The rantings of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York should have persuaded Americans not to cave in to the Iranian regime's demands in Iraq.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards Qods Force arms, funds, and trains terrorist militias in Iraq and smuggles in roadside bombs made and paid for by the mullahs to kill American and coalition troops and Iraqis. The last thing the people of Iraq need, no more than those in Iran, is the lethal mix of violent fundamentalism and the nuclear weapons for which the mullahs aim.
Iran has now set its sight on its main resistance, the People's Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), a 4,000-strong anti-fundamentalist group based in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. The mullahs were particularly incensed when Britain's courts and parliament removed the PMOI from the list of terrorist organizations earlier this year.
The PMOI has been instrumental in blocking the mullahs' bid to turn Iraq into a client state, prompting 5.2 millions Iraqis as well as 3 million Iraqi Shia, to pledge support for the Resistance and condemn Iranian interference in their country. The group has provided the coalition with intelligence on Iranian arms transfers fuelling the insurgency, and with its tolerant interpretation of Islam has rallied Iraqis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to stand against Tehran's expansionist policies in their country.
The PMOI was blacklisted a decade ago by the Clinton administration as a goodwill gesture to Tehran. The copycat ban was applied in the United Kingdom and the European Union, but the U.K.'s Court of Appeal and the European Court of Justice annulled both designations, describing them as "perverse" and "unlawful."
Now Iran is using its proxies in the Iraqi government to try to get its hands on the group. Under pressure from Tehran, the Iraqi Council of Ministers on June 17 ordered the expulsion of all PMOI members from Iraq in breach of the "principle of non-refoulement." It has since sought the handover of Ashraf City from the protection of the coalition.
PMOI members are recognized as "Protected Persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, and responsibility for ensuring that protection rests with U.S. forces. Handing over that job to Iran's proxies risks murderous consequences — and allows the regime to step up pressure on Baghdad to crack down on the group.
It would also constitute a breach on international law which stipulates that protected persons cannot be handed over to a power which would seek to violate their rights, as the Iraqi government has threatened.
Any hostile action towards the PMOI in Ashraf may convince many Iraqis that the U.S. is impotent to prevent Iranian domination of Iraq and would also run risk of tipping the balance of power in Iraq mightily in favor of the mullahs resulting in extensive repercussions for coalition troops.
To avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, and in the interest of long-term security in Iraq, the Bush administration and its successor should make a firm commitment to continued protection of Camp Ashraf and its residents.
Robin Corbett is a former Labour whip in the House of Commons (1984-87) and chair of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee (1999-2001). He is currently chair of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.
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