August 18, 2017

Abandon failed Middle East foreign policy strategies

THE HILL (Congress Blog)

For nearly a decade, the United States has invested money, sweat, blood and tears all in the name of a free and democratic Iraq. Before the war, Iraqis suffered under the oppressive dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Recent events have led me to believe that perhaps the new government does not value freedom any more than the last.

As a member of Congress, I have been fortunate enough to go to Iraq several times to visit our troops. During my last visit with a bipartisan Congressional delegation we also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. During a nearly two hour-long discussion I asked one simple question: “Can we go see Camp Ashraf?” 

I represent a number of Iranian Americans who have family members in the camp. They were particularly worried at this point since Iraqi forces had killed 36 residents at the camp just weeks before. But our simple request was met with a defiant, “no.” All of a sudden, the meeting was over. It left me wondering — what does the prime minister have to hide? Later that day we learned that Prime Minister Maliki had ordered us evicted from Iraq. We did not leave the country until we finished visiting our troops and other Iraqis. 

That day confirmed everything I had heard about the attitude of the Iraqi government towards Camp Ashraf. And, now we have Camp Liberty. Residents of Camp Ashraf (commonly called the MEK) were moved into this new camp so the UN could begin processing their political refugee applications and remove them from Iraq. Ironically a name that is synonymous with freedom. But once again, Iraq is silencing residents of the camp and hiding it from the rest of the world. If there’s really nothing to hide about Camp Liberty, let the world see what’s taking place. 

The reality is that Camp Liberty is worse than any prison of ours. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani described it best: “This is not a relocation camp. I have seen relocation camps. I know what relocation camps look like. And I know what jails look like. This isn’t a jail. This is a concentration camp. That’s what it is. This is a concentration camp. Let’s call it what it is.”  

Even in prisons, we allow lawyers to see their clients and families to see their loved ones. But not in this camp. You can’t help but think good ol’ Maliki has something to hide again. But word is leaking out — there is not enough drinking water in the camp, and ruptures in the sewage system are having to be fixed by hand by the residents. Iraqi Guards at the camp do not follow any sort of rules and continually violate the privacy of the residents, many of whom are women.

This is a problem that is only going to get worse unless the Obama Administration puts more pressure on the Iraqi government to stop violating the fundamental human rights of the residents. So far, there is no guarantee that residents from Camp Ashraf will not be forced into Camp Liberty. With thousands more residents expected, the already inhumane conditions will only get worse. 

What’s more, no one, not even the UN, is confident that once a political refugee determination is made other countries will accept these refugees. Why? Because the U.S. State Department incredibly still has the MEK designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. The designation is a relic of an old, failed foreign policy strategy that did this as a favor to Iran’s leaders for better relations. 

Foreign relations with Iran have gotten worse, not better. Since then, we’ve seen that the real terrorists are the mullahs of Iran and the tiny tyrant in the desert, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not the opposition groups that want democracy in Iran. Both the EU and the UK have removed their FTO designation from the group — why not the United States? As Iran defiantly marches towards nuclear weapons, the best hope for the world is the people of Iran throwing off the chains of their repressive rulers and bringing freedom and democracy to their country. The longer we keep opposition groups who want to do just that on the FTO list, the less likely it is that the light of liberty will ever have a chance to shine in Iran. The U.S. State Department must remove the MEK from the FTO list immediately.

And that’s just the way it is. 

Rep. Poe (R-Texas), is a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs

http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/213345-rep-ted-poe-r-texas