Iranian exiles deserve better
- Last Updated: 11:52 PM, July 20, 2012
- Posted: 11:47 PM, July 20, 2012
For a group of 4,000 Iranian refugees living in Iraq, a UN report this week could prove crucial in determining whether they’ll live as virtual prisoners in the desert or be able to build new lives in freedom elsewhere.
The refugees are members of a controversial Iranian dissident group, the Mujahedeen-e-Khalk, which is on the US Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. That listing itself is controversial: The United Kingdom, the European Union and a number of other nations have removed the MEK from their lists of terrorist organizations, and the United States may soon be forced to do so as well.
A successful suit by the MEK resulted in a recent order from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit requiring Secretary of State Hillary Clinton either to delist the group or produce evidence that it remains a current and credible threat to US interests. But until the issue is resolved, the fate of the MEK members living in Iraq remains precarious.
The MEK members originally came to Iraq in 1986 during the Iran-Iraq war. As Iranians opposed to the regime in Iran, the MEK proved useful allies to Saddam Hussein. They were allowed to build a modern city near the Iraq-Iran border, Camp Ashraf, which was allegedly used as a base for MEK fighters to launch attacks on the Iranian regime.
During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK remained neutral and eventually turned over their arms to the US military. According to testimony by Brig. Gen. David Phillips, the head of the American military police in Iraq, his troops conducted a thorough, door-to-door inspection of Ashraf to ensure compliance. Until 2009, the US military retained a presence in the camp, and those on the ground reported full cooperation from the MEK.
Things changed dramatically when the Iraqis assumed control of the camp in 2009. Instead of protecting the residents, as the Iraqi government had promised, Iraqi forces attacked Camp Ashraf twice, killing 49 unarmed people and injuring hundreds of others.
Then the Iraqis insisted that the residents be moved from Camp Ashraf to an abandoned US base, Camp Liberty. The terrorized residents had little choice. With pressure coming from our State Department and American assurances that they’d be safe and secure in their new home, Camp Ashraf residents began moving to Camp Liberty last year.
More than 3,000 have now relocated to Camp Liberty, but the place belies its name. The refugees lack not only freedom of movement and the right to have visitors, but also adequate water, sanitation and electricity, making life nearly unbearable.
The residents have asked permission to be able to bring construction vehicles, large generators, specially equipped vans for the elderly and disabled and personal belongings and cars from Camp Ashraf, but the Iraqi government has prevented them from doing so despite assurances to the contrary.
Last December, the United Nations signed a memorandum of understanding with Iraq’s government guaranteeing humanitarian protection for the residents of Camps Ashraf and Liberty. But MEK members fear that the report to be presented to the UN this week on whether that pact is being observed will not fully reveal the dire conditions in Camp Liberty.
Yet the UN and the US government continue to push for the remaining residents of Camp Ashraf to leave their belongings, their vehicles and the comfortable living conditions in which they have lived for two decades and resettle in Camp Liberty, which lacks basic infrastructure and humane living conditions.
The MEK have asked for basic guarantees if they are to abandon Camp Ashraf for Camp Liberty: to be allowed to bring air conditioners, trucks, forklifts, vans for the disabled and passenger cars; to build footpaths, ramps and porches or awnings on buildings for shade; to connect Camp Liberty to the Baghdad water supply or allow residents to pump water and purify it on the premises; to allow residents to sell and buy from local merchants; and to negotiate with the Iraqi government for sale of the property and assets remaining in Camp Ashraf.
There are many humanitarian crises in the world today, and few of them have easy solutions. But the crisis at Camps Ashraf and Liberty are resolvable — if the United States and United Nations insist that the residents of those camps be accorded their rights.Follow @NYPostOpinion