Brief history of Ashraf City
Name and location:
Camp Ashraf, or Ashraf City as it was widely called, was home to approximately 3,500 members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI). The city is located in one of Iraq’s largest provinces, Diyala, and is approximately 80km northeast of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. It is 70km to the east of the Iran-Iraq border.
Upon the PMOI’s move to Iraq, the organization set up a number of bases along the Iran-Iraq border. What is now known as Ashraf City was one of those bases.
Ashraf City took its name from Ashraf Rajavi, a well known political prisoner during the time of the Shah. She was amongst the last group of political prisoners released from the Shah’s prisons in 1979.
Building the Camp
In 1986, Ashraf City was an approximately 40 square kilometer piece of barren land in a dry desolate desert. Only a handful of deserted buildings were standing and there were no facilities, paved roads, lamp posts or running water. However, by the toil, sweet and blood of its residents, it soon developed into a cultured, tidy and productive city. The residents built up squares, beautiful and well-maintained gardens, recreational facilities, giant Halls, meeting halls, air conditioned apartments, workshops and paved roads sided with tall trees. They established a well-equipped hospital, power plant and water purification plant. The PMOI pumped water from a Tigris offshoot 30 kilometers away from the camp and provide water to more than 20 thousand Iraqi inhabitants en rout to Ashraf.
Invasion of Iraq
During the US invasion of Iraq in April 2003, the PMOI / residents of Ashraf announced loudly and clearly that they will stand neutral, not engaging in war and therefore disclosed the coordinates of all their bases, through members of the British Parliament and the US Congress, to the United Nations, as well as the governments of the United Kingdom and the United States. Nevertheless, as part of an agreement reached between the US and UK governments and the Iranian regime, the Coalition forces carried out bombings of the PMOI, killing more than 50 with scores of inured and causing significant physical destruction of the PMOI bases. Ashraf sustained enormous damage. These attacks, killing non-combata were clearly breach of international law and culminated in war crime.
“Protected” Status recognised
Following an agreement in May 2003, the PMOI weapons and Ashraf were placed under the Coalition forces control in return for the Coalition to protect Ashraf. On 2 July 2004, the Commander of the Multi-National Forces-Iraq affirmed that the United States had recognized the ‘protected persons’ status of the individuals at Ashraf City under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
The illegal hand over, begining of attacks
On February 20, 2009, even though the residents strongly rejected their file being handed over to the Iraqi government, knowing the nature of al-Maliki and his allegiance to the Iranian regime, yet, the US administration transferred the control of Camp Ashraf to the the al-Maliki government in breach of non-refulement principle. That was the pivotpoint where all miseries commenced. Subsequently, the residents of Ashraf faced several minor attacks and two brutal deadly attacks in July 2009 and April 2011, which resulted in numerous deaths and scores of injured and damages.
Forced Eviction of the residents
Following these deadly attacks, the Iraqi Government stated its intention to close Camp Ashraf by the end of 2011. On September 13, 2011 the UNHCR declared the residents to be “asylum seekers under international law,” which entitled them “to benefit from basic protection of their security and well-being.” The UNHCR requested the al-Maliki government to extend its deadline. The then Special Representative of UN Secretary General for Iraq, Martin Kobler initiated a campaign in support of al- Maliki government’s forced eviction of the PMOI memebrs from Ashraf.
On the other hand, at the behest of the Iranian regime, al-Maliki government supported by the Martin Kobler, tried to terrify the residents in order to oust them from Ashraf eventually, setting several ultimatums and claiming that the patience of the Iraqi government is running out!
On December 25, 2011 Martin Kobler, and the Iraqi government signed Memorandum of Understanding, without the residents’ knowledge, forcing them to leave Ashraf to Camp Liberty. Thus, in February 2012, a forcible eviction rather than a consensual relocation started.
Within six months, approximately 3,100 of the residents were moved from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty. 100 residents remained behind at Ashraf to address the issue of property estimated more than five hundred million dollars. This was based on a quadrilateral agreement between the residents, UNAMI and Iraqi government, with support of the US, in which the protection of the residents was guaranteed.
1st Septemebr massacre, betrayed assurances
Despite promises assurances to protect the remaining residents, at dawn on September 1, 2013, Iraqi forces affiliated to the “Golden Division” (Special forces of the Iraqi government nick named “Dirty Division”) entered the camp, slaughtering 52 residents in a brutal manner. The assailants took 7 as hostages, 6 of whom were women and blew up buildings and vehicles on their way out.
Yet, the situation was very tense. The Iraqi forces threated to kill the survivors. On September 5, the Deputy SRSG, Ambassador Buzstine, came up with a joint plan dubbed “Security Arrangements in Camp Liberty” addressing the relocation of the survivors to camp Liberty. In return, the Iraqi government would guarantee safety and security of the residents and allow them to sell their property left behind in Ashraf. A day later, Ms. Elizabeth Jones, the then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, in a letter to Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, supported the above plan and wrote that if the residents accept this plan “The United Nations will help facilitate the safeguarding of the property at Ashraf through your retention of a trusted local security firm. The U.S. Embassy will do its utmost to support these efforts”.
Based on these guarantees, the last group of residents left Ashraf. However, in practice, none of the promises were kept and the residents have been unable to sell a penny of their assessments. The Iraqi government assigned the murderers of Ashraf residents in charge of Camp Liberty under the guise of “Camp management”. As a result, the residents are yet challenging an inhumane siege under prison-like conditions at Camp Liberty.