US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly used her address at the end of the recent Nato Ministers’ meeting in Berlin to warn of the attempts being made by Iran to exploit the popular uprisings in Libya and beyond. Sadly, however, she failed to highlight the importance of the regime's influence in Iraq.
Ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Tehran has targeted Iraq as its perfect proxy and a nation upon which it can have its greatest influence in the region. With Nuri Al-Maliki, a close ally of Tehran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei controlling Iraq’s government, Iran’s influence has intensified, with the actions of the Iraqi authorities beginning to mirror those of its dictatorial neighbour.
Now a bloody attack by Iraqi forces at Camp Ashraf, home to members of the Iranian opposition – the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI) – in Iraq has left many commentators wondering whether Iran’s influence over Al-Maliki is greater than previously thought. As the UN confirmed that the 34 unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf who were killed by Iraqi security forces earlier this month died as a result gunshot wounds or having been crushed by military vehicles, the attack has been roundly condemned and described by many as a massacre and a crime against humanity.
In fact it appears that Nuri Al-Maliki not only considers the massacre of unarmed civilians to please Tehran as a justifiable action, but in a report published last week by Amnesty International, Al-Maliki’s government has been condemned for crushing peaceful protests by his own people with the use of excessive force. Al-Maliki’s actions in crushing peaceful opposition to his leadership leaves a chilling echo of the Iranian regime’s methods of crushing peaceful protests with beatings, torture and execution.
The story and the fate of 3,400 Iranian opposition members at Camp Ashraf is not only now a barometer of Iraq’s current human rights situation, but is also a pointer to the Iranian regime’s increasing influence over Iraq’s leadership. It is therefore vital that the US authorities take a determined stance in protecting Camp Ashraf, not only because it is their duty under international law, as former Nato Commander General Wesley Clark stated “We did make a promise they would be protected persons. That's the word of the United States of America,” but further to ensure that Iraq does not fall into the hands of Iran.
Clearly, Hillary Clinton fails to have noticed the worrying trend developing in Iraq or perhaps has decided to turn a blind eye. Disturbingly, many factors point to advanced US knowledge of the pending massacre on Camp Ashraf and specifically the fact that US Defence Secretary was in Iraq at the time of the attack and whilst he was shaking hands with Nuri Al-Maliki, US forces were being ordered by their command in Baghdad to leave the camp and therefore do nothing to prevent the massacre.
Having failed to prevent the attack, either with or without prior knowledge, there are a number of basic steps the US authorities should now take to ensure the rights of the Camp Ashraf residents are protected as promised. First and foremost, President Obama must personally condemn the assault and follow the stance taken by the UN human rights chief Navi Pillay in demanding that there be a full, independent and transparent inquiry into the attack thereafter ensuring that any person found responsible for use of excessive force should be brought to book.
Secondly, the American President should personally direct US forces to work with the UN to remove those Iraqi forces which have been consistently denying basic rights to the residents of Camp Ashraf for many months. He should also ensure that all necessary medical aid be provided to those self same residents in the name of simple humanity.
Finally, he should remove control for the wellbeing of Camp Ashraf residents from the Iraqi authorities and, together with the UN, restore that protected persons status which the Iraqi Government promised to uphold but clearly failed to do so.
The West has appeased the Iranian regime for too long and pursued a similar policy with the Al-Maliki Government in the vain hope that all will come good in the end. It hasn’t in Iran and it won’t in Iraq.
It’s time President Obama acted to carry out the Coalition’s promise to the residents of Camp Ashraf and send a further signal by removing the PMOI from the US proscribed organisations blacklist. Both actions will send a strong message to those emerging movements in the Middle East that the West will not only support their democratic aspirations but will also make every effort to thwart the advance of fundamentalism being promoted by the Mullah’s regime in Tehran.
Supporters of democracy expect it and the security of future generations may well depend upon it.