Friday, November 15, 2013










US House Rep Grace Meng:  Regarding the issue of Iraqi Jewish artifacts that are currently on display in The National Archives, I want to especially acknowledge and thank Congresswoman [Ileanna] Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman [Steve] Israel and Senator [Chuck] Schumer for their leadership on this issue.  Rescued from Baghdad in 2003, the collection of ancient artifacts include letters, books and personal photos that were left behind by Jews after WWII who experienced extreme anti-Semiticsm including harassment and violence.  It is imperative that these artifacts are returned to the descendents of the Jewish community from which they were wrongly confiscated and not the Iraqi government.  We must ensure that justice for the Iraqi Jewish community.

Meng was speaking at yesterday's House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa hearing.  US House Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is the Subcommittee Chair and US House Rep Ted Deutch is the Ranking Member and the witness appearing before the Subcomittee was Brett McGurk.  Yesterday we focused on the Jewish Archive aspect.  

Today, we're going to focus on religious minorities and Camp Ashraf.   Religious minorities have long been under attack.  Will McGurk's words reassure? 

US House Rep Steve Chabot:  While Iraqi Christians find themselves in an increasingly hostile environment, the Kurdish region was a safe haven for Christian refugees in Iraq.  However, a number of bombings against Christians in Kurdish -- in the Kurdish region have changed the security situation for Christians.  And with reports of discrimination, Christians no longer feel safe even in the -- in the Kurdish region.  What's the administration doing to help Christians and other minorities in Iraq and what is the Maliki government doing to protect Iraqi religious minorities?

Brett McGurk:  Well, thank you, very important, uh question, and at the State Dept we are focused on this every single day I try to meet with the Iraqi Christian community here in the United States.  When I'm in Iraq, I try to meet with the Christian leaders.  Our Ambassadors engage with them on a regular basis.  On my last trip, I met with Bishop [Bashar]  Warda who's in Erbil  And we-we asked him, what do you really need from us?  And he needed some more facilitation with the Kurdish government and he needed some help to resolve some land disputes.  And they have now set up a joint-commission to do just that.  Uhm, the prime minister met Archbishop [Louis Raphael] Sako -- the main Christian leader in Iraq -- to talk about threats to the Christian community.  Uh, the real problem in Iraq now is that every community is under threat.  The casualties that have taken place this year in Iraq are a threat to everybody but the Christians in particular and some of the other minority communities such as the Shabaks and the Yazidis are under real threat from these al Qaeda groups.  We are talking with the Christian -- the Iraqi Christian community here and also Christian leaders in Baghdad about what we can do to harness local forces to protect their local communities and then working with the Iraqi government to get resources into those communities.  And we've made some progress over the last three to four months but I-I -- I just -- Our eyes are wide open that this problem isn't -- Again, the more that al Qaeda gains strength and, uh, gains roots in western Iraq, the greater the threat will be.  That's why we have to go after that in a very serious way.

Sako is the main Christian leader in Iraq?  That's certainly going to be news to a lot of others in Iraqis?  But Shabaks and Yazidis aren't Catholic.  How will they be helped when their needs aren't explored.  If you're not talking to them and their leaders, how are you helping them?  You're not.

In Mosul today, NINA reports, four homes were blown up. Who lived in them?  Shabaks.  They're being targeted and the State Dept isn't even listening to them.  Or most Christians because they're really not in Baghdad these days.  The migration was started long ago but really accelerated after October 31, 2010 when Our Lady of Salvation Church was attacked in Baghdad.

Not only are these Christians in large and increasing numbers, their needs are going to be different than those living in Baghdad.  They are refugees.  And what is the State Dept doing about that?  Nothing and apparently because they're not even aware of them or the need to converse with them.

