By Struan Stevenson
For the Iranian opposition members trapped in Camp “Liberty”, near Baghdad Airport, the name of their tiny compound has become a sick joke. These refugees are the final remnants of a substantial community numbering almost 4000, that occupied a vast sprawling enclave called Camp Ashraf, 60 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala Province. They fled to Iraq following a vicious pogrom in the 1980’s which saw over 120,000 of their People’s Mojahedin’s Organisation of Iran (PMOI) movement executed by the theocratic Iranian regime. They built Camp Ashraf into a large, thriving city with parks, streets, factories, a library, museum, university and accommodation and they lived there in harmony with the local Iraqi population.
In 2003, after the US invaded Iraq, Camp Ashraf residents delivered their arms – their only means to defend themselves – to the US army and in exchange the US government pledged to protect them. In 2004, the residents were recognized as “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention and they lived in relative peace and security until 2009, when the American occupying forces transferred control of the camp to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, a venally corrupt puppet of the turbaned tyrants in Tehran.
On orders from Tehran, Maliki sealed off the camp, prohibiting visits from family members, lawyers, NGOs or politicians. He then supervised a series of orchestrated attacks on the defenceless civilian residents of Camp Ashraf. Heavily armed troops in Iraqi combat gear, often accompanied by Iranian veterans, attacked the unarmed residents repeatedly, leading to over 141 deaths and 1,400 serious injuries over the course of the past 7 years. A constant siege of the camp with a blockade on medicines and vital medical aid led to a further 27 deaths. Indeed the lack of action by the UN, EU and US simply emboldened the Iraqis and their Iranian puppet-masters, who began a campaign of psychological torture against the Ashraf residents, surrounding the camp with gigantic banks of industrial loudspeakers through which they broadcast paralysing cacophonies of foul abuse and threats for months on end.
Finally, on pain of death, Maliki ordered the expulsion of the PMOI residents from Ashraf and their compulsory relocation to the tiny half square kilometre compound called Camp Liberty, a former US military base. Maliki’s cronies then systematically looted Ashraf, seizing fixed and movable property valued at more than $550 million. To facilitate their re-location to Camp Liberty, the UN mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the US, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Iraqi government in which it was agreed that the PMOI refugees would be individually interviewed by the UN, registered as bona fide refugees and shipped out to countries of safety in a ‘revolving door’ system of transfers. This turned out to be a classic act of betrayal, with the US and 28 EU Member States uttering sympathetic noises but refusing to take all but a tiny handful of the stranded refugees.
Located close to Baghdad Airport, Camp Liberty is inside a tight security zone. Only UN or Iraqi military personnel can gain regular access. Nevertheless, massive military rocket-launchers were permitted to trundle up to the camp’s perimeter, from where vicious missile attacks were launched. In December 2013, three residents were killed by a deadly rocket barrage; on 29th October 2015, more than 80 rockets were fired into the camp’s sleeping quarters during the night, killing 24 refugees and injuring dozens. Again, on the 4th July this year, fifty 240 mm Falaq-1 (Iranian made) missiles were fired into the camp. After each assault, the Iraqi government routinely denies knowledge of the perpetrators and the West fails to hold them to account. A total blockade of Liberty during Ramadan, prevented food, fuel and medicines from entering the camp for 20 days. The lack of fuel meant that there was no electricity and no air conditioning when temperatures soared to over 50 degrees centigrade.
In the midst of this hell only tiny Albania has been prepared to stick its head above the parapet, providing a safe haven now for over one thousand PMOI refugees. Faced with the imminent rescue of all the remaining dissidents from Camp Liberty, the furious Iranian regime has stepped up its attempts at coercion. This week around 200 intelligence ministry (MOIS) and Qods force agents from the Iranian regime have been allowed to surround Camp Liberty. Once again they have been given access through the tight security cordon surrounding the camp by posing as family-members connected to the camp’s residents. Yet these bogus family members spend their days shouting abuse at the residents through loudspeakers, while taking photographs and conducting intensive surveillance of the camp’s interior layout. This is a familiar pattern of behaviour, which always preceded previous lethal rocket attacks. The unusually large number of these agents demonstrates that this is a planned conspiracy by the Iranian regime aimed at annihilating the remaining Liberty residents.
The UN, US and EU can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines, afraid to criticise the Iraqi government or their Iranian cronies, while such blatant abuse of human rights continues under their noses. The signs are there for all to see. Another massacre is in the offing and the ill-named Camp Liberty will become a place of bloodshed and death unless urgent action is taken. The 1500 vulnerable residents in Liberty must be given immediate US military or UN blue-helmet protection while every effort is made to expedite the rescue mission, until the last remaining PMOI refugee is able to breathe the air of freedom in Albania.
Struan Stevenson was a member of the European Parliament, representing Scotland, from 1999 to 2014. He chaired the Friends of a Free Iran Intergroup (Caucus) in the European Parliament for over 10 years. He was President of the Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014. He is now President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA).