GOP Lawmaker: Securing Iranian Dissidents in Iraq Will Allow US to ‘Reclaim Some of Our Honor’

By Patrick Goodenough | May 19, 2016 | 4:24 AM EDT

Iranian dissidents living at Camp Liberty in Baghdad hold protest banners during a tour for foreign diplomats in 2012. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Securing the safe resettlement of some 2,000 Iranian dissidents housed at Baghdad’s Camp Liberty would allow the United States to “reclaim some of our honor as a country,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) said Wednesday, alluding to the way the U.S.-backed, Iran-friendly Iraqi government has treated them.

“It has been a black mark on our country on several – on many occasions, when we did not stick with the people who stuck with us,” Rohrabacher said during a House Foreign Affairs Committee markup of a bipartisan resolution providing for the safety of the camp’s residents.

He pointed as an example to Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. to track down Osama bin Laden and has been imprisoned in his home country since 2012. (Rohrabacher has led several efforts since then to condition U.S. aid to Pakistan on the release of Afridi.)

“What we have here today is a chance to make something right” and “reclaim some of our honor as a country,” he said.

Rohrabacher said although the residents have long opposed the “mullah dictatorship in Tehran” – an enemy of America – the U.S. has “let down the people who have put their lives on the line for us, and we’re just letting them drift.”

The residents of Camp Liberty are members of the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), who for three decades lived in exile in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, a foe of the Iranian regime.

The MEK and affiliated National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is credited with providing invaluable intelligence, including the key information in 2002 that exposed nuclear activities Tehran had hidden from the international community for two decades.  

After the U.S. in 2003 toppled Saddam, the MEK members were disarmed by agreement and confined to Camp Ashraf in Diyala province. The U.S. handed responsibility for them to the government of Iraq in 2009, and three years later Iraqi authorities moved them from Ashraf to Liberty, a former U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport.

Despite supposedly living under protection of international law, they have come under attack numerous times in both locations – most recently last October, when 24 were killed and more injured in a rocket attack claimed by an Iranian-backed Shi’a militia.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) pointed out that the U.S. has leverage with the Iraqi government, which relies on U.S. support.

“It should be called upon very strongly by the United States to meet its minimum human rights obligations to protect Camp Liberty.”

Sherman said whatever one’s view of the Iran nuclear deal, “the MEK has played a critical role in revealing information about Iran’s illegal nuclear program.”

“We all owe a debt of gratitude to the MEK for bringing this information to the world, and causing the United States and the world to focus on the problem.”

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which views the camp residents as “persons of concern,” says some 1,100 of the original group had been resettled by the end of last year, more than three-quarters of them taken in by Albania.

Roughly 2,000 remain, and efforts continue to resettle them, in Albania and elsewhere.

One of the hurdles to that goal is the fact that the camp residents have committed to pay the bulk of the costs of relocation to Albania – and to do so by selling property and assets they retain at Ashraf. (Albania is the fourth poorest country in Europe.)

But, according to the NCRI, Iraqi authorities have stymied efforts by the residents to sell that property, having on six occasions in six months preventing prospective Iraqi purchasers from entering the camp.

The resolution marked up on Wednesday refers to the issue, noting that the residents had left their property back at Ashraf “under the explicit agreement that they would retain title to such property and assets.”

It calls on the U.S. government to work with the Iraqis “to make all reasonable efforts to facilitate the residents’ access and ability to sell their property and assets remaining at Camp Ashraf for the purpose of funding their costs of living and resettlement out of Iraq.”

‘Their only crime is opposing the tyrants in Iran’

The resolution, authored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and with 58 co-sponsors from both parties, received the committee’s unanimous support.

Poe said 140 MEK members have been killed and 1,300 others injured in seven attacks on their two camps in Iraq. Seven have been kidnapped.

“Not one person has been held accountable for these murders, not one person has been arrested or gone to jail,” he said. "The residents live in constant fear of another attack. Their only crime is opposing the tyrants in Iran.”

The resolution condemns the attacks and urges Iraqi authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

It also calls on the U.S. to work with Iraq to ensure that none of the Iraqi forces providing security at Camp Liberty are, are have ever been, directly or indirectly affiliated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force or other groups associated with past attacks on the camps.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said it was no secret that Iraq has failed to protect the residents.

“Camp Liberty has never been given adequate protection, and now with the Iran nuclear deal and Iran getting more money to carry out its illicit activities, I fear that Liberty will be an even easier and larger target for the regime than before,” she said.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow