Saturday, 10 October 2009

Iran’s heavy hand on human rights

By Gary Morsch

AS US officials grapple with Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons, they also need to address its human rights abuses against its own people as well as the regime’s meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Soldiers don’t concern themselves with politics; we leave that to the politicians. There are times, though, when a soldier makes an exception. Like all American troops who have been deployed to Iraq, I went to serve my country and to help bring peace and democracy to the Middle East. I’m a doctor from Kansas and a colonel in the Army Reserve, and I served for a year in Ashraf, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

Of all the places I’ve been in Iraq, Ashraf was probably the most peaceful. It was established 23 years ago by a group of Iranian dissidents, all members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, who want to see democracy return to their homeland. They fled Iran shortly after the 1979 revolution because they opposed the theocratic state that had been established. Thousands of their friends had been slaughtered by the ruling ayatollahs’ henchmen.

In the middle of the desert, they turned a dry wasteland into an oasis. They built schools and hospitals, shopping areas, and places for sports and recreation and concerts. Even Iranian students who had gone to America to further their education returned to Ashraf.

And the Iraqi people befriended them.

After the US-led invasion in 2003, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran turned over their weapons to coalition forces and submitted to months of investigation - to prove that they were not terrorists and only wanted to live in peace.

The more I saw, the more I began to like the people of Ashraf. They are committed to the goals of democracy and a free Iran. Indeed, I learned that it was the People’s Mujahedin that first divulged the nuclear buildup within Iran, alerting the world to the danger the mullahs in Tehran posed.

Ashraf has been protected by an agreement with the United States under the Fourth Geneva Convention. But the pending withdrawal of US troops has left the area in a kind of no-man’s land.

Iraqi forces now control their own country, which is fine for most situations. But the Iraqi leadership is growing closer to Tehran, which wants Ashraf closed and its people sent back to Iran - to an ill fate one can only imagine.

On July 28, Iraqi police and military forces stormed Ashraf at the behest of Tehran. Eleven residents were killed, 500 wounded, and 36 were held hostage for 71 days.

And where were the American protectors? From the video clips I watched, they stood by and observed, doing little to stop the carnage.

The Obama administration criticized Iraqi security forces and their brutal attitude, but this is not enough. Iraqi forces still occupy parts of Ashraf. The lives of 3,400 people who trusted the United States are on the line. Knowing of their need for medical care, I have volunteered to go and provide medical assistance to the wounded in Ashraf.

I am sad for the people of Ashraf and angered by the American inaction. It was an embarrassing moment for me as a doctor, a soldier, a humanitarian, and above all as an American.

The nation I serve made a commitment to protect these people. While I was there, I carried out that mission. The Obama administration must find a way to honor that commitment, especially now. It is obvious that the winds of change are blowing across Iran. The fundamentalist mullahs in Tehran know that they are in trouble with their own people. The president needs to act now.

Dr. Gary Morsch is an Army Reserve colonel. 

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