Let's move over to the Ashraf residents.  As of September, Camp Ashraf in Iraq is empty.  All remaining members of the community have been moved to Camp Hurriya (also known as Camp Liberty).  Camp Ashraf housed a group of Iranian dissidents who were  welcomed to Iraq by Saddam Hussein in 1986 and he gave them Camp Ashraf and six other parcels that they could utilize. In 2003, the US invaded Iraq.The US government had the US military lead negotiations with the residents of Camp Ashraf. The US government wanted the residents to disarm and the US promised protections to the point that US actions turned the residents of Camp Ashraf into protected person under the Geneva Conventions. This is key and demands the US defend the Ashraf community in Iraq from attacks.  The Bully Boy Bush administration grasped that -- they were ignorant of every other law on the books but they grasped that one.  As 2008 drew to a close, the Bush administration was given assurances from the Iraqi government that they would protect the residents. Yet Nouri al-Maliki ordered the camp repeatedly attacked after Barack Obama was sworn in as US President. July 28, 2009 Nouri launched an attack (while then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was on the ground in Iraq). In a report released this summer entitled "Iraqi government must respect and protect rights of Camp Ashraf residents," Amnesty International described this assault, "Barely a month later, on 28-29 July 2009, Iraqi security forces stormed into the camp; at least nine residents were killed and many more were injured. Thirty-six residents who were detained were allegedly tortured and beaten. They were eventually released on 7 October 2009; by then they were in poor health after going on hunger strike." April 8, 2011, Nouri again ordered an assault on Camp Ashraf (then-US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was again on the ground in Iraq when the assault took place). Amnesty International described the assault this way, "Earlier this year, on 8 April, Iraqi troops took up positions within the camp using excessive, including lethal, force against residents who tried to resist them. Troops used live ammunition and by the end of the operation some 36 residents, including eight women, were dead and more than 300 others had been wounded. Following international and other protests, the Iraqi government announced that it had appointed a committee to investigate the attack and the killings; however, as on other occasions when the government has announced investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations by its forces, the authorities have yet to disclose the outcome, prompting questions whether any investigation was, in fact, carried out."  Those weren't the last attacks.  They were the last attacks while the residents were labeled as terrorists by the US State Dept.  (September 28, 2012, the designation was changed.)   In spite of this labeling, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed that "since 2004, the United States has considered the residents of Camp Ashraf 'noncombatants' and 'protected persons' under the Geneva Conventions."  So the US has an obligation to protect the residents.  3,300 are no longer at Camp Ashraf.  They have moved to Camp Hurriyah for the most part.  A tiny number has received asylum in other countries. Approximately 100 were still at Camp Ashraf when it was attacked Sunday.   That was the second attack this year alone.   February 9th of this year, the Ashraf residents were again attacked, this time the ones who had been relocated to Camp Hurriyah.  Trend News Agency counted 10 dead and over one hundred injured.  Prensa Latina reported, " A rain of self-propelled Katyusha missiles hit a provisional camp of Iraqi opposition Mujahedin-e Khalk, an organization Tehran calls terrorists, causing seven fatalities plus 50 wounded, according to an Iraqi official release."  They were attacked again September 1st.   Adam Schreck (AP) reported that the United Nations was able to confirm the deaths of 52 Ashraf residents.

The September 1st attack was not minor to the Subcommittee.  Chair Ros-Lehtinen told McGurk she wanted regular updates on the T-walls and how many are being put up to protect the Ashraf community from mortar attacks. He stated that there were "about 14,000 now" ready to be assembled and put up.  But US House Rep Brad Sherman pointed out there were 17,000 T-walls up when he last visited Iraq, up at Camp Liberty, but now they're are less than 200.  Clearly, T-walls were taken down (by the orders of Nouri al-Maliki although McGurk insists it was because of the desires of the Ashraf community).  US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher had one of his constituents stand.  The man lost family in the September 1st attack. He was one of the Ashraf community supporters who regularly attend hearings wearing yellow (they also turned out in full force to protest Nouri's visit to DC).  US House Rep Ted Poe noted them in his remarks to McGurk,  "These people that are here, working people, Americans, and they are concerned about people that they love in Iraq.  And they constantly are losing friends and family members to attacks."  These attacks have lasting effects and the State Dept has done very little.

