Foreign Policy Blogs

Massacre at Ashraf

There is something else when you watch American military Humvees plow down unarmed refugees.  Like in so many conflicts and wars, the remnants of disaster and chaos never simply disappear. They remain bred in the souls of those who have had to endure eight years of war – day in and day out.  So that when the Iraqi security forces at the request of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki – who at the request of Iran’s supreme leader Khameni – were sent in to dismantle the Ashraf refugee camp, their brutality came as little surprise.

Ashraf, a settlement of Iranian exiles north of Baghdad, linked their arms in solidarity and refused to move.  The Iraqi soldiers advanced with clubs and hatchets.  Eleven unarmed refugees were murdered and many, many more injured.

Hanif Asyabani, an Iranian demonstrating in front of the European Parliament this week, handed me the DVD.  On it, refugees with camera phones recorded Iraqi security beating and shooting into the crowds.

Some 3000 Iranians have lived and continue to do so at Ashraf since 1986.  They are the Iranian opposition group People’s Mujahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI).  The PMOI or MEK was founded in 1965 by leftist students and intellectuals opposed to the Shah of Iran.  They were instrumental in toppling his rule in 1979.  In 1997, the US labeled them a terrorist group followed by the EU in 2002 – (note the EU dropped the PMOI from the terrorist list this past January.)

But despite the label, the MEK have won strong support for its pro-democratic stance among US and European lawmakers.  Because the US refuses to remove them from the list, the refugees are unable to seek asylum in the West.  They are in limbo and have no choice but to stay put and hope.

When the Iraqi security forces stormed the camp in July, they detained 36 individuals. Some they had shot in the legs. Amnesty International has appealed to the Iraqi Prime Minister.  Iraqi wants them out.  Go back to Iran.  Where they will face certain execution.

In 2003, the United States disarmed the residents and designated them  “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions.  In the middle of war, the refugees complied. Promises were made for their protection.  In October of 2008,  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Iraqi Government to protect Camp Ashraf residents. And then in January of this year, the US transferred control of Ashraf to Iraq.

The raid coincided with a state visit by U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The contents of the DVD have since been put online. Watch it here:

Part 1 : (8min)
Part 2 : (7min)

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Comments (5)

  1. Damian Sunday - 23 / 08 / 2009 Reply
    These images are really shocking. I can't believe it has happened in 2009 before the eyes of the interantional community! If only the press had reported more on this.
  2. fateh Monday - 24 / 08 / 2009 Reply
    Shocking images, and hard to believe. Where were the Americans when thses crimes happened? Arent they in Iraq for establishing "democracy"? Thank you for bringing this to our attention, the world must know about this, it is outragous that the media and the governments have been silence.
  3. iranupdate Monday - 24 / 08 / 2009 Reply
    Attacing Ashraf residents is violation of human rights & violation of international law. Amnesty Internation named this case : "crime against humanity". Everybody knows what does it mean juridically. I hope American administration take his responsibility to respect Geneva convenstion & guarantee the safety of Ashraf residents (as the protected persons).
  4. f.hosseini Wednesday - 26 / 08 / 2009 Reply
    mr obama - the world is watching your silence with disgust. so soon to have so much blood on your hands!!


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Nikolaj Nielsen

Nikolaj Nielsen has a Master's of Journalism and Media degree from a program partnership of three European universities - University of Arhus in Denmark, University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Swansea University in Wales. His work has been published at Reuters AlertNet,, the New Internationalist and others.

Areas of Focus:
Torture; Women and Children; Asylum;


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