By Lord Carlile of Berriew CBE QC
On September 6, the Wall Street Journal reported “The U.S. has intercepted an order from Iran to militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy and other American interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike on Syria, officials said, amid an expanding array of reprisal threats across the region”. The WSJ added “The Iranian message, intercepted in recent days, came from Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards' Qods Force, and went to Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups in Iraq, according to U.S. officials”.
The Iranian message was sent at a time when the US tried to muster international support for swift military action against Iran’s staunch ally, the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, in response to the use of chemical weapons by his forces against civilians and the Syrian opposition.
Qasem Soleimani is notorious for his role as the man behind Iran’s shadowy international terror plots and has been actively aiding the suppression of the Syrian uprising. Some claim he is “secretly running Iraq” and yet few noticed it in the West.
Recently Soleimani was in Iraq to pursue another matter; the elimination of Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf. According to various reports, Soleimani was in Iraq on August 27 to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki about an attack against Iranian dissidents in Camp Ashraf. The residents of the camp belong to the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK) the primary opposition to the theocratic regime in Tehran.
The attack, which took place on September 1, left 52 of the 100 defenceless camp residents dead. In addition, seven were taken hostage and are at risk of being turned over to Iran where they risk torture and death. The scenes which emerged from the camp are horrific and reveal a prearranged massacre against the unarmed refugees.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a statement following its delegation’s visit to the camp stating, “Inside the camp, the delegation witnessed 52 bodies in a makeshift morgue. All the deceased appeared to have suffered gunshot wounds, the majority of them in the head and the upper body, and several with their hands tied.”
Subsequent to the US War in Iraq in 2003, Ashraf residents were all promised protection by the US in 2004 in return for their voluntary disarmament. Nonetheless the US reneged on its commitment and there was no protection when the residents needed it most.
Amid a wave of international condemnation over the massacre, the Iranian regime's state media gloated over the deaths. Soleimani himself took the opportunity to speak on the matter. The IRGC affiliated news agency Fars wrote on September 4 “Soleimani addressed the issue of Iraq and Camp Ashraf in which more than 50 of them (residents of Camp Ashraf) were killed, many were among the leaders of the Monafeqin (the regime’s term used to describe the PMOI).” He and other IRGC commanders have boasted that this was more significant than the regime’s biggest operation against its opposition.
It is clear that Iran is anticipating a severe blow in Syria and is already attempting to strike out at its enemies in anticipation of any future military strikes against its ally in Syria. Behind Tehran’s rhetoric, is its deep-seated fear that if it loses Syria, it will be a step closer to its own demise.
The barbaric acts undertaken by the regime against defenceless residents in Camp Ashraf are just the latest indication of Tehran’s desperation and weakness. Supporting the opposition is the best way to combat terror and show the world that we will not be victimized by a belligerent and criminal regime. As such, the United States should act accordingly. The US should not be daunted by Tehran’s threats but should confront Iran’s bullying by protecting innocent dissidents from acts of slaughter and ensure Iran does not continue to act with impunity throughout the region.
Beth Jones, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, recently wrote a letter to Mrs Maryam Rajavi, the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (the coalition of Iranian opposition groups), about the fate of members of Camp Ashraf. The letter expressed the United States’ willingness in working to ensure the safety of the residents in Camp Liberty and Camp Ashraf. This is a positive step in the right direction. So far it has been limited to words, just words. The US should push for an impartial investigation by an international delegation into the September 1 massacre along with the United Nations sending Blue Helmets to Camp Liberty to prevent another massacre. In addition, the US, the EU and the UN should press the government of Iraq to immediately release the seven hostages in its detention and ensure their safe return to Camp Liberty.
It is high time for action. Protecting Iranian dissidents is the United States’ moral and legal obligation and will send the correct message to Soleimani and his masters in Tehran.
This article first appeared in PoliticsHome