US House Rep Joseph Wilson:  . . . but a real tragedy has been the murders at Camp Ashraf.  Since December 2008, when our government turned over the protections of the  camp to the Iraqi government, Prime Minister Maliki has repeatedly assured the world that he would treat the residents humanely and also that he would protect them from harm.  Yet it has not kept the promise promise as 111 people have been killed  in cold blood and more than a thousand wounded in five attacks including the September 1st massacre, what is the United States doing to prevent further attacks and greater loss of life in terms of ensuring the safety and security of the residents

Brett McGurk:  Congressman, first let me say thank you for your-your service and your family's service.  Speaking for myself and my team who've spent many years in Iraq and have known many friends we've lost in Iraq, it's something we think about every day and it inspires our work and our dedication to do everything possible to succeed under very difficult circumstances.  Regarding Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty, the only place for the MEK and the residents of Camp Liberty to be safe is outside of Iraq.  Camp Liberty is a former US military base  We lost Americans, right nearby  there, as late as the summer of 2010.  We lost a number of Americans to rocket fire and indirect fire attacks and our embassy compounds were the most secure facilities  in the country as late as the summer of 2010, that was when we had about 60,000 troops in the country in the country doing everything that they possibly could do to hunt down the rocket teams that we knew were targeting us.  Uh, there are cells in Iraq  -- we believe directed and inspired from Iran -- which are targeting the MEK, there's no question about that.  And the only place for the MEK to be safe is outside of Iraq.  That is why the State Dept and the Secretary have appointed a colleague of mine, Jonathan Winer, to work this issue full time. to find a place for them to go. Right now, there's about 2900 residents at Camp Liberty and Albania's taken in about 210, Germany's agreed to take in 100 and that's it.  We need to find a place for these - these people to go.  It is an urgent and humanitarian issue, an international humanitarian crisis.  And I went to the camp to meet with the survivors, to speak with the families, and what they told me and I promised them to do everything I possibly could to get them to safety.  Uh, it is incumbent upon the Iraqi government to do everything it possibly can to to keep them safe -- and that means the T-walls and the sandbags and everything else.  Uh, but the only place for the residents to be safe is outside Iraq.  Since the tragic attacks at Camp Liberty on September 1st 1300 Iraqis were killed, 52 people were massacred at Camp Ashraf.  This was a tragic, horrifying act.  But since then, 1300 Iraqis in the country have been killed.  The country is incredibly dangerous and the MEK, to be safe, have to leave Iraq and we want to find a place for them to go.  

US House Rep Joseph Wilson:  Well I appreciate your commitment to that.  After the September 1st massacre, the State Dept called for an independent investigation by the United Nations.  74 days on, nothing's been done, let alone an independent investigation.  Could you tell this Committee whether any independent probe has been carried out or not?  If so, by whom and what is the finding?  If not, why not?  Five attacks have been launched against the residents and not one person has been arrested.  What do we do to maintain promises of protection?

Brett McGurk: Uh, Congressman, shortly after the attack, we worked with the United Nations to make sure that they got a team up to Camp Ashraf within 24 hours of the attack to document exactly what happened because there was a lot of stories about what happened.  They went there took photographs of the bodies to make sure that it was documented as to how these people were killed and there's no question about it.  We have looked very closely at all of our information I know that I've-I've had the opportunity to brief some members of the Subcommittee in a classified setting which I'd be pleased to do again to update you on the information that we have.We did call for an independent investigation and for the UN to be involved in this process.  The UN was also involved in making sure that the survivors got out of Camp Ashraf and out of harms way to get to get to Camp Liberty.  But, again, Congressman, I would welcome the opportunity to brief you and discuss with you in a classified setting everything we know that happened on September 1st.

Here's a question.  Why did it take the September 1st attack for the State Dept to hired someone to work on the issue?  In fairness to Secretary of State John Kerry, maybe the question should be why, in four years, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton didn't hired anyone?  Or how about why did she fight a federal court for years before taking the MEK off the terrorist list?

