Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
As the clock ticks towards the end of America’s military presence in Iraq, there are increasingly dire warnings of a humanitarian disaster unless steps are taken to protect more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents living in a camp in Iraq. How closely is Washington listening?
Gloomy forecasts for the fate of the exiles at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad near the border with Iran, have come from Amnesty International, a long string of prominent former U.S. government officials, retired generals, and members of the European Parliament. One of them, Struan Stevenson, predicts “a Srebrenica-style massacre,” a reference to the 1995 killing of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian War.
Stevenson, who is head of the European Parliament’s delegation on Iraq, issued his warning this week in an op-ed in the conservative Washington Times newspaper. Also this week, Amnesty International said there was a “serious risk of severe human rights violations” if the Iraqi government went ahead with plans to force the closure of the camp by the end of December.
On a more subdued note, the administration of President Barack Obama, long silent on the exiles, is also expressing concern. U.S. officials, according to a State Department spokesman, are impressing on the Iraqi government the importance of treating the residents of Camp Ashraf humanely.
How seriously the Iraqis are taking American exhortations is open to doubt. U.S. influence in Iraq is waning rapidly while that of Iran is rising.