June 25, 2017

Tehran’s ‘Butler’ in Iraq

Uinted Press International

LONDON, Aug. 16 (UPI) — Unimaginable to say the least; recent remarks made by Ambassador Lawrence E. Butler, a top U.S. State Department official, about the status of 3,400 members of an Iranian opposition group taking refuge in Iraq has left him being labeled mockingly as “Tehran’s Butler.”

Outrage quickly spread in political circles, with many quite rightly appalled and in fact bemused that Butler, tasked with ensuring 3,400 members of the Mujahedin e Khalq are kept safe from an Iraqi government loyal to Tehran, took the opportunity in speaking to The New York Times to make disparaging comments about the group.

Not only do Butler’s comments play directly into the hands of the Iranian regime and, in fact, spout the misinformation that Tehran’s leadership spends millions to achieve, it unfortunately reiterates the belief of many that U.S. President Barack Obama remains clueless in ensuring Iraq makes its way to full democracy.

The culmination of what is being called the MEK saga in Iraq will tell us much about whether a future Iraq is gobbled up by Tehran quicksand, falling into the hands of an Iranian regime intent on setting up a satellite state or an Iraq which moves forward both in terms of democracy and economic development which has fallen foul of Iraq’s current corrupt leadership.

Based in Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, the MEK is Iran’s principle organized opposition group. At Iran’s behest, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an armed attack on the camp in April leaving 36 residents dead and hundreds wounded.

To further cozy of the mullahs in Iran, Maliki has ordered the camp be shut down and the residents transferred to a prison camp entirely under his control elsewhere in Iraq.

To the residents, going there would be suicide. Butler has supported the plan.

To justify this humanitarian catastrophe-in-the-making, Butler spoke of attacks against U.S. personnel allegedly carried out by the MEK in the 1970s, the exact misinformation and falsities which the Iranian regime espouses to taint the image of the MEK.

His open attack on Iran’s brave democrats came even as evidence was being revealed by U.S. military commanders in Iraq of Tehran’s direct involvement in the recent deaths of a large number of U.S. soldiers. Iran-backed militias were behind the deaths of 12 U.S. soldiers while explosively formed projectiles and improvised rocket-assisted mortars supplied by Tehran were the cause of 14 U.S. deaths.

Butler, however, appeared more interested in regurgitating misinformation about the MEK than understanding the Iranian takeover in his backyard in Iraq, which is leading to numerous U.S. casualties each and every month.

Unfortunately this appears to be the clueless reality of foreign policy under President Obama, the shutting of one’s eyes to the realities in Iraq, hailing the mission as a success and using the plan to withdraw U.S. fighting battalions as a propaganda tool. If President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do not comprehend the realities taking place in Iraq, what is left behind in Iraq could be considerably worse than that found on arrival in 2003.

Now in a strange turn of events, the status of the 3,400 members of the MEK will be the test of President Obama’s morality upon which he ran his presidential campaign.

The members of the MEK have been resident in Camp Ashraf in Iraq for more than 20 years. Having provided the residents with personal guarantees to protect them from threats posed by the Iranian regime, the U.S. authorities handed over control of Camp Ashraf to an Iraqi government whose loyalty to the Iranian regime was undoubted. In the two years that have followed some 50 residents have been killed, having been attacked in two separate military assaults on their homes by Iraqi forces, and more than 1,000 wounded.

Now the man tasked with ensuring more residents are not massacred by an Iraqi government, which has vowed to close the camp by the end of 2011 by any means, has spoken in defense of a proposal to move the residents to a new home inside Iraq under Maliki’s full control.

Once again senior U.S. and European parliamentarians have reacted with shock that Butler is forwarding a plan supported by the Iranian regime. This proposal has done little to shed the Tehran’s Butler image or the clueless nature of Obama’s leadership in Iraq.

It is high time President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton took note of the U.S. responsibilities in relation to Camp Ashraf while waking up to understand the realities in Iraq.

The United States has a clear legal, moral and humanitarian responsibility to protect the Camp Ashraf residents. This can easily be achieved with direct intervention in assisting the facilitation of the United Nations taking over control over the safety and security of the camp.

Once this is achieved and the residents are safe from further attack by an Iraqi regime loyal to Tehran, a European Parliament plan to voluntarily transfer the residents to third-party states where their safety can be guaranteed in the long term can be achieved.

Ambassador Butler and President Obama must see this as the only solution to the MEK saga and rid themselves of what is an embarrassing image.

(David Amess, a Conservative Member of the British Parliament, is a leading member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.)

(United Press International’s “Outside View” commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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