Struan Stevenson: Refugees face certain death without US help

HUMILIATED and abused, thousands of innocent people are now at the mercy of Colonel Sadeq’s cruel regime, writes Struan Stevenson

MANY innocent refugees are facing death in camps in Iraq and only the US can save them. More than 3,000 men and women are at the mercy of brutal Iraqi military guards who have shown on two previous occasions their willingness to kill in cold blood. In 2009 and 2011, guards stormed Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad, killing 49 and wounding around 1,000. Despite these atrocities, Ashraf residents did not resist pressure to abandon their home of the last 25 years, when the UN and the US provided assurances that they were being moved to a temporary location near Baghdad Airport, where they could be interviewed and registered by the UN as refugees and then quickly re-settled to friendly countries outside Iraq; more than 2,000 refugees voluntarily left Ashraf and moved to Liberty where they immediately discovered that they were the victims of a cruel hoax. Instead of the first-class facilities in this former US military base they’d been shown in doctored photos by the UN, they found themselves in a slum, with dilapidated containers for living accommodation, broken sewage pipes, intermittent electricity and no running water.

But these 2,000 people, around half of them women, were now completely at the mercy of the Iraqi military, commanded by the notorious Colonel Sadeq, one of the alleged ringleaders of the two previous violent massacres. The refugees have been humiliated and abused. Requests for vital medicines and basic mobility equipment for the disabled have been refused. Attempts to have a main water supply connected at the refugee’s own expense have been repeatedly blocked. Even basic shelters to protect the residents from the blistering 55 degree sun have been refused. Army and police patrols surround and dissect the prison camp. In total breach of the UN’s own rules on refugee camps, the people are imprisoned, unable to leave the camp’s perimeter fence and unable even to accept visits from lawyers, politicians, family or friends. The bodies of three refugees who died in the camp have been held for months in Baghdad mortuaries despite endless pleas to return them to their families for burial. In a despicable move, Sadeq has ordered lorries laden with basic food supplies to be unloaded for inspection, leaving the food to rot in the sun for hours before it is inspected by his guards.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

And yet all of this inhumane treatment continues right under the noses of a large contingent of UN monitors, directly supervised by the UN’s special representative in Iraq, Martin Kobler, who signed a memorandum of understanding with the Iraqi government in respect of Ashraf and Liberty without the agreement of the refugees themselves. The deal, which was guaranteed by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton, underlined the need for humane conditions at Camp Liberty.

If Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has his way, the guards will be given the green light to go on another killing spree. He ordered the last two massacres at the direct behest of his key sponsors in neighbouring Iran. But the UN has already shown that it is unwilling to intervene again. Martin Kobler, has even praised al-Maliki’s “patience” and amazingly claimed that Camp Liberty is fit to house the remaining 1,000-plus residents who are now refusing to transfer from Camp Ashraf until their minimum humanitarian needs are met. Kobler’s comments, made to the UN Security Council, are tantamount to giving al-Maliki and his henchmen carte blanche for murder. Happily, some US lawmakers still believe their country has a moral duty to intervene. Seventy-nine congressmen wrote a letter to secretary Clinton earlier this month demanding that Washington keep its word. “Given the US role in providing guarantees for the protection of Camp Ashraf’s residents and in helping to facilitate the conclusion of a memorandum of understanding between the United Nations and the Government of Iraq,” they wrote, “the US is responsible for – and must ensure – that humanitarian protection for the residents of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty are upheld”.

Not only is it now the US government’s responsibility to protect this community from another massacre, the US must put pressure on the Iraqi government to ensure decent conditions for those holed up in Camp Liberty. Without US intervention, it is not only al-Maliki and his henchmen that will get their way. It is the mullahs in Tehran who will be happiest when the shots ring out once again in Camp Ashraf. This pariah regime has filled the Iraq power vacuum left by the departing US army, meaning that Maliki is sadly little more than a puppet on Tehran’s string. And Tehran wants nothing more than the annihilation of the Ashraf refugees because they are members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, the main Iranian opposition. With the Syrian regime looking more unstable by the day, Tehran is left with very few allies. The mullahs are paranoid about their own fate and will do everything in their power to crush their enemy. Only the US now stands between these refugees and certain death. Will the US government abandon the people it promised to protect when its troops liberated Iraq? Weakness in the face of Iraqi aggression since 2009 has emboldened the Maliki government, which feels it can act with impunity. The US must stand up to the aggressors or history will be unforgiving.

• Struan Stevenson is a Conservative MEP representing Scotland and the President of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with Iraq