The American Sabra/Shatila

In September of 1982, Lebanese Christian ‘Phalange’ leader and President-elect Bachir Gemayel was assassinated, most likely on Syrian orders. Believing that the PLO was responsible, Christian militias entered the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, and massacred a number (estimates vary widely, but it is probably in the hundreds) of residents.

Israeli soldiers were nearby, but did not intervene. An commission (the Kahan Commission) was appointed to investigate the affair, and concluded that while the IDF did not take part in the massacre, it was ‘indirectly responsible’ — officers should have known what was happening and taken action to stop it. Ariel Sharon was held personally responsible, and ultimately forced to resign as Defense Minister.

It appears that the US now has its own Sabra/Shatila massacre to contend with.

Last Friday, Iraqi troops raided a settlement north of Baghdad populated by members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), killing at least 30.

Iran’s FARS news agency calls them a ‘criminal’, ‘terrorist’ group which is supported by the US.

Jubin Afshar describes what happened over the weekend:

Since last week the Iranian dissidents have been warning of an imminent attack. On Friday, thousands of Iraqi forces stormed the camp with armored vehicles and breached its protective fencing, killing and wounding many. There are reports of shelling of civilian residences in the camp and looting of areas overrun by Iraqi forces…

There are reports that US forces in nearby Baquba, who are tasked with monitoring security in Ashraf and intervening if necessary, did not respond to appeals for help at the camp. This all occurred during the visit to Iraq by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates…

Robert Gates was quoted by AFP to have “called for restraint” but mentioned that the US military would not have any role but to provide medical assistance, essentially remaining passive while a lethal attack was being carried out against a defenseless civilian population.

There is no doubt that the PMOI was at one time an armed militia. But even the Iranians admit that they are now unarmed:

Lieutenant Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) General Hossein Salami had underlined that the [PMOI] which has committed numerous crimes against the Iranian nation should be dissolved immediately.

“The disarmament of the Monafeqin (i.e. Hypocrites, as [PMOI] members are called in Iran) is not an important issue but the main issue is the existence of the grouplet which should be dissolved,” General Salami reiterated on Sunday. — FARS

This is not the first time Iraqi forces have attacked the PMOI refugees:

The attack is reminiscent of a similar brutal attack in July 2009, simultaneous with the uprisings in Iran, which resulted in the death of 11 dissidents. That attack resulted in widespread international condemnation of the Iraqi regime which has moved increasingly close to Iran’s rulers. — Jubin Afshar

Interestingly, the PMOI is classified as a foreign terrorist organization by only two countries in the world: the US and Iran. In another article, Afshar discusses the difficulties the organization is experiencing in getting the designation removed here in the US:

The State Department branded PMOI … as an FTO in 1997 in what a former administration official described as a goodwill gesture to the Iranian government. A policy that stemmed from a naïve reading of Iran and based the FTO designation on politically expedient foreign policy goals rather than facts, the PMOI contends.

Afshar is an apologist for the PMOI, so he doesn’t discuss its somewhat unsavory history in detail.

The PMOI has a violent past including assassinations of officials of the Shah’s regime — and American technicians working on defense projects in Iran in that period. The State Department also says that they ‘supported’ the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran.

After the Shah fell, the Khomeinists soon turned on them, and in 1982 the PMOI fled to Iraq where they were protected by Saddam Hussein. From Iraq, they carried out attacks against Iranian regime targets, and they also helped Saddam put down Shiite and Kurdish rebellions. In 2000 they even carried out a mortar attack on the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President in Tehran. In return, Saddam gave them money and weapons.

The alliance of convenience with Saddam Hussein caused big problems for the PMOI with the present Shiite-dominated regime in Iraq, and the US still considered it a terrorist organization and even bombed its camps at the beginning of the Iraq war. But

When American forces arrived at Camp Ashraf shortly after the fall of Baghdad, the MEK fighters offered no resistance and agreed to disarm. Their tanks, armored personnel carriers, and heavy artillery were confiscated. MEK fighters also agreed not to attack private and public properties in Iraq. In return, Camp Ashraf was put under the protection of Coalition forces and was shielded from the turmoil experienced elsewhere in Iraq…

Subsequent to the ceasefire agreement, US officials launched a review of Camp Ashraf residents to determine if they should be prosecuted for terrorism. American authorities also worked closely with their French counterparts to investigate the MEK’s support of terrorism. Later, in July 2004, the US military designated MEK fighters in Iraq as “protected persons” consistent with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. — Gawdat Baghat: United States-Iranian Relations: The Terrorism Challenge

Now, as the American presence in Iraq is drawing to a close, apparently the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki, with the encouragement of Tehran, intends to settle accounts. But there are good reasons — in addition to our obligation to this now-unarmed group — why the US should not stand by and allow this to happen:

First, the [PMOI’s] terrorist attacks against American targets ceased almost three decades ago. Most of these attacks took place when the Shah was in power or shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Since then, the [PMOI] has focused its attacks on Iranian targets. Even attacks on Iran apparently have come to a halt. The last [PMOI] terrorist attack was on an Iranian village close to the border with Iraq in 2003.

Second, western, Arab, and Israeli intelligence services have long appreciated the [PMOI] for its sources deep inside Iran. The [PMOI] provided useful intelligence data in 2002 when it held a press conference in Washington and revealed the existence of a secret uranium enrichment facility in the Iranian city of Natanz. The IAEA later confirmed the claim. This revelation has proven crucial in strengthening the international nonproliferation position in the ongoing confrontation related to Iran’s nuclear program.  — Baghat

The PMOI claims to have renounced terrorism, and to support democracy, religious and ethnic tolerance, etc.

Some points:

  1. The al-Maliki regime is clearly moving closer to Iran. When US forces leave, it’s hard to imagine any other future for Iraq except as a satellite of Iran. The fate of the residents of Camp Ashraf doesn’t look promising.
  2. Although our administration takes pains to hide this fact, the US is presently being confronted by Iran in a struggle for control of the Middle East and its vital resources. Why then does the US appear to take Iran’s side against dissidents that could be our allies in this struggle?

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One Response to “The American Sabra/Shatila”

  1. NormanF says:

    Its not our fight.

    And their claims to have embraced democracy and pluralism should be treated with considerable skepticism.

    There are no real democrats in Iran – just shadies of various Islamists and they all hate us as much as the ruling Khomeinist regime does.

    We should have learned our lesson in Libya. There no good guys with white hats in the Muslim Middle East.