HUFFINGTON POST – By Lord Tarsem King – The Iranian regime is preparing to cast its dark shadow over Iraq as U.S. boots prepare to leave the country. Nowhere is the regime’s ominous march more apparent than in the case of Camp Ashraf, where 3,400 Iranian political dissidents reside in Iraq. How this case is resolved is a barometer for the direction of Iraq after the US departure.
Sadly, however, the U.S. Embassy in Iraq refuses to recognise the magnitude of the Iranian threat. As another humanitarian catastrophe looms large over Camp Ashraf, U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Butler made the extremely troubling suggestion that the residents of Ashraf should disperse and move to another location in Iraq.
Amazingly, two days prior to that, an Iraqi daily had reported that the Iraqi President, having just arrived from a visit to Tehran, delivered a “message” on Camp Ashraf to the U.S. Embassy from none other than the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Seeing the regime’s fingerprints on Iraqi decisions is troubling as it is. But, hearing the echoes of Khamenei’s orders on the fate of Iranian dissidents from the corridors of the U.S. Embassy is mind-boggling.
The Iranian regime sees the residents of Ashraf as its main enemy and wants to annihilate them. To that end, a complicit Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Maliki, ordered two bloody massacres in the camp in July 2009 and April of this year, murdering dozens and wounding hundreds. It has vowed to shut down Ashraf by the end of the year.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved an amendment to Foreign Relations Authorization Act that makes it a policy of the U.S. to “take all necessary and appropriate steps to prevent the forcible relocation of Camp Ashraf residents inside Iraq and facilitate the robust presence of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq in Camp Ashraf.”
Instead of aligning with the Iranian regime’s demands, Ambassador Butler should call for the “robust” presence of a UNAMI monitoring team in Ashraf to protect the residents against further massacres as the House Foreign Affairs Committee stipulated.
The residents of Camp Ashraf have called the camp home for over a quarter of a century. Still, they have been massacred and abused. Imagine what would happen to them if they were forcibly moved to a remote location in Iraq away from the international community’s watchful eyes.
No wonder that the Iranian regime not only publicly supports the idea of displacement inside Iraq, but actively lobbies for it in Baghdad.
The suggestion has been unconditionally dismissed by nationalist Iraqi forces and high-level officials unfettered by the dictates of Tehran. The Speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Osama al-Nujeifi said at the European Parliament on 13 July: “The plan proposed by the Americans to displace [Ashraf residents] inside Iraq has been rejected by all parties and we regard it as unacceptable.”
He backed a European Parliament proposal to relocate the residents to third countries after negotiations are conducted, on the condition that the situation in the camp would be normalised first. This is the only plan that respects Iraqi sovereignty while ensuring the human rights of Ashraf residents.
In his annual report on Iraq to the UN Security Council on 19 July, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for respecting the human rights of Ashraf residents and urged for a consensus solution to the situation.
The current U.S. position in Iraq is neither observing the residents’ rights nor is it a consensus solution. In fact, it is the complete opposite.
The European Parliament, the United Nations, the U.S. Congress, prominent and independent Iraqi officials, and the residents of Ashraf have all rejected forcible displacement. The only exceptions are Tehran, a complicit Baghdad and the U.S. State Department.
It is no wonder that the former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton, called the idea touted by Ambassador Butler in support of displacement in Iraq “appalling.”
“This idea is a recipe for disaster… It is a recipe for ethnic cleansing, far outside the reaches, now, of the international community,” he added during a 17 July conference in Washington.
The U.S., which recognised the residents of Ashraf as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention in 2004, is morally and legally obligated to protect the residents. But, in the broader context, it should realise that abandoning Ashraf is tantamount to giving the Iranian regime an upper hand in Iraq.
This should be alarming to Ambassador Butler too, unless he is pursuing an agenda that includes the interests of Tehran tyrants.
Lord Tarsem King Labour Party Member, United Kingdom’s House of Lords