Monday, August 27, 2012

Washington Times: Top U.N. official in Iraq 'misled' world on camp for Iranians

Hello Ms. Karen:

Thank you for your email.

Akbar is doing fine in Liberty.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to know this:

Shahriar -  Washington Times: Top U.N. official in Iraq 'misled' world on camp for
Iranians - August 21, 2012

Top U.N. official in Iraq 'misled' world on camp for Iranians

Tahar Boumedra

By Ashish Kumar Sen

The top U.N. official in Iraq directed his staff to cover up the prisonlike
conditions of a relocation camp for Iranian dissidents in reports to the
world body, said a former U.N. official who has resigned in protest.

In his first interview since leaving his post, Tahar Boumedra told The
Washington Times that Martin Kobler, U.N. special representative for Iraq,
wanted the dissidents relocated quickly to Camp Liberty, a former U.S. Army
base near Baghdad's airport, and then moved out of Iraq.

Mr. Kobler "misled [the U.N.] headquarters in New York, Washington" and the
dissidents about conditions at Camp Liberty in his rush to move them from
Camp Ashraf, where they have lived since 1986, said Mr. Boumedra, the former
human rights chief at the U.N. mission in Baghdad.

Mr. Boumedra said he "got the shock of my life" when he first visited Camp
Liberty in December.

"I had visited a lot of prisons but that place was worse than a prison,"
said Mr. Boumedra, an Algerian activist who has promoted human rights and
penal reform in North Africa and the Middle East for many years.

Iraqis vandalized the camp after U.S. troops left, he said, and facilities
were in utter disrepair.

Containers that had been used as soldiers' living quarters were piled high
with trash. Doors dangled from their hinges, and windows were smashed.

Mr. Kobler "asked us to go back and take pictures of the camp and the
facilities, and make sure that the most appealing pictures are to be put in
a file and presented to the residents and the diplomatic community that,
'Here is a camp of high standards, meeting all the refugees' requirements,'"
said Mr. Boumedra, who left Iraq in May.

"He asked me, and I underline this, that we make sure that 'sellable
pictures,' be used," he said.

"I found myself fabricating reports and
doctoring pictures in order to mislead my organization, the international
community and the Ashrafis."

About 2,000 of Camp Ashraf's more than 3,000 residents have been
transferred to Camp Liberty under a deal brokered by the United Nations. The
first group arrived in February.

The Iranian dissidents and their supporters, including a bipartisan group
of lawmakers and former U.S. officials, have complained since January about
substandard living conditions at Camp Liberty.

Asked about Mr. Boumedra's allegations, Mr. Kobler's office directed
questions to the U.N. headquarters in New York.

"It is regrettable that such a distorted picture is being presented of the
efforts of the United Nations in Iraq to resolve peacefully the situation of
Camp Ashraf," said Jared Kotler, a New York-based spokesman for the U.N.
Department of Political Affairs, which oversees the U.N. Assistance Mission
for Iraq.

Mr. Kotler said the U.N. mission under Mr. Kobler's leadership has worked
"diligently and impartially to facilitate a peaceful solution that respects
the rights and concerns of both the residents and the government of Iraq."

"These efforts are one of the main reasons why this very tense situation
has not already spilled over into further violence," he added.

Dispute over living conditions

Known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MeK, the dissidents sought the
overthrow of Iran's theocratic regime in the early 1980s, and Iraqi
strongman Saddam Hussein gave them refuge at Camp Ashraf, a base near
Baghdad. After Saddam's overthrow in 2003, U.S. military forces disarmed the
dissidents, who renounced violence in 2001.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an ally of Iran, has sought to shut
down Camp Ashraf, which Iraqi forces have attacked several times with deadly
results. The dissidents fear that Mr. al-Maliki will turn them over to Iran,
where they expect they would be imprisoned, tortured or executed.

The U.N. brokered a deal with Iraqi leaders to move the dissidents to Camp

Mr. Boumedra, the lead U.N. official in talks with the Iraqis to close Camp
Ashraf, said he advised Mr. Kobler not to accept a memorandum of
understanding that came out of those talks because the Iraqis were
dismissive of international human rights standards.

"I told him there are certain values of the United Nations on which we
cannot compromise. Yet we did compromise," Mr. Boumedra said.

He said Mr. Kobler replied: " 'Tahar, why are you so negative?' So,
protecting human rights is negative?"

The relocation has stumbled primarily over conditions at Camp Liberty.

After weeks of stalemate, the MeK leadership, which is based in Paris,
announced Saturday that it was ready to move another 400 residents from Camp
Ashraf to Camp Liberty as a "goodwill gesture."

