Itís been two years since U.S. troops left Iraq, having rid the country of Saddam Hussein and ostensibly leaving behind a democracy that would be a model for the region. We say ostensibly because that certainly hasnít been the case. Our efforts on that front appear to have been in vain.
Iraq is a fractured country, victimized by almost daily bombings, its government increasingly aligned with Iranís despotic regime.
Who is most to blame? Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister the United States helped elect ó and a man who has done much to dishonor our service to Iraq, standing by as more than 7,000 of his countrymen have been killed this year in suicide bombings and other attacks.
Yet on Nov. 1, President Barack Obama welcomed Maliki to the White House. The Oval Office meeting was reportedly wide-ranging, covering topics including Iranís use of Iraq as a corridor to send weapons to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. We hope there was more than passing reference made to the fate of several thousand Iranian dissidents who have lived in Iraq for more than a quarter-century and who are currently under siege.
These individuals are members of the Peopleís Mujahedeen of Iran, known as the MEK. The group, which was active in the 1979 revolution that toppled the shah, opposes Islamic fundamentalism and espouses democracy and gender equality. For this, the mullahs in Tehran have imprisoned or executed thousands of MEK members over the years.
The MEK grew in prominence in the 1980s and 1990s after mass executions started launching attacks on the Iranian government, military and suppressive targets. The United States designated the MEK as a terrorist organization in 1997.
But four years later, the group renounced the use of violence. Following the MEKís removal from British and European Union blacklists in 2008 and 2009, then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last fall also removed the groupís terrorist designation.
Regardless of what one thinks of the MEK and Iranian politics, its members donít deserve what has happened to them since the United States left Iraq.
The story begins at Camp Ashraf, a settlement the MEK built in eastern Iraq when a few thousand of its members fled Iran in 1986. When the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Saddam regime in 2003, the inhabitants of Camp Ashraf turned over their arms in exchange for guaranteed protection by U.S. forces from the threat of its sworn enemy, the Iranian regime and its agents in Iraq.
When it came time for the United States to depart ó at Malikiís insistence ó the Iraqi government promised to continue to protect the group from the threat of Iranian regime, but that was not to be.
Since U.S. troops left in late 2011, there has been nothing but bad news coming out of Camp Ashraf. Malikiís troops attacked Ashraf twice, in July 2009 and April 2011, and tried to force the MEK out of Iraq entirely. Finally, Maliki settled for a deal, brokered by the United States and the United Nations in December 2011, for more than 3,000 MEK members to move to an abandoned American military base near Baghdad named Camp Liberty.
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.