Sunday Telegraph: While UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon parades the Olympic flag, his representative oversees a hideous tragedy in Iraq. The Sunday Telegraph
By Christopher Booker
When the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremony, alongside such champions of human rights as Daniel Barenboim and Shami Chakrabarti of Liberty, doubtless the last thing on his mind was the peculiar role being played by his personal representative in Iraq, a German diplomat named Martin Kobler. But Mr Kobler stands accused of conspiring with Iran (chief backer of the murderous regime in Syria) to commit a violation of rights so flagrant that it has been condemned, not just by politicians around the world, but by the UN’s own human rights committee.
The victims of this betrayal are 3,000 Iranian dissidents who lived for 30 years in a neat little town they built in the Iraqi desert, known as Camp Ashraf. When, after 1979, the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI) fled from their country’s tyranny, they came to be regarded by the Tehran mullahs as their chief enemies. Designated as “asylum seekers” under the Geneva Convention, the PMOI surrendered their arms in 2003, in return for personal guarantees of their safety issued by the US government. But after the US departure in 2009, Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, invited Iran’s Revolutionary Guards to join him in laying siege to Ashraf, with the stated intention that its residents would be deported to Iran, to face imprisonment or execution.
After a series of violent assaults on the town, in which 47 people were killed and hundreds injured, a deal was brokered last year by Mr Kobler, acting for the UN, whereby the residents would be transferred to a former US army base outside Baghdad, Camp Liberty, before being moved to safety in other countries. But when the first 2,000 residents arrived at Liberty, they found they were the victims of a hideous trick.
They were herded into what both the European Parliament and the UN’s human rights committee have described as a concrete-walled prison, robbed of their belongings, deprived of water, food, electricity and medical supplies, and harassed night and day by armed Iraqi and Iranian guards. The camp commandant was one Colonel Saddeq – indicted, in Spain, for his involvement in the earlier massacres at Ashraf.
There is abundant evidence for the extraordinary role played in all this by Mr Kobler. He has worked closely with the Iranians every step of the way. He personally told Struan Stevenson MEP, leader of the group on relations with Iraq in the European Parliament, that he wanted to see all the Ashraf residents housed in a Baghdad hotel, which turned out to be leased to the Iranian government. When, a few weeks ago, a group of 14 Iraqis unexpectedly arrived at the European Parliament to discuss Ashraf with Mr Stevenson’s group, among them was Col Saddeq – who, on Stevenson’s insistence, was barred from entering the building.
What is particularly odd about this story is that, on one side, the cause of the PMOI has won support from a remarkable array of public figures in Europe and the US, including a former head of the CIA; former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani; General David Phillips, former head of the US Military Police (who signed those personal guarantees to the Ashraf residents in 2003); and literally thousands of senators, MPs, MEPs and former ministers. Some of these, including Mr Stevenson, recently spoke on the betrayal of Ashraf to a rally of more than 100,000 Iranian exiles in Paris. On the other hand, the US State Department and our own Government continue to appease Tehran over the PMOI, as they have done for over a decade.
Oddest of all is the part played in this tragedy by the personal representative of Ban Ki-moon, who is so happy to pose at the Olympic Stadium and elsewhere as a leading champion of human rights.