By Hamid Yazdan Panah
September 1st marks the second anniversary of horrific massacre against Iranian refugees residing in Camp Ashraf Iraq, which left 52 residents dead. The massacre was carried out with brazen violence and shocking brutality. This incident was part of a series of attacks against Ashraf going back to 2009, none of which were ever investigated. This attack was a shameful reminder of the failures of the international community, particularly the United States and the United Nations, to protect innocent lives in Camp Ashraf.
Camp Ashraf has been home to members of Iran’s principal opposition organization the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) for almost 30 years. The Camp was built from the ground up, and attracted dissidents who fled Iran. In 2003 the Camp members signed an agreement with coalition forces which guaranteed their safety, and designated them as protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Following the withdrawal US troops from Iraq in 2009, the United States handed security of the camp over to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, who targeted the dissidents at the behest of his allies in Tehran. Over the course of three years, several violent raids against the camp left 49 residents dead. Each time the United States stood by and did nothing. Fearing for their safety, Camp residents agreed to be relocated to a new facility called “Camp Liberty” near the Baghdad airport in early 2012. Of the 3,000 residents that moved to Camp Liberty, 100 remained behind in order to secure the property that remained in Camp Ashraf. These 100 were targets of the despicable attack on September 1st 2013.
The continued suffering of residents of Camp Liberty is just the latest chapter in the failings of the United States and United Nations. Today, thousands of residents of Camp Ashraf remain in Camp Liberty, Iraq, awaiting relocation. They have been subjected to an inhumane siege by Iraqi forces, including denial of medical services. This mistreatment continues despite the fact that the US and UN had endorsed and guaranteed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Iraqi government and the UN in regards to the rights and protections of residents.
Not only were these attacks the result of a failure to protect by the United States, but they were the legacy of a misguided policy towards Iraq and Iran. Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the United States repeatedly made the mistake of appeasing the regime in Tehran. This included backing Iran’s choice for Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.
Maliki’s policies included attacking the residents of Camp Ashraf, while also terrorizing Sunnis throughout the country. He also attempted to turn Iraq into a dictatorship. In January 2011, he obtained a decision by Iraq’s highest court giving the Prime Minister’s office control of once-independent agencies. These agencies included the country’s central bank, agencies responsible for elections and investigating corruption. Shortly after the ruling, human rights groups reported that forces connected directly to Mr. Maliki continued to arrest, imprison and torture political enemies.
The eventual consequence of supporting Maliki in Iraq, and turning a blind eye to Iran’s involvement in Syria, led to the creation of ISIS.
In remembering the events of September 1st, one must ask, how long will the United States and United Nations ignore their obligations to the residents of Camp Liberty? How long will the people of the region have to suffer because of misguided attempts to appease the mullahs in Iran?
Hamid Yazdan Panah is an attorney focused on asylum and immigration in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is also a human rights activist focused on the Middle East and Iran.