THE HUFFINGTON POST
Life as a mullah in Iran must be pretty disconcerting. All those in power in Tehran today are no doubt deeply worried about their economic wellbeing and the future of their rule. Sanctions have come in waves and are sapping away at the foundations of the national economy. The US and the European Union are intent on disabling the Iranian central bank, the oil industry, and even the regime’s ability to trade gold and diamonds.
If economic problems were not enough, the mullahs’ main regional ally, Syria, is descending into civil war. From Tehran, it must seem like only a matter of time before Damascus falls – much like Tripoli did – leaving the mullahs with no nearby ally other than war-torn Iraq.
Those in power are probably constantly looking over their collective shoulder. As with other countries of North Africa and the Middle East, Iranians are a youthful, restive people who have shown a willingness to rise up against totalitarianism in the past.
Conditions are, in short, ripe for regime change. All that is required is for an organised opposition to rise up and take the reins of power. For the mullahs, this last point is key: the Iranian opposition, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), must be annihilated at all costs if they are to survive.
Within this context it is easy to see why the 3,400 men and woman living in Camp Ashraf, Iraq, are at the top of the list of Tehran’s targets. These people are PMOI/MEK sympathisers and have represented a thorn in the side of the Iranian regime for decades.
Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iran’s stooge in Baghdad, threatened to dismantle the camp by the end of 2011 and scatter the residents. Given that Iraqi troops had already raided the camp on more than one occasion, killing dozens, there were real fears that the camp’s end would also be the end of the residents themselves. The deadline was only extended when PMOI/MEK leader Maryam Rajavi agreed that the residents be re-housed in Camp Liberty, a former US military base in the Iraqi capital.
Mrs Rajavi’s agreement was given reluctantly and only after receiving assurances from the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton and that the United Nations would monitor conditions in Camp Liberty, where many residents faced a long stay. Sadly, this trust has been betrayed within weeks. Not only is the Iraqi government reneging on its promises to respect the lives and decency of the Ashraf community, the UN is keeping silent about the transformation of Camp Liberty into a concentration camp, a place more fit for cattle than human beings.
“Do you think the UN’s action with regard to Camp Ashraf and Camp Liberty is unusual?”, asked Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, during his speech to an international conference earlier this month. “They’re ignoring the fact that these people are going to live in one square kilometre. They’re ignoring the fact that there’s no drinking water in Camp Liberty”. There is not a “single road with asphalt in the camp” or a “single piece of green area”, Mr Giuliani told the conference, which was organised by the French Committee for Democracy and Human Rights in Iran. This was not a camp, he said, but a prison.
“The Iraqi government has refused to allow any of the residents to visit because they don’t want them to see how terrible the conditions of their imprisonment are going to be”, he continued. “The UN has not objected to any of this. It is simply disgraceful for the UN to allow this to go forward. It’s disgraceful for the UN to submit to the demands of a regime like Maliki’s and ultimately to close its eyes to the fact that really what they’re doing is submitting to the demands of the Iranian mullahs”. Al-Maliki was, the event heard, “just a puppet on a string doing the bidding of the Iranian mullahs.”
To add salt to the wounds, the UN ambassador to Iraq, Martin Kobler, has failed to deny the most outrageous Iranian claims. According to the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, hundreds of the Camp Ashraf residents are willing to be transferred to Tehran – where, as PMOI supporters they would face prison, torture and possibly execution. The United Nations considers the PMOI/MEK to be a terrorist organisation, according to the latest Iranian diplomatic salvo. Why doesn’t Mr Kobler deny these falsehoods? Whose side is the UN on?
Ashraf residents must believe that theirs is a story of betrayal. It was the US, after all, that, after liberating Iraq, promised to protect them if they agreed to disarm. The US is out of Iraq, but the residents are far from safe. A second betrayal is now in the making. For a body such as the United Nations, silence in the face of oppression is nothing short of scandalous.
Lord Carlile of Berriew, CBE, FRSA, QC