U.S. and U.N. officials who have visited Camp Liberty say conditions there
meet international humanitarian standards.

"The U.N. has insisted that Camp [Liberty] meets basic humanitarian
standards as a precondition to the transfer of the residents and its
involvement in the process," Mr. Kotler said. "The camp does meet these
standards and is ready and equipped to receive the remaining residents of
Camp Ashraf.

"There has been continuous progress in the work to further improve the
living conditions" at Camp Liberty, he added.

A State Department official, who spoke on background, said officials from
the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad make weekly visits to Camp Liberty.

"We are aware of the MeK claims considering the conditions at Camp
[Liberty]; however, while there are some ongoing issues, the residents'
basic humanitarian needs are met," the official said.

The ongoing issues include setting up a water treatment facility and the
transfer of residents' personal belongings to Camp Liberty.

"What was planned and what was expected for [Camp Liberty] pretty much has
been met," the State Department official said.

Ambassador Daniel Fried, the State Department's special adviser on Camp
Ashraf, visited Camp Liberty in July and said he saw air-conditioned living
quarters, gardens tended with recycled water and clean water in the taps.

"I would characterize conditions there as spartan but livable, and public
claims to the contrary did not appear accurate to me," Mr. Fried told
reporters on his return to Washington.

The State Department official who spoke on background said Camp Liberty
residents each receive more than 53 gallons of water a day, which does not
include the bottled water that is provided, and they have electricity around
the clock.

The camp "does meet humanitarian standards. It also far exceeds what
average Iraqis get," the official said, adding that most Iraqis get 18 to 24
gallons of water per day and Baghdad residents have about nine hours of
electricity daily.

Camp Liberty residents say much of the water they receive is wasted because
the infrastructure is in shambles.

U.S. policy on MeK

Mr. Boumedra said he was marginalized after he complained about the
deceptive practices. "I became sort of an obstacle to progress," he said.

He eventually resigned and has spent the past couple of months pondering
his situation. "I say, 'Was that a nightmare? Was I really involved in those
things?' I lost respect for all these institutions and also for myself
because I was part of it," he said.

Mr. Boumedra's account of the conditions at Camp Liberty hews to that
provided by the MeK and its supporters, including former U.S. officials,
some of whom have acknowledged being paid for their speeches in support of
the MeK.

Bruce McColm, an MeK supporter and president of the Virginia-based Global
Initiative for Democracy, said his nonprofit advocacy group is paying Mr.
Boumedra's airfare and hotel bills in the U.S.

Mr. McColm said he first met Mr. Boumedra in July and brought him to the
U.S. because "it was worth having someone with his background in the field
of human rights and his past position with [the U.N. Assistance Mission for
Iraq] to give a fresh perspective of the situation of the people in Camp
Ashraf and Camp Liberty."

Lincoln Bloomfield Jr., a former assistant secretary of state who supports
taking the MeK off the State Department's terrorism list, met and talked at
length with Mr. Boumedra last week.

"While many U.N. missions face challenges and host-country pressures, Mr.
Boumedra's account of why he resigned suggests that the senior U.N.
leadership in New York and, quite possibly, U.S. policy officials in
Washington have been seriously misled by [the U.N. mission in Iraq] over the
past year as to the true situation on the ground at Camp Ashraf and Camp
Liberty," Mr. Bloomfield said.

Mr. Boumedra criticized past and current U.S. policy on Camp Ashraf, and
described it as a total shambles.

The Clinton administration placed the MeK on the State Department's list of
foreign terrorist organizations in 1997 as it was attempting to open
negotiations with Iran.

The Obama administration has linked the dissidents'
cooperation in the relocation to taking it off the blacklist.

A U.S. appeals court in June ordered Secretary of State Hillary Rodham
Clinton to decide within four months whether to remove the MeK from the
terrorist list.

Britain and the European Union took the MeK off their lists in 2008 and
2009, respectively. But the group's presence on the U.S. list has deterred
other nations from taking in the Iranian dissidents.

"The [terrorist listing] is not helping the U.N. progress in monitoring or
protecting the fundamental rights of this community," Mr. Boumedra said.
"Keeping them on the [list] will embolden the government of Iraq and
encourages what is going on."

Mr. Kotler, the U.N. spokesman, said that under the agreement with the
Iraqi government, the dissidents will not be repatriated forcibly to Iran or
to any other country.

However, U.S. and U.N. officials remain worried about the prospect of a
crackdown on the dissidents by Iraqi authorities.

On July 31, Iraq's
national security adviser, Falih Al-Fayadh, threatened to forcibly shut down
Camp Ashraf.