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Talk of Iran’s new, moderate future is premature

Supporters of President Rouhani

Rouhani supporters had high hopes for a more moderate future for Iran. Tabarez2 under a Creative Commons Licence

The world may be debating the significance of a non-handshake between Presidents Obama and Rouhani , but it was already clear earlier this month, when Russia forced Obama to backtrack on his much publicised ‘red line’ regarding Syria, that the US President does not have the bottle for further conflict in the region. As the ‘red line’ was blurred beyond repair, Iran looked on with interest – seeing, no doubt, a green light for themselves. They can now look to manoeuvre in such a way as to allow boundaries to be stretched.

Iran will see the result in Syria as an enormous success for itself and its pragmatic approach. In the battle for Syria, Iran has undoubtedly backed President Assad with significant military support by providing funds and weaponry. However, as a military strike loomed large, Iran publicly stepped away. Senior Iranian figures, including Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, accused Assad of using chemical weapons against his people, while others spoke of aid to the Syrian people rather than support for Assad.

Look at the Iranian regime’s recent manoeuvres over its nuclear weapons programme and you can see that, rather than Rouhani turning over a new (moderate) leaf, he is a pragmatist. In public, the new President is making all the right noises. He has transferred nuclear policy to the Foreign Ministry and he has extended a hand of friendship to the world in voicing support for nuclear negotiations.

Talk is rife now of Tehran’s new moderate future. However, look more closely at the reality and the desperation of many to find moderates within the Iranian regime should worry us all. Tehran has not overnight become a moderate regime willing to change its path. The regime continues to silence opposition with arrest, torture and execution. It continues to push forward with its nuclear ambitions while at the same time arming and funding terrorist groups.

This is not a moderate future, but rather a highly pragmatic one.  The regime knows all too well that a Western leadership desperate for dialogue at any cost is a Western leadership which it can happily trample over with the promise of negotiations. During the time of President Khatami the West was all too happy to turn a blind eye to the suppression and suffering of the Iranian people if it felt Tehran would turn its back on its nuclear ambitions. Today, once again, the West appears happy to do the same. Falling for the Iranian regime’s new approach without actual results will have deadly consequences for us all. And for Iranian exiles in Iraq those deadly consequences have already been felt.

Iran has taken the West’s weakness in dealing with Syria and the desperation for dialogue as an opportunity to strike, with devastating consequences for the Iranian opposition. As the world discussed Syria’s chemical weapons attack, Tehran was busy using its proxies in Iraq to massacre members of Iran’s largest opposition group on 2 September. The defenceless residents of Camp Ashraf were brutally murdered by Iraqi security forces. YouTube videos show unarmed individuals being gunned down, with others handcuffed and executed with a shot to the head, leaving 52 murdered. The silence on the attack against Camp Ashraf is reprehensible. To turn a blind eye as defenceless civilians are massacred in this way in a land the West supposedly ‘freed’ is unacceptable.

We must not fall for the tricks of the Iranian regime again. We have a clear duty to protect these Iranians at Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf and we must do so immediately. President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron should call for the immediate release of the seven hostages taken from Camp Ashraf. They must further call for a UN armed force to immediately be based at Camp Liberty to protect this group of Iranians.

Turn a blind eye to this massacre in Iraq and the message we send the people of the Middle East is that the West is divided, weak and unwilling to support their democratic demands. The future will be an emboldened and nuclear-armed Iran ready to dominate the Middle East.

The shame of Camp Ashraf

A press release from the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom:

MPs and Peers on Wednesday accused Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of committing a ‘Gestapo-style massacre’ at Camp Ashraf which led to the death of 35 Iranian dissidents and caused hundreds to be injured.

At a press conference, the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom disclosed new video footage of the 8 April attack, showing direct shooting at camp residents and the various military weaponry used.

Committee chair Lord Corbett of Castle Vale (Labour Peer), said: ‘The attack on Camp Ashraf was an organized military massacre on the orders of Nuri al-Maliki who is publicly committed to erasing the camp from the face of the earth.’

