One by one, the formers all said Obama should get a lot tougher on his esteemed current guest, Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is in town to ask for more help in beating back al-Qaeda-linked groups from the same United States of America that he couldn’t wait to be rid of when we pulled out of Iraq two years ago.
Though Obama ran in 2008 on ending that war, it’s gone on without us, and violence has spiked again recently.
The motley speakers at the rally all zeroed in on the brutality of a Sept. 1 attack on a longtime trouble spot, Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad, formerly the paramilitary base of the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or MEK. An opponent of the Iranian regime, the MEK was on the U.S. list of terrorist groups until September 2012, some years after it had renounced violence and promised to close Camp Ashraf, although about 100 members refused to leave.
Thousands of MEK members were invited to Iraq by Saddam Hussein, but they are also considered terrorists by the current, Shiite-led Iraqi government, and by many ordinary Iraqis who remember their violence on behalf of Hussein.
Every one of the prominent Democrats and Republicans who spoke on behalf of the MEK has in the past been criticized for cashing fat checks from the group.
The Associated Press reported the 52 deaths in Camp Ashraf this way: “Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for Iraq’s prime minister, confirmed that some camp residents were killed. He said a preliminary investigation suggests they died as a result of infighting among camp residents, and denied that Iraqi forces were involved. Previous Iraqi raids on the camp, including one in April 2011, claimed dozens of lives. The acting U.N. envoy to Iraq, Gyorgy Busztin, condemned the events at Camp Ashraf but did not assign blame.”
Well, not so Tom Ridge, who banged on the lectern as he banged on the point that the United States had given its word that it would see to it that those in the camp would be protected, and had not kept that promise: “As someone who wore the uniform a long, long time ago,’’ said Ridge, a decorated Vietnam vet, “we gave our word!”
“I implore the president,’’ he added, to make any aid dependent on the safe passage of these MEK stuck in Iraq, including seven who’ve been taken hostage. “If you think about how much they trusted us” and had been proven wrong, he said, “your stomach should be in knots.”
When he walked away from the microphone, there were tears in his eyes. “Some of us feel responsible,’’ he said in an interview. As a member of the Bush administration when we invaded the country? No, he said: “I was the secretary of homeland security when we went in, but that was not a calculation.” For the six years that Americans oversaw the camp, he noted, “nothing happened” to its inhabitants.