Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Camp Ashraf and other issues

Alex Carlile is a member of England's House of Lords and the Liberal Democratic Party. From 2001 through this year, he served as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation in the UK. At The Hill, he addresses the issue of the residents of Camp Ashraf:

As the United Nations led by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) intensifies its efforts to bring a peaceful solution to this crisis, doing so with the support of the EU, the deafening silence from the Obama administration is reprehensible in the extreme.
Pressure on the Iraqi government has intensified in recent weeks and months. The UN has recognised the residents as asylum-seekers and has demanded international support for its efforts in recognising the refugee status of the residents. The EU’s foreign policy chief has answered this call by appointing a special representative on the issue and demanding the involvement of EU Member States in agreeing to the transfer of a number of residents.
It is now time for the US to do its part and play an active role. The US went into Iraq upon a mission, a mission called ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. That was our mission statement and that is the mission statement upon which the US must now intervene to protect this group of Iranians from further harm.
The task now is simple. President Obama must demand publicly that Iraq get rid of its end of 2011 deadline for the closure of Camp Ashraf, that the government of Iraq allow the UNHCR to carry out its refugee status work, support calls for the establishment of a UN peacekeeping presence to protect the camp, and work actively with its European partners to support the transfer of residents to states where their safety can be guaranteed.

Camp Ashraf houses a group of Iranian dissidents (approximately 3,500 people). Iranian dissidents were welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp attacked twice. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8th of this year Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out." Nouri al-Maliki is seen as close to the government in Tehran. They have made it clear that they want the dissidents out of Iraq and returned to Iran -- where they would face trial at best, torture most likely. Nouri has announced he will be closing Camp Ashraf at the end of this year. UK MP Brian Binley (Huffington Post) writes, "As things are evolving and if Maliki gets away with his plan to impose the deadline, just as the Christmas and New Year holidays are in full swing, the prospect is that the world will sit and watch while men and women are killed in cold blood or mutilated, crushed by US-supplied armoured personal carriers."

Carlile calls for the December 31st deadline Nouri has created to be postponed. It's an opinion that the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq shares. Martin Kobler offered testimony to the UN Security Council yesterday and it included three steps that need to be taken.

SRSG Martin Kobler: The Secretary-General has spoken personally to Mr. Maliki to appeal for flexibility and for full support for the UN's efforts to faciliate this peaceful solution the government has assured that it seeks. He has asked me to attach the highest priority to this case. In trying to facilitate a solution, we are emphasizing a number of important points. First, that lives are at stake and must be protected. The government has a responsibility to ensure the safety, security and welfare of the residents. Any forced action that results in bloodshed or loss of lives would be both ill-advised and unacceptable. Second, we believe that any workable solution must be acceptable to both the government of Iraq and to the residents of Camp Ashraf. The solution must respect Iraqi soveriegnty on the one hand and applicable international humanitarian human rights and refugee law on the other hand. Third, a solution must also respect the principle of nonrefoulement. No resident of Camp Ashraf should be returned to his or her home country without consent. While some progess has been made in our latest discussions in Baghdad, many obstacles remain to arriving at a plan that would meet the concerns and requirements of all concerned. Subject to all conditions being met, UNHCR is ready to begin verification and interviews for the purpose of refugee status determination; however, the process will take time to complete and clearly the situation cannot be fully resolved before December 31st. I, therefore, appeal to the government of Iraq to extend this deadline in order to permit adequate time and space for a solution to be found. I also appeal to the leadership and residents of Camp Ashraf to engage constructively and with an open mind to this process. They should give serious consideration to the proposals under discussion. There should be no provocation or violence from their side nor a challenge to Iraqi sovereignty. Finally I appeal to the international community to do more to help. A lasting solution cannot be found and as governments step forward and offer to accept Camp Ashraf residents to resettle in their countries.

Meanwhile Press TV notes, "Iran has repeatedly called on the Iraqi government to expel the group, but the US has been blocking the expulsion by mounting pressure on the Iraqi government. The group has been officially recognized as a terrorist organization by Iran and much of the international community." Iran borders Iraq on the east. AFP notes an attack in north east Iraq which claimed 1 police officers life and left two more injured as powerlines supplying electricity to Iraq from Iran's Kermanshah were sabotaged.

In addition to purchasing electricity from Iran, Iraq is conducting business with Pakistan and India. Khalid al-Ansary (Bloomberg News) reports that Iraq's purchased 30,000 tons of rice from India and 90,000 from Pakistan and that Iraq is predicted to produce 250,000 tons of rice this year (basically a fifth of what Iraq is expected to consume in 2012).

While Iran borders Iraq from the east, Turkey borders it from the north and Jordan borders it from the southwest. MENAFN News notes that Jordan is requesting that Iraq help them with an alternative trade route for their exports to Turkey and Europe should Syria close their borders. (Syria borders Iraq on the northeast and is directly north of Jordan.) In addition, Omar Obeidat (Jordan Times) reports:

Owners of cargo trucks are mulling using Iraq as an alternative transit route to Turkey and Europe as just a few trucks enter Syria per day due to the turbulence in the northern neighbour.
According to Mohammad Dawood, president of the Jordan Truck Owners Association (JTOA), over the past two weeks Jordanian trucks carrying vegetables and other goods to Turkey and Europe have "rarely" travelled through Syria due to the ongoing instability.
He told The Jordan Times over the phone on Saturday that although Syrian authorities are not banning the entry of Jordanian cargo trucks through their land, owners and drivers are reluctant to enter the violence-hit country. On the topic of Jordan, Aswat al-Iraq notes, "The number of Iraqis in Jordan has recently dropped down to 195,000, according to the Iraqi Embassy in Amman on Sunday."

