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United Nations' unfinished work in Iraq

By MURIEL TURNER, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Nov. 28, 2012 at 5:22 PM   |   Comments

LONDON, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Ten years after the Iraq war, the United Nations still has a major mandate and an unfinished business in that country.

When the United Nations reviews the situation in Iraq on Thursday, its role, the achievements of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq and the road ahead, it is reasonable to put the spotlight on Iranian dissidents who are cramped in a place in Iraq called Camp Liberty.

In reality, the situation of 3,400 Iranian refugees in Iraq, members of the People's Mujahedin of Iran, the principal Iranian opposition movement is a compelling example of a group in dire need of protection and assistance by the United Nations. Protecting the rights of displaced populations has been one of the main mandates of the United Nations and its raison d'ĂȘtre.

Before moving to Camp Liberty, what the United Nations describes as a Temporary Transit Facility, thousands of Iranian dissidents used to reside in Camp Ashraf a lively, vibrant and modern town that the residents built with their own resources in the course of a quarter century.

Following the invasion of Iraq, the residents received protected persons' status by the U.S. government and enjoyed cordial relations with the neighboring communities and the U.S. forces.

But as the United States was phasing out and handed over the protection of the camp to Iraqis, the situation of the dissidents rapidly deteriorated. The dissidents were attacked by the Iraqi government at the behest of the mullahs in 2009 and 2011 resulting in 49 killed and close to 1,000 injured.

In February of this year the PMOI commenced relocation from Ashraf to the new facility at Camp Liberty after being promised by the United Nations on several occasions that their rights, including the right to ownership and property will be respected.

The reality is that as the residents of Ashraf left their place of residence of 25 years partly based on the assurances provided by the United Nations, the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq has failed to meet its mandate of ensuring humanitarian standards in the new facility.

Upon arrival at Camp Liberty the PMOI members came face-to-face with what the U.N. Working Group for Arbitrary Detention described as a prison. Their access to clean water, electricity and basic tools to improve living conditions was greatly restricted. These restrictions have placed a strain on camp residents, making life miserable in Camp Liberty.

Ironically, despite international outcry from those who had friends and family in Camp Liberty, as well as dozens of former U.S. officials, and many parliamentarians the world over, the United Nations has failed to carry out its mission and mandate.

UNAMI is currently headed by Martin Kobler, who is supposed to be a facilitator (presumably to guarantee the U.N. Charter and values are upheld). He has drawn the ire of the camp residents with his close relationship with the government of Nouri al-Maliki and his failure to uphold promises he made to the residents. By belittling the legitimate grievances of the residents, Kobler has attempted to divert attention from the sub-humanitarian standard of living that has been forced upon the residents.

Earlier this year, Kobler took a one-week trip to Iran and has met on several occasions with the Iranian ambassador in Iraq on the fate of Iranian dissidents It has become obvious that Kobler would rather engage in talks with the dictators in Iran, rather than to keep an unbiased stance on the issue.

The main focus now is on the refugees' property. The residents were given assurance after assurance that they would be allowed to either move their property to Camp Liberty or to sell them. The property they earned by toiling for it for a quarter century.

In reality, the government of Iraq has been plotting to pilfer the belongings of the residents and Kobler has been either a tacit accomplice or a silent observer of Iraq reneging on its commitments.

Plundering under the watch of the United Nations is beyond comprehension. In one word, Kobler is acting as a facilitator for the government of Iraq. The Iranian dissidents, the U.N. valor, prestige and principles have all suffered because of Kobler's conduct.

It is time for the United Nations to take a stance against Kobler's actions and attitude. It should put in place a representative who would be mindful of the best interests of the residents and the United Nations, even if it that meant standing up to Iraq's egregious behavior.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees must also designate Camp Liberty as a refugee camp and accord it all protections and privileges given to a refugee camp under international law.

It is time, now, for the United Nations to make a stand. Anything short of that should get a failing grade come this Thursday. It is part of United Nations' unfinished business in Iraq.

--

(Baroness Muriel Turner of Camden was deputy speaker of the British House of Lords until 2008 and she is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.)

--

(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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