Home News Human Rights Why Is There a Bi-Partisan Push to Save Camp Liberty?

Why Is There a Bi-Partisan Push to Save Camp Liberty?

Although the underreported attack left 50 people wounded, several key politicians took notice and have responded.  Politicians like U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who condemned the attack in a statement. “Sadly, this is not the first time the residents of Camp Liberty have been the victims of horrific attacks,” McCain said. “And I remain deeply concerned about their safety. While I am pleased by the State Department’s effort to expedite the residents’ resettlement to a safe location, this latest attack demonstrates the need for the United States and Iraq to do more to ensure the security of Camp Liberty during this process.”

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) is the umbrella organization for several dissident movements from Iran, including the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK. The people attacked in Camp Liberty are connected to this group. When, on July 9, the “Free Iran” rally, an event that focused on working toward a democratic Iran, was held in Paris by the NCRI, it brought together more than 100,000 people including bi-partisan politicians, generals and activists from all over the world.  

The importance of the attack on Camp Liberty was highlighted as almost every American speaking at NCRI event mentioned it. Former White House director of public liaison Linda Chavez said, “Let’s honor and commend the bravery and dedication of Camp Liberty residents.” Francis Townsend, a former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, brought up the bipartisan advocacy on the part of Americans. “We’re not done with that work until the last person leaves Camp Liberty, we will not be stopped,” Townsend said.

According to Jorgensen, “It makes sense that Americans feel connected to what happens at Camp Liberty, since the location is a former U.S military base. The residents of the camp were evicted from their former location, Camp Ashraf, also a U.S. base.”

MEK members fleeing persecution in Iran set up a militarized presence in Iraq in 1986, at Ashraf, which came under U.S. control after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The MEK relinquished its weapons in 2004 and received protected status under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Retired Colonel Wesley Martin was the first U.S. military base commander, and he soon developed a professional relationship with the MEK.  When his tour of duty ended he stayed in communication with the group’s leaders on behalf of the State Department and the Pentagon. After 2009, U.S. support for camps such as Ashraf went away. The camp was turned over to Iraq’s government.

Numerous conflicts occurred, and the United Nations stepped in. Attempts at mediation with Iraq failed and in 2011, and Martin Kobler, head of the United Nations’ Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) took over. His goals shifted from seeking human rights assistance to a plan for relocation. This goal was much more acceptable to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  In 2012 the residents of Ashraf were removed to Camp Liberty, and they fell under the care of the UNHCR (United National High Commissioner on Refugees). 

The camp still exists with around 1,300 residents, who are once again being re-located at their own expense.  The UNHCR released a report congratulating itself on the relocation work done so far. 

Senator McCain is taking more aggressive action, pushing a resolution, S.Con.Res.42, to the Foreign Relations committee. Jorgensen reports that, “It passed unanimously, and now heads to the Senate for a floor vote.” She concluded, “This kind of soft pressure has proved effective in the past. According to Martin, larger groups of Iranians have been transferred out of the camp in recent weeks (though he worries another attack is likely to happen). The bipartisan support of humanitarian efforts to rescue people in Camp Liberty give the U.S. an even stronger voice on the issue, one expected to end by 2017.”