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. In recent years, deadly attacks and massacres, blockades on daily necessities, and broken promises have become a common aspect of the daily lives of these refugees. And the prospects for their future are none too bright.
Based on written agreements and commitments, the Obama administration is responsible for the safety and security of Camp Liberty residents, yet today, they are facing the threat of being massacred by the Iraqi government and the Iranian regime. The current unrest in Iraq has elevated the threat against the residents to a critical level and their lives are in danger. The Obama administration, which against all warnings given by the residents handed over their security to the al-Maliki government in 2009, must honor its pledges to the residents and prevent a humanitarian disaster from occurring. The continuation of the silence and inaction policy under the pretext of nuclear talks with the Iranian regime will have harsh consequences. The only real solution to the Camp Liberty crisis is the deployment of UN Blue Helmets to secure the camp, or as suggested by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the Iranian resistance, have the residents transferred to U.S. or European countries – albeit temporary – while they wait to be transferred to other safe locations.
Following is a brief history of Camp Ashraf, where the residents previously resided and how they came to be transferred to Camp Liberty, where they are currently living under harsh conditions.
Camp Ashraf, location and foundation
Camp Ashraf, located 60 miles north of Baghdad in the Diyala province of Iraq, was founded by the PMOI (Iranian opposition movement) in the 80s as a safe haven for Iranian dissidents who fled the tyranny and dictatorship of the mullahs’ regime in Iran. Over the years, through their own toil, the residents gradually transformed the camp from a dry patch of land to a fully-featured self-sufficient city containing a library, university, museum, recreational centers, a power plant and water pumping station, and… Ashraf grew up to become the symbol of hope for freedom in Iran and the manifestation of the Iranian people’s will to live in a secular, democratic, and nuclear-free country.
U.S. government pledges to protect Ashraf residents
In 2003, after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Camp Ashraf residents delivered their arms – their only means to defend themselves – to the U.S. army, and in exchange the U.S. government pledged to protect them. In 2004, the residents were recognized as “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
U.S. hands over protection of residents to Iraqi government
In 2009, the Obama administration handed over the security of the camp to Iraqi forces. The residents of the camp warned the U.S. against such a course of action. They had premonitions that putting the Iraqi government in charge of the camp’s protection would have serious repercussions on their safety and security, for the deep ties and alliance between the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, and the Iranian regime, the archenemy of Camp Ashraf residents, was no secret to anyone.
The U.S. government dismissed their concerns and left more than 3,000 Iranian dissidents at the mercy of the Iranian regime’s greatest ally in the region, declaring that the Iraqi government had given assurances on the safety and security of the camp’s residents. A few months later, the worthlessness of those promises were proven.
July 2009, Iraqi forces conduct a deadly attack against Camp Ashraf residents
On July 28-29, 2009, Iraqi forces stormed Camp Ashraf and murdered eleven defenseless residents while U.S. forces were still present at the camp and only observed the events as they unraveled. During the same attack, Iraqi forces abducted 36 of the residents. It was only after 72 days of hunger strike by the hostages and hundreds of Camp Ashraf residents and Iranians across the world that the Iraqi government was forced to release the hostages, who by then were on the brink of death.
April 2011, second attack by Iraqi forces against Camp Ashraf
Less than two years later, in April 2011, Maliki’s forces attacked Camp Ashraf for a second time, making extensive use of firearms and armored vehicles to shoot down and crush the residents. The brutal raid, which lasted many hours, left 36 dead in its wake, including 8 women. More than 350 were injured. Obama’s government condemned the massacre without taking any action to protect the residents from further attacks.
Residents of Camp Ashraf relocated to Camp Liberty under false promises
As 2011 came to a close, the U.S. and UN urged the residents of Ashraf to move to Camp Liberty, Baghdad, arguing they would thus be spared from further bloodshed and would be quickly transferred to third countries. Yet, four missile attacks on Camp Liberty claimed the lives of tens of residents and have left hundreds injured. The camp, as it turned out, was nothing like what Martin Kobler, then-Special Representative to the UN Secretary General in Iraq and head of UNAMI, had promised. At 80 times smaller than Ashraf and lacking in protective structures and equipment, Camp Liberty proved to be very vulnerable to the constant missile attacks that are launched against the residents. Furthermore, the camp is devoid of proper infrastructural facilities, which makes the lives of the residents very hard. With more than two years passing from their relocation, only ten percent of the residents have been resettled in third countries, and the rest continue to remain in awful living conditions and under the control of the same Iraqi forces and officers who had been involved in previous massacres in Ashraf. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council has, in its May 2012 Opinion, categorizedthe status of Camp Liberty residents as arbitrary detention, and General James Jones, former national security advisor to President Obama called the camp worse than Guantanamo prison.