Another neighbor that borders Iraq is Kuwait which shares a small section of the southeastern border. John Daly (Oil Price) offers an analysis of relations between Iraq and Kuwait which includes the following:

Despite the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in March 2003, two years later Kuwait began the construction of a 125-mile metal barrier along its land borders with Iraq in early 2005. But with a new administration in Baghdad, on 23 November 2006 Kuwait's Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Khaled al-Jarallah told reporters following talks with Iraq's Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Mohammad al-Haj, “We have signed a deal ... after which Kuwait will be able to complete the construction of the security fence,” noting that as the arrangement calls for the payment of "compensation to Iraqi farmers" on the border, the requisite amount "had been deposited with the United Nations." Al-Haj added, "We have completed the practical requirements for the demarcation of borders," based on UN Security Council Resolution 833.
Five years later, little has moved since "the practical requirements for the demarcation of borders." The reestablishment of bilateral Iraqi-Kuwaiti diplomatic relations has been even more glacial. Kuwait reopened its embassy in Iraq in 2008 after nearly 19 years of broken diplomatic relations, while the Consulate of Iraq was again opened in Kuwait only last year.
Local Iraqis based in Basra have a very different view of UN Security Council Resolution 833, stating that it led to the transfer of a significant amount of Iraqi land, hosting both oil wells and agriculture such as tomato farms to Kuwait, as well as the establishment of a wide zone of neutrality between the two countries which again favored the emirate. A high-ranking Iraqi government official in the Safwan border region, who had had some of his own land confiscated when the new border was marked out, commented that the locals describe “the unjust demarcation of borders as well as their government’s reluctance to put an end to this injustice.”

The following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh, Center for Constitutional Rights, Susan's On Edge, On The Wilder Side and the ACLU -- updated last night:

Lastly, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
CONTACT: Matt McAlvanah (Murray) - (202) 224-2834
Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 David Ward (Burr) -- (202) 228-1616

Sens. Murray, Burr Ask VA Inspector General to Launch Investigation into Mental Health Care Wait Times

As veterans continue to take their own lives at unprecedented rates, top Democrat and Republican on Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee call for inquiry after evidence of long wait times for appointments, questions over bookkeeping practices, and dissatisfaction from frontline health care providers surface at Senate hearings

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Richard Burr (R-NC), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, asked the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General to begin a formal audit of mental health care wait times at the VA. The call for action comes after a series of Senate hearings raised questions around the time it takes for veterans to receive an initial appointment and whether VA facilities are accurately reporting mental health care accessibility.

"We write to request that your office conduct an audit of how accurately wait times for mental health services are recorded for both the initial visits and the follow-up appointments and determine if wait time data VA collects represent an accurate depiction of veterans' ability to access those services," the Senators wrote. "In addition, we ask that your office evaluate whether VA is accurately and completely reporting the data they collect."

The Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee has held two hearings this year on VA mental health accessibility. At
the first hearing on July 14th the Committee heard the first-hand stories of two service members, who even after attempting to take their own lives, had appointments postponed and difficulties cutting through the red tape in order to get care. Then, just last week, the Committee heard from a VA psychologist and mental health care coordinator who testified about delays in providing mental health care treatment, including care for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). That hearing also raised questions on whether VA providers where using techniques to ensure initial mental health care appointments fall within the VA's required 14 day window, without providing true access to care at those appointments. A survey of VA mental health providers requested by Senator Murray showed dramatically different results from the waiting time data that VA reports.

Senator Murray also called VA's Inspector General, George Opfer to reiterate the importance of this investigation and the high priority she places on attaining accurate and complete mental health care wait time data from the VA. At the Committee hearing last week, the VA witnesses said the Department would cooperate fully with the investigation requested by Senators Murray and Burr.

The full text of the Senators' letter follows:

December 6, 2011

The Honorable George J. Opfer
Inspector General
Department of Veterans Affairs
801 I Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Dear Mr. Opfer,

We continue to hear from veterans about long wait times for VA mental health services. For that reason, the Committee held a hearing last week to discuss wait times and access to mental health care. While we understand that VA is in the midst of implementing new actions which build on the continuing transformation of mental health services to improve veterans' access to care, the Committee cannot properly evaluate the implementation unless provided with accurate information.

We write to request that your office conduct an audit of how accurately wait times for mental health services are recorded for both the initial visits and the follow-up appointments and determine if wait time data VA collects represent an accurate depiction of the veterans' ability to access those services. In addition, we ask that your office evaluate whether VA is accurately and completely reporting the data they collect. We have many questions about the overall implementation of mental health services at VA, but the most important is whether or not veterans can access the mental health care they need in a timely manner. Our request would build upon your previous work regarding wait lists for mental health care. At the Committee's recent hearing we requested that the Department cooperate fully with this audit, and they have agreed to do so.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important request. We appreciate your work to ensure our nation's veterans are provided high quality care and timely services at VA and look forward to your report.


Patty Murray

Richard Burr
Ranking Member


Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

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