The week before Christmas, I reported on what appeared to be a fast-looming tragedy. In Iraq, 3,300 unarmed Iranian exiles, who had lived since the 1980s at Camp Ashraf, a neat town they built in the desert near the Iranian border, were being threatened with massacre on December 31.
The threat was issued by Iraq’s prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, acting in conjunction with Iran’s murderous Revolutionary Guards, who regard the People’s Mujahideen of Iran (the PMOI), part of the National Council for Resistance in Iran, as their most hated enemies. As the deadline neared, following intense diplomatic activity, not least by the US government (which gave a written guarantee of protection to each of the Ashraf residents in 2003, in return for the surrender of their arms), the UN signed an agreement with the Iraqi government, brokered by the UN’s special representative in Iraq, Martin Kolber, a former German diplomat.
The Ashraf residents would be transferred to Camp Liberty, a former US base covering 25 square miles near Baghdad, from where the UN would arrange their transfer to third countries. On Christmas Day, this was welcomed by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
It then emerged, however, that the 3,300 exiles would only be permitted to occupy a tiny corner of Camp Liberty, barely quarter of a mile square, which had been completely looted, was without running water and around which the Iraqis were erecting a 15ft concrete wall. They would not be allowed to bring vehicles or personal belongings, or leave the camp. Far from being offered a safe haven, it seemed, they were to await their fate crammed into what the European Council last week denounced as “a prison”, watched inside and out by armed Iraqi and Iranian guards.
As scandalous as anything in the past month has been the part played by the UN’s Mr Kolber who, far from protesting at this betrayal, met in Baghdad with the Iranian ambassador, himself a senior Revolutionary Guards commander. After the meeting he announced first that 750, then 1,250, of the exiles were willing to return to Iran. There is nothing they could dread more, since they know that they would either be imprisoned or killed. But Kobler’s claim has been trumpeted by Tehran as a victory, and the deadly impasse remains.
General David Phillips, the former head of the US Military Police, who gave the Ashraf residents those personal guarantees of their safety, has expressed his anguish at these developments. He has now been joined in protesting at the betrayal by an array of distinguished international figures, including Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.
But on what authority could a UN official become party to this inhuman deal? And why does our Government appear to condone what is going on? The Foreign Office recently confirmed to me that they still regard the PMOI as terrorists, despite being told in 2008 that they must remove it from their list of proscribed terrorist organisations, when Lord Chief Justice Philips ruled that they had been unable to produce a shred of evidence to justify this. What dark game are they all playing – in our name?