Simultaneous with the relocation of Camp Ashraf residents to Camp Liberty in 2012, it was agreed between the U.S., UN, the government of Iraq and the residents themselves that a hundred residents remain in Camp Ashraf to negotiate the sale of the residents’ property. The U.S. and UN had given guarantees about the safety and security of those hundred individuals. A year went by, and the Iraqi government did not allow the residents to sell a dollar’s worth of their property, causing obstructions and persecuting the residents at every step of the way. During this period, the U.S. and UN legitimized Prime Minister al-Maliki’s illegal measures against Ashraf residents through their silence and inaction.
Third attack: September 1, 2013, Iraqi forces stage a massacre in Camp Ashraf
At length, on the dawn of September 1, 2013, the hundred remaining residents of Ashraf were attacked for the third time. The Prime Minister’s Special Forces broke into Ashraf with the full accord and cooperation of the forces that were supposedly in charge of the camp’s protection, exploded the residents’ property and brutally murdered 52 of the camp’s residents. Many of the victims were shot in the head while their hands were tied behind their backs.
The assailants abducted seven others, including six women, and quickly transferred them to the “Safe-houses” of the Iraqi Prime Ministry in Baghdad. Despite the passage of more than eight months, the hostages have not yet been released.
Western governments have condemned this attack, but despite repeated international appeals for an impartial investigation into the horrible September 1 massacre, no action has been taken thus far.
Iraqi forces continue to attack and persecute Camp Liberty residents
Camp Liberty itself has proven to be anything but a shelter and safe-haven for refugees. The camp was targeted with missiles on four accounts, the last one being December 26, 2013. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces refrain from taking measures to provide security for the camp. The threat of further attacks looms over the camp.
At the time that the camp was occupied by U.S. troops, its entire area was strewn with 4-meter tall T-Walls (prebuilt concrete walls) to protect its inhabitants from rocket attacks and explosions. But Iraqi forces removed all T-Walls immediately after the residents moved to the camp in order to keep them vulnerable against rocket attacks that are frequently launched against the camp. Despite the many requests by the residents and dignitaries and human rights organizations from around the world, the Iraqi government continues to hamper the process of returning the T-Walls to the camp.
Moreover, the residents of Camp Liberty are subjected to threats and persecution by Iraqi forces on a daily basis.
The Iraqi government allows no one to enter and visit the camp, including media, reporters, residents’ lawyers, parliamentary delegations, human rights organizations, and even family members of the residents. Furthermore, the residents are not free to go out of the camp.
Food and medical blockade, one of the methods of torture against Camp Liberty residents
Camp Liberty is under a total blockade by Iraqi forces, and Iraqi government interferes and causes obstructions in every aspect of the residents’ daily lives.
Another one of the issues that the residents are facing is the denial of medical services by the Iraqi government. The medical blockade that the Iraqi government has imposed on the residents has so far claimed the lives of 19 residents, and many more who suffer from dangerous diseases are facing a similar fate.
The Iraqi government also periodically prevents food from entering the camp, and at times, supplies purchased by the residents are blocked at the entrance of the camp for weeks on end. A large portion of the foodstuffs that enter the camp rot as a result of the delay caused by Iraqi forces and are no longer useable.
Prospects for the future of Camp Liberty
So far, the U.S. and UN’s plan to transfer Camp Ashraf residents to a Temporary Transit Location and safely have them transferred to third countries in the span of six months has been an utter failure.
Given the state of unrest in Iraq, the Iraqi government’s open hostility toward the residents of Camp Liberty, and the Iranian regime’s aspirations and continuous plots for the annihilation of opposition members, it is evident that the situation of these 3,000 refugees will only worsen in the coming months. More humanitarian disasters will surely come to pass unless the UN and U.S. government finally take action to ensure the safety and security of the residents and put an end to the intensifying siege that the Iraqi government is imposing against them.