Why we should back the Persian Spring

Will the wave of change in the Muslim world reach Iran and evolve into a Persian Spring, asks Lord Corbett.
 The Telegraph – By Robin Corbett – About 100,000 Iranian exiles in Paris last month drew the attention of the international community to the plight of the Iranian people and demanded support for the Iranian Opposition movement. They believe the Persian Spring is part and parcel of the Arab Spring, and that the policy of the West could be the key to timing.

The conference was addressed by senior US politicians including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former US Congressman Patrick Kennedy (son of the late Ted Kennedy), former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and former US Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge as well as senior European figures including former Prime Ministers of Iceland and Ireland.

The message from 100,000 Iranians was three-fold. First, the plight of 3,400 members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran’s resistance resident at Camp Ashraf in Iraq. The group revealed to the world Iran’s nuclear weapons programme and is considered to be the biggest player in recent widespread protests inside the country. It has found its home in Iraq under attack in recent years from an Iraqi regime which has tied its allegiances to those of Iran. In April of this year, unarmed residents were viciously attacked by Iraqi forces killing 36 residents and leaving 345 seriously injured.

The residents of Camp Ashraf are “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention and under any reading of international law must be protected from such brutality. That is the international law requirement of each member nation of the UN, but most importantly the US and UK who were the leading players in the Iraq war Coalition. The European Parliament has set a clear plan requiring UN protection of the Camp until a lasting solution for relocation outside of Iraq can be found. This strategy must be supported.

Second, the PMOI’s continued listing as a terrorist organisation in the US. Initially placed on the list as an enticing carrot during negotiations with the mullahs’ regime, the ban was never legally watertight. Both the UK and EU courts have found similar bans in their respective jurisdictions to have been unjust and removed the group from the UK and EU banned lists. The US ban is being used by Iraq to continue the killing of Camp Ashraf residents.

Third, the final message was the critical ingredient. The time has come for a combined international effort to weaken the Iranian regime and strengthen the Iranian people. Weakening the regime can be achieved successfully through isolation and targeted sanctions while support for the people can justifiably be defined as support for the Iranian Opposition movement, the two of which are intertwined in achieving democratic change in Iran.

Undoubtedly issues one and two have a clear role to play in the overall message being sent. Protect the PMOI from attack at Camp Ashraf and remove the group from the list of banned organisations in the US and we send a clear message to the Iranian people that we support their democratic ambitions.

Do so with targeted sanctions and the balance of power in Iran can shift, allowing Iranian people power to strengthen and a regime intent on crushing the Arab Spring to topple alongside its dictatorial neighbours. For a historical change Iranians and their Arab neighbours can put regional rivalry aside and strive for the same democratic aspirations.
“Realist” pundits of international politics might try to write this off as being farfetched. But the historical changes encompassing the whole region had been written off by these diplomats and experts following the events from their ivory towers as recently as last year. The real players are the young men and women in the streets of the Middle East, the same who were present in multitudes in June in Paris. That is what made their message so compelling.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale is Chairman of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom. He is a former Chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee

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