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The other humanitarian crisis

By IVAN SASCHA SHEEHAN, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 13, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

BALTIMORE, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- As the world watches the bloodshed in Syria with horror, another humanitarian crisis looms in Iraq. Both crises involve violence directed at pro-democracy groups. And both crises involve the active participation of the regime in Iran.

Whereas the Syrian opposition in Damascus has the backing of the U.S. government, the Iranian opposition detained at the site of the abandoned U.S. military installation, Camp Liberty, is being hung out to dry.

This week, 2,000 members of People's Mujahedin of Iran await their fate. If the United States and European Union fail to build sufficient support to protect the residents on humanitarian grounds, more than 1,000 additional dissidents will be under pressure from the Tehran-friendly Iraqi government to move from Camp Ashraf, their home for decades, to a so-called "temporary" transfer center run by the Maliki government in Iraq.

The conditions at the facility run by Baghdad are, by all accounts, deplorable and have been alternately described as worse than a prison and in utter disrepair. That the residents have signed agreements with the United States to provide for their protection seems not to matter. Neither apparently are the residents' Geneva Conventions rights. But the persecution of a valuable ally in the fight to curtail Tehran's regional influence should be of great concern to both U.S. and European legislators.

As a gesture of goodwill, 400 Ashraf residents agreed to commence their relocation to Camp Liberty. To date, officials have met the gesture of cooperation with silence.

World leaders must ensure the safety of the residents by pressing humanitarian concerns. Protecting and ultimately unchaining the Iranian opposition is a necessary check on Tehran's growing influence and lawmakers must act before it's too late.

PMOI is the primary organized opposition to clerical rule in Iran. It has long abandoned its arms and is opposing the regime by building grassroots support for democratic change. Their network inside the country is unparalleled. Their global appeal is par none. Less than two months ago, supporters of PMOI and the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the coalition government in exile, gathered more than 100,000 expatriate Iranians, bipartisan U.S. lawmakers and parliamentarians from around the globe to call for democratic change in Tehran, respect for human rights and a government that values all of Iran's voices.

The regime in Iran has long sought to break the back of PMOI's organized resistance through harassment and violence. Attacks in 2009 and 2011 left scores injured and killed. Now Tehran is asking for the world's assistance in the forcible transfer of opposition to a location at which they will be even more vulnerable to persecution and mistreatment.

At Camp Liberty, the Iraqi government refuses to provide electricity and safe drinking water or allow the building of walkways to provide a means of transportation for residents that are elderly, sick, wounded or handicapped. They have also denied resident's requests to build canopies to provide for shelter from the scorching sun or allow for outdoor recreational activities.

As Tehran drills down on their opposition, the regime's violent tendencies have been on full display for the world to see.

In July, John Sawers, the head of Britain's foreign intelligence agency -- MI-6 -- said his agents had prevented the Islamic Republic from acquiring the technology to build a nuclear bomb as early as 2008. He also made the sobering prediction that, if not stopped, Iran would have the capability by 2014.

If this isn't enough, the regime has fresh Israeli blood on its hands for the targeting of tourists, including children, in a vicious suicide bombing in Bulgaria. A definitive fingerprinting is to be established but the attack has all the hallmarks of a hit by the Iranian-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah.

The Iranian regime is also publicly supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad's violent crackdown of his country's democratic uprising. The transfer of 17 months' worth of guns, munitions, aircraft and tools for monitoring domestic dissent has led to an incalculable cost in human life.

In spite of the violence directed at them, PMOI requests and preconditions for transfer have been entirely reasonable and consistent with international laws and procedures. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently expressed the United Nations' commitment to a peaceful resolution to the transfer of the remaining residents from Ashraf to Liberty. Now the United States and the world must put pressure on the Iraqi government to ensure that basic humanitarian conditions are put in place so that residents can relocate safely and ultimately be moved to third countries where they can live freely.

As nuclear talks between EU and Iranian negotiators continue this month, the U.S. Department of State and senior government officials the world over must speak up for the residents of Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty and highlight the looming humanitarian crisis. They would also be wise to build support for the re-designation of the residents of the camps as refugees to ensure their future protection.

Finally, Hillary Clinton should exercise her capacity as U.S. secretary of state to formally remove PMOI from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list. The pejorative tagging only justifies mistreatment, strips the opposition of their humanity and denies the world access to a valuable agent for change in Tehran. If Clinton fails to act, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington has promised to do it for her on Oct. 1.

Over the past decade, PMOI has been a valuable partner to the United States and European Union in terms of providing intelligence related to the location and nature of Iran's emerging nuclear program as well as Iran's export of terrorism and fundamentalism. Their consistent calls for democratic elections, freedom of expression, gender equality, and positive relations with Western powers constitutes a platform for change that the world can support with confidence.

As the regime in Iran extends its arc of influence and consolidates power by closing ranks with Shiite officials in Baghdad and Islamists that threaten regional stability, the world must find ways to embrace the Iranian resistance and support democratic change in Tehran.

PMOI represents a friendly alternative to the Islamic Republic's theocratic regime and the best hope for a secular, tolerant, peaceful, non-nuclear government in Iran that upholds the basic human rights of all of its citizens.

The democratic heirs to the ayatollah may soon be at Camp Liberty. It's time to demonstrate support for their humane treatment and protection.

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(Ivan Sascha Sheehan is the director of the Negotiation and Conflict Management graduate program in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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