Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Assault on Camp Ashraf continues

Iraqi security forces have stormed the base of the anti-Iranian terrorist group the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization.
An Iraqi military official has said that Iraqi forces have taken complete control of the camp.
MKO spokesman Shahriar Kia said that four people were killed and 300 wounded when Iraqi soldiers and police stormed Camp Ashraf on Tuesday, AFP reported.

That's the opening to "Iraqi forces storm MKO's Camp Ashraf" (Iran's Press TV). Alsumaria opens their report with:

Iraqi soldiers and police raided on Tuesday Ashraf camp triggering clashes using white weapons. Battles left around 200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces wounded, an Iraq security source reported. 50 members of the People Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI) were arrested, the source added.
"After the failure of negotiations with the Mujahedeen to enter peacefully, the Iraqi army entered Camp Ashraf with force and it now controls all of the interior and all entrances to the camp," the source speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP. The operation was ordered by Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki’s office, the source noted adding that the decision to enter the camp is included in the agreement signed between Baghdad and Washington over handing authority to Iraqis.

Search in vain through the New York Times, which files three reports from Iraq in today's paper, for any article on this. There is none. There's a really bad article we'll note in a second, but this? Not covered.

There was plenty of time to cover it. It was a question at yesterday's State Dept briefing, reports were already coming out. As Elaine noted last night, before I dicated the snapshot yesterday, I was on the phone with friends at Amnesty in London (who got photos and film of the assault early on) asking for descriptions of what was taking place in the footage. A friend with Amnesty asked that a statement be noted:

AI Index: MDE 14/021/2009
28 July 2009
Iraq: Camp Ashraf residents attacked
Amnesty International is seriously concerned at today's attacks by Iraqi forces on unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf which left several people injured and led to the arrest of at least eight others.
Hundreds of armed Iraqi security forces are said to have stormed the camp, north of Baghdad, at around 3pm local time. They used tear gas, water canons and batons against unarmed Iranian residents who tried to stop them from entering the camp.
Video footage seen by Amnesty International clearly shows Iraqi forces beating people repeatedly on different parts of the body, including the head. Dozens of people are said to have been injured.
Two of them, Reza Chelcheraqi and Mohammad-Reza Shahsavandi, are believed to be in serious condition. At least eight people, including Hasan Besharati, Humayoun Deyhim, Gholam Reza Behrouzi, Hosein Fili, Mehdi Zareh and Naser Nour Ebadian, were arrested and their current whereabouts are unknown.
In the last few months the Iraqi government has publicly stated that it wants to take over full control of Camp Ashraf, in Diyala governorate, north of Baghdad. On 27 July government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh told an Iraqi satellite television channel that the government "will take over the responsibility of internal security affairs of Camp Ashraf". The authorities are reportedly planning to establish a police outpost inside the camp.
Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to investigate the apparent excessive use of force by Iraqi security forces. The government should reveal the whereabouts of the eight people detained and ensure that they are protected from torture or other ill-treatment, as well as from forcible return to Iran.
Around 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf are members or supporters of the People's Mojahedeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), an Iranian opposition organization whose members have been resident in Iraq for many years. Until recently the PMOI was listed as a "terrorist" organization by the European Union and other governments, but in most cases this designation has now been lifted on the grounds that the PMOI no longer advocates or engages in armed opposition to the government of Iran.
The US forces provided protection for the camp and its residents, who were designated as "protected persons" following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but this situation was discontinued following the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraqi governments, although the SOFA makes no reference to Camp Ashraf or its residents.
Public Document
For more information please call Amnesty International's press office in London, UK, on +44 20
7413 5566 or email:
International Secretariat, Amnesty International, 1 Easton St., London WC1X 0DW, UK

That was e-mailed (to one of my personal e-mail account) and I can't find it at the website currently. I'll assume it will be there later today.

But there is footage, there are photos. An assault took place and the New York Times isn't interested. (Possibly because Gen Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, isn't interested? Possibly because the US embassy in Iraq has told some in the press that covering the assualt will "inflame tensions"? I don't know, ask the paper.)

