Published on Washington Times
A bipartisan group of former officials and retired military officers is urging President Obama to provide humanitarian aid to hundreds of Iranian dissidents living at a former U.S. military compound near Baghdad’s international airport.
In an Aug. 28 letter to the president, the group said Iraq’s government has been blocking the delivery of food and medicine to the dissidents at Camp Liberty for about a week. Conditions at the refugee camp have been deteriorating rapidly as its exiled residents “are being denied proper means to sustain life.”
“This is the seventh day that the Iraqi government has blocked food and medicine from being allowed into this camp of nearly 2,900 Iranian dissidents,” the letter states. “It is also the tenth day that the residents have been unable to remove sewage from the camp. With one exception, this is the fifteenth day they have been blocked from receiving fuel to operate their equipment.”
Among the more than two-dozen signers of the letter: former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, former Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Jones and retired Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment on the letter, and The Washington Times could not immediately verify its claims.
Several of those who signed the letter have been paid speaking fees by the Iranian opposition group Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), which has opposed Tehran’s Shiite-led government for decades. The group was welcomed by Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, and was disarmed by American troops during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. It was removed from EU and U.S. terrorist lists in 2009 and 2012, respectively.
The MEK has long advocated for better conditions for the Iranian dissidents in Iraq and for a resolution of their refugee status.
Outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has been accused of allowing Iraqi gunmen to attack the exiles’ former camp, killing dozens, as recently as last September.
Frances Townsend, a former homeland security adviser for President George W. Bush who also signed the letter, accused the Obama administration of inaction and of breaking promises to the Iranian dissidents, during an Aug. 30 panel discussion on the Middle East crisis at the Willard Intercontinental hotel in Washington. She said the U.S. government made promises to the dissidents “for basic human dignity,” such as water, medical supplies and security.
“We must continue to speak out and demand action that promises be kept for water and medical treatment and security in Liberty,” Ms. Townsend said.
Gen. Jones, who also spoke during the panel, said the dissidents require similar protection as the religious minorities who are fleeing persecution from the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.
He said Camp Liberty’s tenants are no different from the Yazidis and the Kurds who are a focal point of the Obama administration’s humanitarian mission. Captives at Camp Liberty are a minority, too, and are in dire need of our protection, he said.