September 22, 2017

Archbishop calls on Iraq not ‘to spill blood’ of dissidents

WALESonLINE

ARCHBISHOP of Wales Barry Morgan has joined senior bishops and Welsh politicians in calling for action to prevent a bloodbath in Iraq.

International concern is growing about the fate of thousands of Iranian dissidents who have taken refuge in Iraq but fear their lives are in danger.

The 3,400 residents of Camp Ashraf – many of whom are members and supporters of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) – agreed to move to an abandoned US military base on the outskirts of Baghdad but there are fears they will not have safe passage.

According to the UN, at least 34 people were killed last April when the Iraqi army raided the camp.

Dr Morgan, the Archbishop of Armagh, and 16 other bishops have put their name to a call to avoid violence amid fears that attempts would be made to close the camp by force.

A deal to move to the new camp – with an initial 400 residents due to make the journey in the near future – was agreed on Christmas Day but Welsh politicians now fear the site will be used as a virtual prison.

Parliamentarians including former Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Lord Carlile of Berriew, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, Gower Labour MP Martin Caton and Ceredigion Lib Dem MP Mark Williams have warned that “Iraq cannot be trusted to uphold the residents’ safety and rights” and are demanding that “no Iraqi armed forces must be stationed inside the perimeter of the new camp”.

They claim that since the Christmas Day deal “Iranian agents in Iraq have carried out three sets of rocket attacks on Camp Ashraf”.

The MPs and peers, who are members of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom, state: “Iraq has prevented a group of about 400 Ashraf residents from going to Camp Liberty with their vehicles and personal property.

“It has also denied advance access to Camp Liberty for a far smaller group of the residents’ representatives to inspect the site before the en masse transfer begins.

“We strongly fear that Iraq wishes to transform Camp Liberty into a virtual prison for the residents…

“Without international intervention, Iraq cannot be trusted to uphold the residents’ safety and rights… In particular, the residents’ representatives must be given 48-hour advance access to Camp Liberty for inspection of the site, and the residents must be permitted by Iraq to transfer their belongings and moveable property, especially their vehicles, to the new site.”

Camp Ashraf was established in 1986 when the PMOI was welcomed to Iraq and given a base by Saddam Hussein, whose forces had been at war with Iran.

The group’s link to the past regime has led to tense relations with the new Iraqi administration. The group continues to support the overthrow of the present government of Iran.

The PMOI, also known as the MEK, has been accused of past human rights abuses but it states it is working for a “secular, democratic, and non-nuclear republic, and is committed to free elections, gender equality, and abolition of all discrimination against national and religious minorities”.

International attention has focused on the potential for major violence if the Iraqi government attempts to forcibly close the camp which is no longer under the protection of coalition forces.

The bishops signed a statement calling for violence to be prevented: “The Bible says: ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbour’.

“It could have been describing Camp Ashraf today.

“We cannot stand idly by the blood of the residents of that camp. Silence is complicity.

“Silence is facilitation. Silence is permission. And silence in some contexts can be a crime.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We continue to call on all sides to engage in constructive negotiation to resolve the future of the residents of camp Ashraf peacefully.

“We support efforts by the UN to transfer residents out of Camp Ashraf and urge the leadership and residents of Camp Ashraf to engage with the UN process.

“We call on the government of Iraq to continue to show restraint and flexibility over its deadline to close Camp Ashraf, and to safeguard the security and human rights of the residents.”

Cathy Owens, Amnesty International’s Welsh spokeswoman, said: “We are very concerned about the human rights and security of the residents of Camp Ashraf.

“The Iraqi authorities have previously attacked the camp and their plans to forcibly return the 3,250 Iranian long-term residents of Iraq could lead to further violations of human rights.”

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2012/01/04/archbishop-calls-on-iraq-not-to-spill-blood-of-dissidents-91466-30056344