Camp Liberty, an obsolete U.S. army outpost near Baghdad International Airport now inhabited by 3,000-odd Iranian refugees, has become the center of an escalating humanitarian crisis in the recent months as the Iraqi government proves through its actions that it has no intention to provide security for the camp’s residents. Once fully-equipped with 12-foot-tall concrete walls to protect U.S. soldiers from any sort of attack, today the camp is a mere shadow of its former self, and its accommodations offer no protection against rocket attacks that are frequently launched against it.
At the behest of the Iranian regime, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki concocted the plan to force these Iranian dissidents to leave their previous home in Camp Ashraf, Diyala province, where they had lived for 27 years. The residents of Ashraf accepted to move to Camp Liberty, a much smaller and poorly built compound, only after UN and U.S. authorities gave them assurances of safety and security in their new home – assurances that were later neglected.
Previously fortified with 17,500 pieces of prebuilt concrete walls, known as T-Walls, Camp Liberty was stripped of all protective structures by Iraqi forces shortly after the arrival of Camp Ashraf residents in early 2012. Iraqi authorities went every extra mile to make sure the residents of the camp would have no means to protect themselves and would suffer maximum casualties in the attacks that would later ensue.
And that was exactly what happened. Four rocket attacks launched against the camp in 2013 – all planned, funded, and facilitated by the Iraqi government – have left fourteen dead and hundreds of wounded in their wake, and the threat of further attacks on the camp is ever-pending.
In the meantime, the U.S. and UN have yet to deliver on their many promises to the residents of Camp Liberty.
The safety and security of Camp Liberty residents has raised international concern. Recently, 110 members of the UK parliament called for the protection of the camp’s residents. Also, more than 2.5 million citizens from 18 Arab countries expressed their support for the residents of Camp Liberty and called on the U.S. government and the UN to uphold their obligations regarding the safety and security of the residents. This issue has also been the subject of congressional and senate hearings and resolutions in the U.S. and the European Parliament.
Maliki’s government has done its best to resist requests made by the residents themselves and widespread international appeals for the T-Walls to be reinstalled in the camp. In the past year, of the 17,500 T-Walls that were evacuated from camp, merely 3 percent have been returned. The Iraqi government has given its word to enter T-Walls into the camp, but while there seemed to be no shortage of resources at the time that the T-Walls were removed from the camp, Iraqi authorities always seem to have an excuse to delay and postpone the process of returning them to the camp, even though they’re piled up just beyond the camp’s walls. Needless to say, the operation is being carried out entirely at the residents’ expense, and Iraqi authorities – or the U.S. and UN for that matter – haven’t contributed a dime to the process.
The continuation of this humanitarian crisis is largely due to the U.S. and UN neglecting their moral and legal responsibilities toward the residents of Camp Liberty. Speaking at a Nowruz gathering in the U.S. Senate, Tom Ridge, former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, criticized the U.S. government for breaking its promise “to ensure their [Camp Liberty residents] safety and security at all times.”
“At the end of the day,” he said, “the fate of these individuals rests in the hands – not of Maliki – but in our [U.S. government] hands.”
Speaking at the same gathering, Frances Townsend, former White House Homeland Security and Counterterrorism advisor, stressed that T-Walls are a vital part of the solution to solve the security issue in Camp Liberty.
“When U.S. soldiers were at Camp Liberty… there were 17,500 T-Walls along with protective gear for the soldiers who were in Camp Liberty,” she said. “The commitment was to maintain the security conditions at Camp Liberty when those who were forced to leave Ashraf had to establish themselves there,” she added.
Townsend called on her government to hold Maliki accountable for the situation in Camp Liberty, stating, “Iraq must live up to its obligation or bear the consequences of inaction on the protection of members of Camp Liberty. The T-Walls must be installed.”
She also emphasized that the U.S. government, in particular, has the power and responsibility to remedy the situation, affirming that, “When the U.S. government actually pressures the Iraqis, they permit some small incremental step – security measure – to be taken.”
The measures taken so far leave a lot to desire. Meanwhile, the residents of Camp Liberty continue to remain exposed to further slaughter by Iraqi forces. Unless T-Walls are returned to the camp, further lives will be lost in attacks that will surely occur in the near future.
This is but a glimpse of the persecution and torture that the residents of Camp Liberty suffer at the hands of the Iraqi government. Since 2009, when the U.S. government transferred the responsibility of Camp Ashraf’s protection to the government of Iraq, Iraqi forces have constantly subjected the residents of Camp Ashraf – and later, Camp Liberty – to deadly attacks and an all-out blockade on food, logistics and medical services.