- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq.

I’ve lived in a state-controlled country, in which one is careful what one says for fear of “disappearing.”

I’ve lived in a free country, going to school, being able to study what I want and say what I want — with no fear of reprisal.

And I’ve lived in freedom in a sort of state of suspended animation — free to do what I want and say what I want, but wondering how long that freedom would last.

Now, I am a hostage within that state, no longer feeling free. I am what the newspapers label an Iranian dissident; that means I have no use for the mullahs who rule my country and I want to see a thriving democracy where now there is a theocracy that spreads fear and terror around the world.

The first place I lived was Iran, a repressive society dominated by the mullahs who have perpetuated the rule established by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah.

Then, I went to the United States to study. But I longed to go back to help my country re-establish its place in the world as a beacon of freedom.

I knew, however, that I couldn’t do that within present-day Iran. There, I knew I would be persecuted and face imprisonment or death if I dared to speak my mind. So I went to Iraq to join other Iranian exiles and work for the day that I could return home to a free Iran.

Now, I am a resident of Ashraf, a self-contained city about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It was built by my relatives and friends, all members of the People’s Mujaheedin of Iran (PMOI), and it has a population of about 3,400. We have lived in peace here since coming to Iraq in 1986.

We have turned the desert into an oasis. We have constructed roads and buildings; a mosque, a university, a zoo, a park, stores and a shopping center; educational, social and sports facilities; swimming pools, and, yes, a cemetery. Sadly, that facility has been needed more than usual recently.

Ashraf residents lived in peace side by side with their Iraqi neighbors until the 2003 invasion by the United States and its coalition allies. Then, they agreed to be disarmed and signed agreements with the United States to remain where they are and to be protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Indeed, everyone in Ashraf was questioned by the American authorities and proved they are not the “terrorists” the mullahs in Tehran would have the world believe.

What is the PMOI? It is the principal Iranian opposition movement, and opposed the mullahs’ oppression, the fixed elections, the beatings and the killings.

All the while, the PMOI has served as the eyes and ears of freedom within Iran, warning the West about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, its exporting of terrorism, and its meddling in Iraq. (Yet, the United States keeps the PMOI on its “terrorist” list, but that’s another issue.)

We were content to remain in Ashraf, live our lives in peace and strive to achieve our goals. But, when the United States signed an agreement with the Maliki government in Baghdad to withdraw its forces over the next two years, the rulers in Tehran saw an opportunity to try to remove a thorn (the PMOI) from its side.

For the past year, we tried to tell the United States that turning over security for Ashraf to the Iraqis would be disastrous, but to no avail. The Americans somehow didn’t want to believe that the Maliki government was getting cozier with Iran than the United States.

And as things became more difficult internally for the mullahs, they prevailed on their friends within the Iraqi government to move on the PMOI in Ashraf. In late July, the unthinkable happened.

Iraqi forces, trained by the United States. and using American grenades and Humvees, raided our city. The raid began July 28, and continued for several days. Ten residents were killed, hundreds were wounded. And 36 were taken away — their fate unknown.

That’s why I say now I am a hostage — in my own home, in a city my friends and relatives built and have lived in peacefully.

Many of our buildings were bulldozed, our cars destroyed, and our facilities damaged. Many of us are on a hunger strike and are willing to die for our cause. Others still are recovering from their injuries.

And what was our crime? Standing up against tyrants in Iran, the same rulers who suppress demonstrators throughout Iran as they cry for freedom.

I ask the U.S. government: What happened to your commitment to protect these defenseless people? Every one of us signed a written agreement with the U.S. government. Will it honor its commitments or will it allow Tehran rulers to perpetrate this crime against humanity through its Iraqi agents?

Much is at the stake. Geopolitical considerations aside, did the United States lose 3,400 soldiers, plus thousands more wounded, spend $1 trillion, to bring to power a bunch of tyrants in Iraq?

We are in a remote part of Iraq that has been our home for two decades. But Washington should be assured that the world is watching — and the verdict is out there.

Mohammad Mohaddes, a chemist, was a political activist in Iran during the reign of the late shah. He moved to Iraq’s Camp Ashraf in 1986, where he has worked mostly in the Public Health Department. He is a resident of Camp Ashraf and a member of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition of Iranian opposition movements.

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