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Deadly Rocket & Mortar Attack On Iranian Exile Camp In Iraq: Iran Policy Committee Finds Camp Liberty To Be Unsafe; Return Exiles To Camp Ashraf, Iraq

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Major newspapers, including The New York Times, report rocket and mortar attacks on Iranian dissidents in Iraq. The BBC reports an Iraqi interior ministry official as stating the rockets were thought to have been fired from an area west of Baghdad where the Badr Brigade operates. It is the military wing of the Badr Organization, a Shia group aligned with the Iranian regime.

Based on research on Iraqi security issues, the Iran Policy Committee finds Camp Liberty, a former American military base in Iraq, to be unsafe and that it is in the interest of the United States for the dissidents to return to their former residence—Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Ashraf is far safer than Camp Liberty because Liberty is too close to Badr Brigade units. Only one resident of Ashraf was ever killed from the type of rocket and mortar raid that killed six people and wounded dozens in February.

A major problem with Liberty is inability immediately to assign responsibility for any attack because of the operations of shadowy nonstate militias like the Badr Brigade. While Iraqi forces also attacked Ashraf, Baghdad is a government that might be held accountable for its actions under the " responsibility to protect" doctrine of the United Nations.

In a statement issued from Geneva, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, called the attack "a despicable act of violence" and said residents of the camp were asylum seekers entitled to international protection.

Amnesty International issued a press release stating, "Authorities in Iraq must urgently investigate the attack against a camp of Iranian exiles that left several people dead and injured and ensure all those wounded receive appropriate medical care...The investigation should also look into the conduct of Iraqi security forces in the lead up and during the attack and whether they have failed to prevent any such attack."

Members of the IPC Board who are former military officers include: Lt. Gen. Tom McInerney (Ret), former assistant vice chief of staff, U.S. Air Force; Maj. Gen. Paul Vallely, (U.S. Army (Ret), former Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army, Pacific; and Captain Charles "Chuck" Nash, U.S. Navy (Ret). They issued a joint statement calling for outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to initiate an investigation of the February 2013 rocket and mortar attack. Moreover, they said, "It is not enough for UN special envoy Martin Kobler to ask local authorities to "promptly conduct an investigation," the United Nations envoy also has the responsibility to conduct his investigation of the assault."

The former military officers stated, "If evidence points to Iraqi collusion with a Badr Brigade rocket and mortar assault on Camp Liberty," McInerney, Vallely, and Nash said, "The Iraq and U.S. Defense and Security Joint Coordinating Committee headed by Acting Iraqi Minister of Defense, Dr. Saadon Guwir Farhan Al Dlimi and U.S. Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Policy James Miller might lead an investigation and consider returning the Iranian dissidents back to their former residence—Camp Ashraf—until they are resettled to third countries."

Professor Raymond Tanter, President of the IPC and former member of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration recalled an assault by Iraqi forces and stated, "During July 2009, seven months after Iraqi Security Forces took control of Camp Ashraf from the U.S. military, Iraqi forces raided the camp, resulting in eleven residents killed and hundreds more wounded. Dozens were jailed and held, in effect, as hostages by the Iraqis and only released during the first week of October 2009, after worldwide hunger strikes." Regarding the February 2013 assault, Tanter stated, "In view of prior attacks on Iranian exiles in Iraq, if the Badr Brigade were involved, this militia may be acting as a proxy for both Tehran and Baghdad. And if Iraq's Shia-led pro-Iranian government wants the MEK out of Iraq, then Baghdad should allow residents of Liberty to leave Iraq rather than impose restrictions on their departure."

Regarding the February 2013 assault, Tanter said, "Indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire from Badr Brigade assailants acting on behalf of Baghdad is just as horrendous as direct fire from Iraqi forces; but at least it is possible to assign immediate responsibility to Baghdad." Tanter said, "There is possible complicity of Iraq in the February assault because of the sudden cancellation of planned talks in Washington by General Babakir Zebari, Chief of Staff, Iraqi Joint Forces, who returned to Baghdad about the time when the attacks occurred against Camp Liberty." Tanter also noted, "Zebari met with Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari in Tehran on 15 November 2012 and vowed to expel the MEK by the end of that year."

Founder and President, Global Initiative for Democracy and former Freedom House Executive Director, Bruce McColm recalled a second assault by Iraqi forces, "On 8 April 2011, the Iraqi military again raided Camp Ashraf, directly aiming and then firing at the Camp residents."

There was a strong reaction from the United States Senate. Senator John Kerry, then Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now Secretary of State, described the April assault as a "massacre." Senator Kerry's press release called for a "thorough and serious" investigation, and he emphasized, "The investigation must hold accountable the responsible parties and ensure that there will be no sequel to these horrific events." McColm stated, "Now, Secretary of State Kerry is in a position to order an investigation of assaults on Iranian exiles in Iraq; hence, he has a responsibility to do so, as well as to pressure Baghdad to protect and return them safely back to Camp Ashraf from Liberty."

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