Not every outlet in the US ignores the story. From Laith Hammoudi and Leila Fadel's
"Iraqi authorities raid camp of Iranian opposition group" (McClatchy Newspapers):

Iraqi authorities raided the camp of a small Iranian opposition group living in the north of Iraq on Tuesday, killing at least four of the group's members in a spate of clashes that ensued, members of the group said.
At Camp Ashraf in the northern province of Diyala, about 3,400 members of the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq group went on a hunger strike following what they called a "brutal" raid that targeted unarmed members of their organization.
Since the U.S. handed control of the camp to Iraqi authorities on Jan.1, Iraq has increased efforts to push the group out. U.S. officials were promised that the cult-like MEK organization on the U.S. list of terror groups would be treated "humanely" under Iraqi authority.

Also not being silent on the issue is the Wall St. Journal. From Charles Levinson and Yochi J. Dreazen's report:

Residents of Camp Ashraf said hundreds of Iraqi security forces tore down the camp's walls on Tuesday afternoon with bulldozers. The forces fired water cannon and tear gas and swung batons against camp residents who tried to block their entry, residents said.
The operation against the sprawling desert compound 80 miles north of Baghdad and about 70 miles from Iran's border was continuing into the night, they said.
Gen. Odierno and a spokesman for Prime Minister Maliki confirmed Iraqi forces had seized control of the camp by force after the camp's leaders refused requests by Iraqi police to enter the camp peacefully to establish a police station there.
A U.S. military official said the Iraqis used primarily tear gas and smoke grenades, as opposed to live ammunition or other deadly weaponry.

AP notes that Odierno is claiming that Iraq used "non-lethal force" and insists, "We have had promises from the government of Iraq that they would deal with the [group] in a humane fashion." However, AP doesn't just swallow official-speak and parrot it:

But a video provided by the exile group showed Iraqi forces using batons and water cannons against the residents gathered at the camp's gates. The group also released photos showing injured people and bloodied bodies, although the authenticity of the images couldn't be independently verified.

Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) was reporting on the assault yesterday evening and this morning, he and Greg Jaffe report the assault continues and they note: "The operation, which caught U.S. officials off guard, coincided with a visit to Iraq by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Analysts said it appeared designed to send a message of Iraqi independence. " This morning, BBC also reports the assault is still ongoing: "Eyewitnesses say Iraqi police have surrounded the People's Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) camp and clashes are continuing inside. Iran wants the camp closed. The exiles fear they will be forcibly repatriated." (They also quote a portion of the Amnesty International's statement.)

In today's New York Times, Rod Nordland and Timothy Williams allegedly cover yesterday's violence but somehow miss the assault. As was noted here in January and February and in March (roundtable in March), I was asked not to push on that issue here by friends in the administration who stated they were dealing with it and they knew how important it was and tensions didn't need to be raised higher (this was during the transition phase) and I agreed I wouldn't hit on the issue. It wasn't that much of an issue because US forces were protecting the group and had been for years. And if the administration was seriously going to address this and find a peaceful outcome on it, no problem, there are dozens of other topics having to do with Iraq that can be covered here. However, that clearly did not happen. Point, I was a fool. I've been one before and will be one again. So those outlets thinking, "Oh, well, let's give the administration more time . . ." No. I stated back then that if the group was assaulted, we'd cover it and we'd call the administration out. (And the administration did not protect the group. They sold the group out. This is a huge human rights stain on Barack's administration.) I was a fool -- not the first time. I feel foolish. (Not the first time. Not the last time.) But I'd feel even more foolish if I continued the silence. Those still being silent better grasp that at some point, they're going to move from foolish to culpable.

Sam Dagher writes about Kurdistan today
and we'll try to note his article in the snapshot later today. Greg Jaffe covers it for the Washington Post as does Anthony Shadid. But the story this morning is the continued assault on Camp Ashraf. Even more then the nonsense about "our first blantant betrayal" by the administration served up by an 'immigration' 'activist' on Democracy Now! this morning. Nearly one year ago (one month away) Ava and I were calling out Janet and what she would be bringing to the table (anti-immigration policies). You're a little a late to the party and excuse yourself from the table because you've spilled stupid all over your dress.

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