- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 3, 2011

Nearly three dozen U.S. lawmakers are urging U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to prevent a fresh outbreak of violence at a camp for former Iranian resistance fighters in Iraq.

In a letter made public Wednesday, they wrote that residents of Camp Ashraf have been subjected to “deadly incursions and repeated incidents of harassment” by Iraqi forces.

Late Monday night, Iraqi troops and police entered the camp with sirens blaring in what residents said was an attempt to intimidate them.

On April 8, the Iraqi army attacked the camp, killing 36 residents, including eight women. More than 300 others were wounded. The lawmakers warned of “another tragedy on a larger scale” without prompt U.N. action.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has set a Dec. 31 deadline to close Camp Ashraf. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has said that the Iraqi deadline does not leave enough time to process the refugee status requests of Camp Ashraf’s 3,400 residents, who fear they will be arrested and executed if they are deported to Iran.

The Obama administration has expressed its concern to the Iraqi government about the recent developments at Camp Ashraf.

“We are … in a continuing dialogue with the government of Iraq, at the very highest levels, to impress upon them the importance of treating the residents of Ashraf humanely,” State Department spokesman Noel Clay said Wednesday.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said she is worried about the Iraqi military’s actions inside Camp Ashraf.

“The residents are being subjected to psychological torture,” the Florida Republican said.

Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said a strong message must be conveyed by President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and U.S. generals in Iraq to the Maliki government that it must uphold commitments to protect the camp’s residents.

Iraq feels like it can do whatever it wants whenever it wants to the Camp Ashraf residents, and no one will protest,” Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen said.

Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat, told a gathering on Capitol Hill that the Iraqi government must extend its deadline to shut the compound.

“We are in a critical time period,” she said.

Meanwhile, the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday adopted a resolution to tighten sanctions on Iran. The resolution includes an amendment committing the United States to ensuring the protection of Camp Ashraf residents.

The residents of Camp Ashraf are members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (MEK), an Iranian opposition group that the State Department designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. The residents and their supporters say the Iraqi government has used this designation to justify its actions against the camp.

U.S. forces disarmed the MEK in 2003 and turned over control of Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi government in 2009.

In their letter to Mr. Ban, the lawmakers said the United Nations must set up a “full-time monitoring team” inside the camp.

“This will create the safe, accountable and orderly environment where all claims can be fully processed and all refugees can be resettled in third countries where they are safe,” they wrote.

The continued presence of the MEK on the State Department’s terrorism list is the main reason for the harassment of Camp Ashraf residents, according to some scholars.

“If the MEK were not on the terrorism list, Maliki would not be able to justify treating the residents of Camp Ashraf as terrorists,” said Raymond Tanter of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Britain and the European Union took Iranian resistance off their lists of terrorist organizations in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Kenneth Katzman, a specialist in Middle Eastern affairs at the Congressional Research Service, said it is hard to make the case that the MEK is a terrorist organization. But he questioned the group’s commitment to democracy.