Obama must tackle Iraq’s new dictator

THE INDEPENDENT(blog) – By Lord Tony Clarke
Few could have expected it. Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, once the darling of bi-Partisan US administrations, today seems engulfed in domestic upheaval as the Arab Spring has shown no sign of abating in Iraq.

But rather than choosing to resign power respectfully like in Tunisia and Egypt, al-Maliki seems to have made up his mind to hold a firm grip on power using deadly force like fellow dictators in Libya and Syria.

No longer able to tolerate the weekly demonstrations by Iraqis in central Baghdad’s al-Tahrir Square, and with widespread arrests failing to subdue the population irate over corruption and lack of basic services, earlier this month al-Maliki sent his thugs under the disguise of ordinary government supporters to brutally attack protestors demanding the resignation of his government.

Iyad Allawi, a former Iraqi Prime Minister and the de-facto leader of the opposition movement, recently launched a stunning televised attack on al-Maliki accusing him of running a new dictatorship in Iraq and owing his Premiership to Iran’s theocratic rulers.

Iran clearly has huge sway over the Iraqi Premiere and runs a virtual ghost army in Iraq responsible for most attacks on the Coalition forces.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates over the weekend said Shiite extremists, not al-Qaida terrorists, are to blame for most of the recent American military deaths in Iraq, and they’re “clearly getting some fairly sophisticated and powerful weapons” from Iran.

One area of clear Iranian intrusion in Iraq is in Camp Ashraf, a refugee camp for 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which recently came under deadly attack by al-Maliki’s forces at the behest of Tehran.

The PMOI members at Ashraf, who espouse a democratic tolerant interpretation of Islam and call for democratic regime change in Iran, are the mullahs’ worst nightmare. Most recently they have been encouraging the millions in Iran to hold anti-government protests.

On 8 April, several thousand Iraqi armed forces launched a major military rain on the refugee camp killing 36 unarmed and defenceless men and women and injuring hundreds more. Several dozen residents were deliberately run over with military vehicles in an attack described by Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as a “massacre”.

Despite widespread international condemnation including by the UN human rights chief and the US State Department, no meaningful action has as of yet been taken to prevent further such attacks.

On 18 June, a hundred thousand Iranians from around the world gathered in Paris to demand UN protection for Ashraf residents and to warn against an Iraqi government plan to relocate the residents in Iraq, which clearly would be a prelude to their slaughter.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani who addressed the rally quite rightly urged the UN to establish a permanent monitoring team at the camp and for the US to provide the team with a small protection force. This simple action could easily prevent Iraqi forces from carrying out further brutal attacks against the residents.

Mr. Obama will be seen now and by future generations as the US president who allowed Iraq to slip away from democracy and into the clutches of Iran’s fundamentalist regime unless he acts fast to stop Iran’s unacceptable meddling in Iraq. He must warn al-Maliki that any breach of international law at Camp Ashraf to curry favour with Iran’s mullahs would not be tolerated by America or its allies. He must also order the State Department to shelve its plan to relocate the residents in Iraq and instead formally request of the UN to station a permanent monitoring team at Ashraf under US military protection.

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