Daily Mail: In recent weeks the situation surrounding the safety of 3,400 members of an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq has taken a significant turn in the halls of the White House. The Daily Mail
By Lord Carlile Of Berriew
In recent weeks the situation surrounding the safety of 3,400 members of an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq has taken a significant turn in the halls of the White House.
As the US takes a keener interest in protecting these Iranians from the clutches of the regime in Tehran, it appears that this US administration has finally realised that it cannot allow Iraq to fall into the hands of Tehran.
How the story of Camp Ashraf now plays out will tell us much about where the future of Iraq lies.
Camp Ashraf has been home to the members of the Mujahedeen e Khalq (MEK), the main Iranian opposition movement, for over 20 years.
The group has found itself at risk as the current leadership in Iraq, lead by Nouri al-Maliki attempts to cement its relations with its neighbour Iran.
Attacked on two separate occasions by Iraqi forces, which left close to 50 residents killed and kept under an inhumane siege for the past 3 years, many feared for the group’s safety as the end of 2011 as a deadline set by the Iraqi authorities for the closure of Camp Ashraf drew closer.
With the intervention of the UN’s special representative to Iraq, the EU’s foreign policy chief and the US Secretary of State, Iraq has been forced to step back from the disclosed deadline and permit the international community time to re-house the residents in third party states.
In the context of international law, the international community is doing what it must to protect these defenceless and unarmed civilians. And in the context of the history in which the US provided personal guarantees to the residents, it is doing what it should to ensure a peaceful solution is reached. However, although the steps recently taken are positive, without continual and clear indications to the Iraqi government that the world is watching, the threat of violence remains.
There remains much for this US administration to do to complete the task of peaceful relocation. This is because although the residents of Camp Ashraf have agreed to move camp, they remain in grave danger. This week alone there have been three separate rocket attacks on the camp and the Iraqi authorities have stated that they will prevent the residents from taking their personal belongings with them to Camp Liberty.
Not only is the Iraqi government reneging on its assurances to protect the residents, it is also stalling the process for UN interviews to re-house the residents. Once again the Iraqi government is pushing the boundaries and etching away at the rights of the residents. Undoubtedly with every day that Iraq is allowed to delay this process, the greater the risk of a further massacre of residents.
It is therefore critical that pressure on the Iraqi government is intensified. The residents of Camp Ashraf have agreed to a transfer to Camp Liberty, a major step for them to risk the threat of attack during transfer and at a new camp which is unknown to them.
Having taken such a step on the faith of statements made by the UN, EU and most importantly Hillary Clinton vowing to guarantee their protection during this process, the world must not let these defenceless Iranians down. The US administration must now agree to the minimum requirements the residents need in accepting relocation and ensure that the Iraqi government adheres to them. Further, the US must pressurise the UN and the Iraqi government to make it clear that the current stalling tactics of the Iraqi government will not be accepted.
Although the story is very much one of humanitarian assistance for a group of unarmed and defenceless civilians it undoubtedly has a greater message for the future of Iraq. If dealt with peacefully, it will tell us that Iraq can move forward without Tehran being a dominant influence on their land. Failure will leave Iraq in turmoil.
Clinton and her team in Iraq must succeed in guaranteeing the safety of the Camp Ashraf residents. This will allow the UN to carry out the ultimate relocation work. Not only will this ensure that the US has carried out its humanitarian duty, but further it will leave Iraq less influenced by Iran and the US seen as a nation which lives up to its obligation. This is something that the entire democratic opposition movements of the Arab Spring will look to for hope and is a test which the US cannot fail.