

Although the United States transferred control of the camp to Iraq in 2009, the continued presence of U.S. troops has prevented Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki from evicting the dissidents.

However, Iraqi troops repeatedly have raided the camp, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. They also have cut off supplies to the residents.

Critics accuse Mr. Maliki of trying to win favor with Iran’s theocratic dictatorship.

The letter from Mr. McCain and Mr. Graham accompanied one from about a dozen bipartisan members of the House who also called on Mrs. Clinton to stop the Iraqis from evicting the Iranian dissidents.

The congressional support comes as the Iranian dissidents are gaining support from former U.S. officials, members of the European Parliament and about 2,500 tribal leaders inside Iraq who gathered about a million signatures on petitions opposing the eviction at Camp Ashraf.

“We believe the Iranian dissidents have a valid status, and we consider them our guests, and we call on the government and all peace-loving people around the globe to find a solution for them,” Sheik Youssef al-Aziz, chief of the al-Baeeg clan, told the Agence France-Presse in Baghdad.

Sheik Matlab al-Taei, head of the Iraqi Tribal Council, said that “jurists, physicians and clerics” were among “approximately a million Iraqi citizens” who signed the petitions.

Some of the strongest support for the Iranian dissidents is coming from the European Parliament, where Struan Stevenson, a Conservative Party member from Scotland, is leading the effort to prevent their eviction.

“The government of Iraq is continuously working on its plan to attack Ashraf and massacre the residents,” he said at a news conference in Brussels on Wednesday.

He accused Iraq of working with agents from Iran’s intelligence agency to prepare for the expulsion of the residents. Mr. Stevenson said Iraqi forces plan to separate the men from the women and transfer them “to various locations around Iraq.” The 120 leaders in the camp will be arrested and deported to Iran.

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