February 23, 2018

As US troops leave Iraq, an assault is planned that should shame us all


A tragedy is presently unfolding in Iraq that makes a mockery of the boast by US defence secretary Leon Panetta that American forces are leaving it a “free, independent and sovereign country”. And in two weeks’ time it seems set to come to a bloody climax.

For some years this column has been drawing attention to the horrible threat that hangs over Camp Ashraf, the once neatly-ordered town on the Iranian border which has, since 2001, been home to 3,400 Iranian exiles, members of the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), the leading group opposed to the tyranny of the mullahs in Tehran.

In 2004, the Ashraf residents surrendered their arms in return for personal written guarantees of safety from US General David Phillips. But for months now, in anticipation of the last US forces leaving Iraq, Ashraf has been besieged by thousands of Iraqi troops, under the personal direction of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki. They are acting in league with gangs of thugs from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Tehran’s equivalent of the old Soviet KGB, responsible for ruthless suppression at home and fostering terrorism abroad.

On a recent visit to Washington, Maliki openly admitted that he was preparing to close Ashraf on December 31, at Tehran’s behest. In April an assault on the town left 36 dead and 11 more have died in incidents since. In a fortnight’s time, Ashraf will be invaded and its residents are likely to be slaughtered on the spot or dispersed around Iraq, to be killed at a later date, or deported to face imprisonment or death in Iran.

No one is more anguished by this betrayal, as he recently indicated in a speech, than General Phillips.

But what is most bewildering about the tragedy is the apparent desire of the US and British governments to condone Maliki’s collaboration with the murderous intentions of Tehran – despite protests from an impressive array of former senior US officials and thousands of American and European politicians, including more than 100 from our own Parliament. Why has our Government been so keen to bow to Iran’s wishes, paving the way for the destruction of Ashraf by those same Revolutionary Guards who recently sacked our embassy in Tehran?

Britain’s opaque part in this story has been as disgraceful as anything in the humiliating record of our involvements in Iraq – which is neither free nor independent, and is less of a sovereign country today than it was when ruled by Saddam Hussein.