As a young man growing up in the United States, I have come to recognize the importance of freedom, equality, and justice. Throughout my life, I have sought to cherish these values and fight for the rights of those who have been denied the same privileges we enjoy in this country. My personal experiences only strengthened my beliefs. On Sept. 1, 2013 my father, Ali Asghar Emadi, was one of 52 Iranian refugees murdered, execution-style, by Iraqi security forces, in Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
Today, more than two thousand Iranian dissidents are trapped in a prison-like camp, ironically called Camp Liberty, in Iraq, and need our help if they are to survive.
My father was one of thousands of Iranian dissidents who escaped political persecution in Iran and fled to Camp Ashraf in Iraq. During his time in Ashraf, he and his colleagues turned an arid piece of land into a modern mini-city as part of their struggle against the theocracy in Iran. Tehran viewed them as an existential threat because they inspired Iranians, including women and youth, to resist the oppression of the mullahs. Despite their vulnerable position, the residents of Ashraf were supposed to be protected by the United States. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, every Ashraf resident signed an agreement with the U.S. that gave them protected persons status in return for voluntarily disarming.
In 2009, however, in breach of that written commitment, the U.S. turned over their protection to the government of Nouri al-Maliki, who was nothing more than a puppet of the Iranian regime. Camp Ashraf was repeatedly attacked by the Iraqi military at the behest of Tehran. Deadly attacks in 2009 and 2011 left 49 residents dead and hundreds wounded.
Documentary evidence, including leaked cables, revealed not only that Iraq was taking orders from Iran, but that the United States turned a blind eye to the massacre. In fact Iran formally thanked the Iraqi government for the raids, making it clear that the orders came from Tehran.
During these attacks my friends and family did all that we could to bring attention to this cause. I took many trips to DC to talk to Congress members, we organized rallies and sit-ins, including one that lasted 72 days across from the White House. Little did I know at the time that my father would become a victim of the deadliest attack against Ashraf in 2013.
Despite all of our efforts, despite all the promises by politicians and institutions, despite all the treaties and accords under international law, nothing was done. To this day we have received nothing but broken promises and empty words. Despite its obligations, the U.S. failed to protect these dissidents when they were attacked by the Iraqi army, and failed to protect my father when he was murdered in cold blood.
Now, my fathers’ friends and many of my other family members reside in Camp Liberty near Baghdad. A reportpublished by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said the conditions of the camp were akin to a prison and described the situation of the residents as a violation of international humanitarian law.
Recent reports from the camp indicate that residents continue to suffer from problems related to infrastructure, sanitation and lack of access to proper medicine and supplies. The Iraqi army continues to impose severe restrictions against camp residents. In the chaos that has enveloped Iraq, little attention is being paid to these refugees, despite the fact that they are essentially imprisoned in this camp with no support.
The United States has all but forgotten the promises it made to protect these dissidents, and remains disengaged from the entire affair, perhaps because it does not want to antagonize the mullahs of Iran. This is unacceptable. Congress must press the administration and the Iraqi government to uphold their commitments to the safety and security of the residents of Camp Liberty, whose role is critical in the fight for democracy in Iran.
The memory of my father and what he believed in inspires me every day to stand and fight for those who are following his path. His legacy is not forgotten, but lives on in the hearts of those who remain committed to pursuing the ideals of freedom, democracy, and human rights in Iran. It lives on in the residents of Camp Liberty, and we must do all that we can to ensure that they are protected until they are relocated to a safe and suitable environment.
Emadi is an advisory board member and spokesperson for the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (www.oiacus.org). He holds an MBA in Global Management and a BA in International Security and Conflict Resolution.