Medical practitioner Hoda Hosseini pointed to photographic evidence of the injuries sustained by the wounded which clearly indicated that a targeted shoot-to-kill policy was used by Iraqi forces. ‘Traces left in the bodies of those killed and the wounded, and a study of the wounds and x-rays show that the Iraqi forces used automatic Kalashnikov machine guns with live, tracer and armour-piercing bullets as well as firing sonic grenades directly at the heads and chests of the civilian population at Camp Ashraf.’

Former Home Secretary Lord Waddington demanded a UN investigation into the attack to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice, while Lord Maginnis of Drumglass said: ‘Prime Minister Cameron and President Barack Obama must use the appropriate language in describing this attack as a massacre.’

Mark Williams MP (Liberal Democrat) demanded that Iraqi forces immediately withdraw from Camp Ashraf and that the United Nations take over protection of the camp as part of their mandate.

Malcolm Fowler, a solicitor and member of the Law Society’s human rights committee, said that the Law Society, which represented more than 130,000 solicitors, had issued a statement urging the UN to help protect the residents.

Pointing to video footage evidencing the continued menacing presence of Iraqi armed forces in and around Camp Ashraf, on behalf of the Committee Lord Corbett urged the UN to establish a permanent monitoring team at the camp and take over responsibility for protection of the residents to prevent a further such ‘Gestapo-style massacre’.

Camp Ashraf, 60 kilometres northeast of Baghdad, is home to 3,400 members of the main Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (PMOI), who are ‘protected persons’ under the 4th Geneva Convention.

British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom
27 April 2011

Camp Ashraf under fire

As a young Iranian who has eight members of his family resident in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, I woke last Thursday morning to news of an attack on the Camp which houses over 3,400 members of the Iranian resistance, an attack which has led to the death of 34 civilians and the wounding of 350 with a further six having been taken hostage.

Minutes seemed like hours and hours like days watching footage of what I can only describe as a massacre. Unarmed civilians were being mowed down by armoured vehicles and Humvees as forces took aim and shot residents in the heart, head and neck, ensuring that each shot either led to death or serious wounding. This is a crime against humanity for which Nouri Al-Maliki must be brought before international criminal courts.

As Reporters Without Borders said in a statement, ‘The security forces are denying journalists access to the camp to hide abuses committed against civilians. Anyone trying to take photographs of the clashes is being attacked in a systematic and targeted fashion.’

However, put simply, the story of Camp Ashraf is not one of one man’s family, but that of an entire nation’s hope for change, democratic change in Iran, where people can enjoy the freedoms that I have enjoyed in my life in the UK. From a personal point of view it is the reaction of the US and UK which has disappointed me more than anything else. I expect nothing from an Iraqi leadership led by Nouri Al-Maliki, whose allegiances lie with the Iranian regime and not with his own people.

When the US-led coalition entered Iraq in 2003 I believed the future of my family and all residents was safe. Years passed and the residents were granted ‘protected persons’ status under the Fourth Geneva Convention and each and every resident was provided with a personal guarantee by the US authorities that their rights would be protected in Iraq. Shamefully, I now know that hours before last week’s attack took place US forces that were stationed inside Camp Ashraf were ordered to leave and do nothing to prevent the pending massacre of unarmed civilians.

I ask the British and US authorities a simple question: is this the Iraq for which so many of our young men and women sacrificed their lives? The entire British and US population should be appalled at the crisis now developing at Camp Ashraf. Men and women who have dedicated their lives to bringing democracy to Iran are being handed over like lambs to the slaughter to butchers in Iraq.

I personally hold the British and US governments responsible for these deaths and unless they act immediately, more innocent blood will be shed. The US are there on the ground and they must as a matter of urgency immediately take all the wounded to the US military hospital for treatment. The legal duty to protect the Camp clearly falls upon the US, who remain on the ground in Iraq; the UN, who have a presence there; and the British as a member of the US-led coalition which entered Iraq. The US and UN must immediately demand the removal of Iraqi forces from the Camp and the release of the six hostages, and further take action to reassume control over the safety and security of the Camp.

Act now and the lives of my family members may be saved, but for as long as Iraqi forces remain inside the Camp and in control of the safety and security of it I shall continue to wake every morning fearing that my family may be the next victims of Nouri Al-Maliki’s murderous regime.

Click here for more on the background to Camp Ashraf.