The plight of Iranian dissident refugees in Iraq

While the world is focused on the battle against ISIS (Daesh), there is another situation in Iraq which has in general passed under the radar of most people who are watching events in the Middle East. That is the extreme hardship and in certain cases summary execution of Iranian dissidents who are living in prison like refugee camps in Iraq.

This situation was brought to my attention by an associate of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). While I don’t get involved in politics, the humanitarian situation is one which needs to be spoken about. First there needs to be some background to bring things into context. The People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) a major member of the National Council  of Resistance of Iran began in the 1960’s as a group involved in armed struggle against the Shah of Iran. After his overthrow in 1979, PMOI sided briefly with Ayatollah Khomeini the new ruler of Iran. However, a power struggle broke out between PMOI and Khomeni and the Revolutionary Guards, resulting in street battles. When the Iran-Iraq war broke out, Saddam Hussein gave them refuge in Iraq from where they launched military operations into Iran.

In 2003, PMOI renounced all violence and disarmed itself. Since 1985 these Iranian dissidents have been living in Camp Ashraf in Iraq. They basically built it from nothing, a city of some 14 square miles and home to thousands of people. It has all the features of a modern city and is very well looked after. In 2004 the US led Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I) formally recognized all the residents of Camp Ashraf as “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention [Coalition Statement, July 2004], and U.S. forces took up their protection. So what went wrong and how did the humanitarian crisis develop?

Camp Ashraf

Camp Ashraf

In 2009, responsibility for the protection of the residents of Camp Ashraf was handed over to Iraq. That same year, Iraq launched an attack against it and again in 2011. The first attack killed 11 and wounded some 500, the second attack killed 36 as well as wounding many hundreds. There have also been cases of summary executions carried out against certain residents. Since 2009, Ashraf has essentially been placed under siege with basic supplies heavily restricted. Considering the fact that they are protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention the question must be asked, why has this been allowed to happen?

The answer is quite simple, the Iraqi government under then Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was under the direct influence of the Iranian government. Iran has never forgiven the people of Camp Ashraf for standing against it, even if they renounced all armed resistance years before. Using the Iraqi government, Iran is determined to make them pay. The situation has not changed since the creation of a new government in Iraq under Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Iranian influence is still directly felt.

To make matters worse, in 2012 residents of Camp Ashraf began to be forcibly evicted and transferred to Camp Liberty, an ex US base in Baghdad. The conditions there are horrendous, it has been turned into little more than a prison camp, food and medicine is restricted, young and old alike are treated as prisoners. They have lost their freedom of movement to go outside the camp. The Iraqi government has forbidden the use of heavy machinery which could be used to help them build homes and move heavy items. It would appear the government wants to humiliate them as much as possible.

Camp Liberty

Camp Liberty

The question has to be, how is it possible that these people, who have personal letters of protection from the United Nations, giving them protection under the Fourth Convention are allowed to be treated this way, when they were doing no harm to anybody? Yes, they want to see change in Iran, but the armed struggle was given up a long time ago. Camp Ashraf had developed into a modern city where people lived quietly and had a good quality of life. Now they are being kept in a ghetto.

The USA has certainly abdicated its responsibility to these people. It was the US which made an investigation of every single resident to see if they were involved in armed struggle and it was the US which then took on the responsibility of protecting them. Handing over this responsibility, it must have known what would happen as the Iraqi government is so much under the influence of Iran. The US and the UN have effectively turned their backs on these people for purely political reasons. Mainly to keep negotiations on track with Iran as well as its usefulness in balancing the power of Saudi Arabia in the region, add to this the need to keep the Iraqi government on side in the “war on terror”. So what, if a few thousand men women and children have to suffer as a result of political expediency!

 This article is also cross-posted at DigitalJournal.com

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11 thoughts on “The plight of Iranian dissident refugees in Iraq

    • The US was stationed at Camp Ashraf to make sure nobody attacked, and nobody did. Soon after they pulled out the attacks began. It wasn’t about fighting, it was about being a restraint on the new Shia led Iraqi government.

      • Fight wasn’t meant literally, nor specific to US; resources everywhere are stretching thin. Perhaps we’re all going about this all wrong.

      • I wonder, after 12,000 years, is it still irony; or is it just insanity? lol

      • A combination of the both I think.
        You see that Kerry said saving Kobani is not a strategic objective? I have had a strong suspicion for a while that the USA is supporting Turkey in its nefarious objectives and at the same time is not as anti ISIS as it makes us all believe. Could well be part of the plan to use them to break up the Middle East but without allowing them to become too strong.

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