U.S. Has Power to Stop Blockade on Iranian Dissidents in Iraq

Originally published on Clarion Project

In an unprecedented move, U.S. President Barack Obama chose in previous weeks to help the Yazidi and Turkmen communities in northern Iraq, who were besieged by the Islamic State (IS). The measures undertaken included humanitarian-aid drops as well as military support aimed at protecting the beleaguered communities and providing them with life-saving assistance. Following the U.S. intervention, other countries, including Britain, France and Germany contributed to the effort.

The decision, which some refer to a turning point in Obama’s foreign policy, is a testament to the fact that the international community can and must do more to prevent humanitarian crises across the globe.

In contrast, there are glaring instances of other catastrophes that could have been prevented with much less effort, but were abandoned and allowed to develop at the cost of many innocent lives.

The massacre at Camp Ashraf is one such example.

Last year in late August, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cut off the water and power of Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp in Iraq’s Diyala province inhabited by 100 members of the Iranian opposition group PMOI/MEK (the first party to reveal Iran’s illicit nuclear project in 2002). In tandem, Iraqi forces also prevented the delivery of food and medicine supplies to the camp’s residents.

Subsequently, the refugees and their representatives and lawyers abroad warned the U.S. and UN of an imminent catastrophe, but their calls fell on deaf ears. Absent a firm intervention – or any intervention for that matter – by UNAMI (the UN body in Iraq) and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the Iraqi government found the boldness to continue intensifying its repressive measures against the residents without fearing reprisal by the international community.

The crisis became exacerbated and eventually culminated in the September 1 massacre, where Iraqi Special Forces taking direct command from the Prime Minister’s office staged a brutal raid against the camp, murdering 52 residents and abducting seven others, including six women.

All victims had received solemn and explicit promises by the U.S. and the UN for their safety and security, promises that proved their worthlessness when they were gunned down and abducted by Iraqi forces trained by the U.S. military.

The U.S. and UN didn’t even bother to investigate the heinous crimes, and confided in al-Maliki – the perpetrator of the crime itself – to do so. After a year, not a single person has been arrested and the hostages have not yet been released.

Human Security Center, an independent global think tank, recently published a report in which the incident was thoroughly investigated and al-Maliki’s government was found responsible for crimes against humanity. HSC also criticized the West for its shortcomings in upholding its commitments to the residents of Camp Ashraf and its disinterest in addressing the plight of this community of Iranian dissidents, which continue to suffer at the hands of the government of Iraq.

Now, as we mark the first anniversary of the tragic and brutal massacre, the government of Iraq continues to suppress the Iranian refugees, who now reside in Camp Liberty in the vicinity of the Baghdad International Airport. For the past three weeks, the nearly-2,800 residents of Camp Liberty have been deprived of fuel, food, medicine and other basic humanitarian needs by the Iraqi government, which according to international law amounts to an act of war crime.

These actions follows an unofficial trip to Iraq by a high-profile Iranian delegation, in which Iranian officials demanded that their cronies in the Iraqi government mount pressure against Camp Liberty residents.

Due to the fact that the camp’s infrastructure is in a poor state and that all activities in the camp depend on electricity produced by fuel-consuming power generators, this illegal measure has set the stage for the occurrence of an imminent humanitarian crisis, threatening the lives of thousands of innocent refugees.

Even more concerning is the obvious parallel between the intensifying blockade against Camp Liberty and the events that led to the September 1 massacre, hinting that a similar plot being hatched by the Iraqi government and the Iranian regime. The consequences of inaction in this case are not hard to guess.

In a conference held in Paris on the first anniversary of the September 1 massacre, dignitaries from different countries warned against the imminent perils that threaten the residents of Camp Liberty and called on the U.S. and the UN to live up to their commitments regarding the safety and security of the 2,800 refugees who are all protected persons.

The speakers underlined the fact that the international community should not remain silent in face of this crime against humanity and thus allow another humanitarian catastrophe to unfold at Camp Liberty.

The stark difference between the plight of Camp Liberty residents and that of the Turkmen and Yazidi communities is that the source of their miseries isn’t the Islamic State but the government of Iraq itself, an entity that is supposedly an ally of the United States. This means that President Obama does not need to go out of his way with airstrikes and military intervention to remedy the situation.

Washington holds more than enough sway over Baghdad to rein in its criminal behavior and force it to lift the siege on the residents of Camp Liberty without firing a shot. The U.S. government can easily have the committee in charge of the camp replaced with persons that are not affiliated with the Iranian regime.

This would also send a strong message to Tehran, which is orchestrating the siege on Camp Liberty and is trying to take advantage of the current power vacuum in Iraq to expand its influence and strike against the PMOI/MEK, an organization that has proven its worth and value to the international community time and again.

Nothing justifies the continued idleness of the U.S. and UN in addressing the developing crisis in Camp Liberty. If the past serves as a prologue, another disaster lies at the end of this road unless clear, concrete measures are taken to end the five-year oppression of Camp Liberty residents.

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