There are More Lives to be Saved after Camp Liberty’s Deliverance

On September 9, the international community completed a five-year process of resettling Iranian refugees, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran, who had been trapped in a former US military base and subjected to abuse and ill-treatment by the Iraqi government and their Iranian puppet-masters. Camp Liberty was meant to be only a brief stopping point on the way to permanent resettlement, following the forced closure of the self-built community of Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq. But interference from the Iranian regime and its regional proxies, together with unfortunate reticence from the Obama administration and other Western executives, had delayed the process for more than five years.

The PMOI is the leading source of organized resistance against the Iranian regime. The decades-old group and its more recently established parent organization the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) have outlined a future for the Iranian nation that is essentially the antithesis of what defines today’s Islamic Republic. The ten-point plan by Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the NCRI describes the maintenance of free, democratic elections, the separation of religion and state, and the defense of the rights of women and minorities. As such, it has consistently proven itself to be a natural ally of the world’s democracies, even though the leadership of those democracies has sometimes failed to recognize this.

Despite that neglect, support for the PMOI and its affiliates has grown throughout the years and the successful resettlement of the Camp Liberty residents is the latest proof of this. More than that, it is an important depiction of the sort of thing that can be accomplished – and the lives that can be saved – if the advocates for a free Iran take action to forestall the Iranian regime’s violent plans. The Iranian exiles living in Iraq were under constant threat from the moment the Iranian mullahs dug their hooks into the Iraqi government following the US occupation. It was with direct input from Tehran that the then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki forced the closure of Camp Ashraf and attacked its last remaining residents before the relocation to Camp Liberty could be completed.

The last assault on Camp Ashraf, in September 2012, killed more than half of the 100 people who had remained behind, with the intention of handling the sale or transfer of the community’s property. Subsequently, five missile attacks and a medical blockade led to dozens more deaths. By the time Camp Liberty was fully evacuated, 177 people had been killed. Although thousands of others were fortunately saved, their property remains an issue to be legally resolved, as computers and personal belongings were unlawfully confiscated by Iraqi authorities, who also blocked the sale of over 10 million dollars’ worth of goods.

The struggle for these people continues, but the worst is over. The PMOI’s international supporters deserve much credit for what they have done, but they should keep an eye on issues related to the Iranian resistance and Iran’s regional and international influence. Those supporters can still make a tremendous difference, even at a time when the leadership of the US and Europe is myopically focused on a nuclear agreement and the pursuit of trade agreements with the Iranian regime.

Human rights organizations have observed that many of the ongoing abuses inside the Islamic Republic have been given short shrift in the international media because of the single-mindedness of leading global policymakers. To this it might be added that the Camp Liberty situation was also a victim of unfortunate neglect, exacerbated by the fact that the slow response to the plight of the PMOI constituted a violation of commitments that the US had made to those people when it gave the Camp Ashraf residents protected persons status under the Geneva Conventions and promised to help facilitate their relocation.

In the end, the State Department did step up to the plate with Secretary Kerry visiting Albania in February to help guarantee that a large majority of the remaining Camp Liberty residents would be relocated there. This had no doubt been motivated by the persistent attention that the PMOI’s advocates in Congress had given to this issue. Their efforts helped to give political cover to the residents and may have thereby saved the lives of thousands of people who would have otherwise been subject to more frequent and severe missile attacks and military assaults.

But we must not ignore the possibility that if more public attention had been given to Camps Asharf and Liberty in the first place, perhaps no one would have needed to die at all. These avoidable deaths should serve as a call to action for Western policymakers of every stripe to encourage greater attention for human rights issues as they relate to Iran. While the world has been chasing after oil imports and trade agreements with the government of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, that same government has overseen more than 2,700 executions and has continued to follow a policy of violence and terror against the PMOI and other opponents of the theocratic regime.

We can stop these cruelties. The successful relocation of the Camp Liberty residents is proof of that. But we must first exhibit greater political will, even if it comes at the expense of the nuclear agreement or the foolish dream of making friends with the Islamic Republic.

Struan Stevenson

President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.)