And if this i really considered "an international humanitarian crisis" by the State Dept, could Brett or John inform the spokespersons for the State Dept because Iraq rarely comes up and Camp Ashraf  is not a topic -- Iraqi Christians as well -- that interests the spokespersons.

Seems to me if you have a semi-daily press briefing by the Dept, you use that briefing to highlight "an international humanitarian crisis."  

I'm also confused why you need to go into a classified briefing to discuss an attack on Camp Ashraf?

McGurk hurled every imagination you could think of at Iran in one remark or another.

So he's not protecting Iran.

Who's he protecting?

It would appear he doesn't want to speak publicly about how Nouri al-Maliki allows and aids attacks on the Ashraf community.

This was made even more clear in another exchange.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  You believe them that that there's really a security reason that they haven't put those T-walls up at Camp Liberty?

Brett McGurk:  No, I do not think that there are legitimate security reasons that the T-walls have not been put up.

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher: You sounded to me when I was listening to you -- and I listened very closely to what you said -- that we can't blame the leadership -- the Maliki leadership for the lack of security at Camp Liberty?

Brett McGurk:  Uh, no.  And in fact my conversation with Maliki was that you need to get as many T-walls into that facility as possible without any excuses.  Period.  Full stop.  So I -- if I -- You may have heard me say something differently but I 


US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  Maybe I'm misinterpreting what you said.  Now tell me this.  Those troops that came into Camp Ashraf and murdered 52 unarmed MEK refugees, you hold that this was done by a rogue element in the Iraqi army or do you think the Maliki regime is complicit in this murder?

Brett McGurk:  I don't believe there was a rogue element.  I think a lot of this goes back to the background of the situation.  Camp Ashraf was seen as a forward operating base to the MEK --

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  I don't need a background on it.  I'm not trying to find out.  It's clear that we had Iraqi soldiers going in there murdering people who are unarmed, tying their hands behind their back and then blowing their brains out.  This is an atrocity.  It's a crime against humanity.  Now, I don't need a background to find out the background on Camp Ashraf.  Do we hold that government responsible or is this a rogue element?  And if it was a rogue element in the military, what has the Maliki regime done to deal with that?  

Brett McGurk:  Congressman, I would -- I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you in a classified setting and tell you everything we know about this attack including who committed the atrocity. 

US House Rep Dana Rohrabacher:  You know, I'm not asking for all the information that you know.  I'm asking who we're holding accountable.  And we aren't.  Clearly  we are sending a message to the Maliki government that it's okay because we're not doing anything about it.   We have -- we have -- Here's a picture of a gentleman who used to work up here and we have -- and I submit this right now, Mr. [Acting] Chairman [Ron DeSantis], for the record -- a gentleman who used to work on Capitol Hill representing the MEK and we saw him on many occasions.  And guess what? [Pointing to photo] Here's his body at Camp Ashraf where they have murdered him -- brutally tied his hands behind his back and blown his brains out. We need -- we need to -- If we excuse this by lack of attention, we are sending our own message as to what values we have and we're sending other dictators and terrorists a message as well about American weakness. I am not satisfied with what this administration is doing.  And one last note, Mr. Chairman, and that is: These people are under attack.  I think at the very least, and this is my opinion right now, we should take the people in at Camp Liberty.  Let's just take them in.

Again, McGurk had no problem launching any and every allegation at Iran in his comments to the Subcommittee.  So what's the classified issue?  It really appears the State Dept knows what the press does, Nouri was responsible for the September 1st attack.  

RECOMMENDED:  "Iraq snapshot"
"Barack covers for Bully Boy Bush again"
"Forget Tom Cruise, Simon Parkin's the offensive on..."
"ObamaCare and Jill Stein -- two frauds"
"The day ObamaCare died?"
"Kate Randall dissects the press conference"
"randi rhodes to hit the road, jack"
"About Benghazi . . ."
"Alec Baldwin lies on Twitter"
"Revolution (boring and does any Black person marry another?)"
"Barack Addresses Netroots Nation"
"Brightness Falls"
"He'll be honest . . . this time . . . he says"