Saturday, January 08, 2011






Since long before the start of the Iraq War, Iranian dissidents have lived in Iraq. Following the US invasion, the US made these MEK residents of Camp Ashraf -- Iranian refuees who had been in Iraq for decades -- surrender weapons and also put them under US protection. They also extracted a 'promise' from Nouri that he would not move against them. July 28th the world saw what Nouri's 'promises' were actually worth. Since that Nouri-ordered assault in which at least 11 residents died, he's continued to bully the residents. The Women's International Perspective features a post by Elham Fardipour:
My name is Elham Fardipour and I am an Iranian refugee living in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Not only is Camp Ashraf my home, yet it is also home to 3400 Iranian dissidents, including 1000 women. Many years ago, I joined the nationwide resistance against the Mullahs and came to Camp Ashraf with the goal of bringing freedom to my country, Iran, and saving the lives of Iranian men and women living under the cruelty and suppression of the religious dictatorship ruling Iran, which posses as a serious threat to world peace through its nuclear program and state sponsoring of terrorism. From 1989 to 1993, I lived in the UK studying in the field of electronics. You might be surprised, and ask why a woman alone leaves her life in Europe and cemes to Iraq. However, while witnessing the ruthless suppression of women in Iran, fathers who selling a kidney to make ends meet, the trafficking of 9 year-old girls in Kuwaiti markets, selling eye corneas to pay house mortgage and…, a comfortable and leisured life was no longer tolerable for me.
Following the occupation of Iraq, the responsibility of Ashraf residents' protection was on the shoulders of US forces, under an agreement signed between the US government and each and every resident in Ashraf, continuing until 2009. After the transfer of protection from US forces to the Iraqi government in the beginning of 2009, this camp has been placed under an inhumane siege by Iraqi security forces under the command of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom has very close ties to the tyrannical regime in Tehran. Camp Ashraf has been placed under an all-out blockade, and the common goal of Tehran's Mullahs and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is to make living conditions for residents intolerable, forcing them to return to Iran where all the Ashraf residents will face definite execution and torture.
Although the blockade, due to the widespread international auspices by human rights organizations and numerous MPs of democratic countries from around the globe, has not reached its final goal of suppressing the camp's residents and having them expelled from Iraq, it has actually caused mental and physical damages to Ashraf residents. It has also brought about restrictions in Ashraf residents' free access to medical services and treatment. As a result, a number of my best friends, due to the Iraqi government's prevention of their access to medical treatment, have lost their lives.
Dar Addustour reports that Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebair declared that the country's consitution does not allow for terrorist organizations and that this would apply to the MEK. As noted in Wednesday's snapshot, Spanish Judge Fernando Andreu is overseeing an international probe (or is supposed to -- who knows if this will be shut down) into the assault on Camp Ashraf. At present, he has ordered Iraq's Lt Gen Abdol Hossein al Shemmari to provide testimony March 8th. Attorney and conservative Allan Gerson (of Gerson International Law Group) writes at The Huffington Post in praise of Spain's decision: "To its credit, Spain takes seriously its law providing for universal jurisdiction of war crimes, recognizing that it can be misused for political ends. Having viewed the attack that occurred at Camp Ashraf in July 2009 as a war crime against protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Spain is ready to take action. Were the Spanish court to find that Lt Gen Shemmari had been complicit in war crimes, it could ask for an investigation and prosecution at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. This is good news for all who favor the application of international law to combat and deter gross human rights abuses." Press TV reports that a protest of the MEK took place today. Their report states that there were family members of residents of Camp Ashraf protesting and insisting that residents were being held against their will.

Staying on Iraq and Iran relations, al-Furat's big story is that WikiLeaks released documents indicates the government of Iran has been providing visiting Iraqi tribal leaders with women for "temporary marriage" "in order to strengthen its influence in Iraq" -- possibly via blackmail since these 'temporary' arrangements are frowned upon in Iraq. Meanwhile Press TV states, "Iran's relations with Iraq entered a new stage with the Iranian caretaker Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's trip to the latter and warm official and popular reception of the official. Because the unequaled acknowledgment of the visit signals that the ties have reached a heartwarming point." Of course, for most observers, it's Moqtada al-Sadr's Wednesday return to Iraq that really puts that message across. Though it's yet to rival an entrance by Lady Godiva, al-Sadr's entrance is almost as attention getting as the courtroom entrance of Alexis (Joan Collins) on the first episode of the second season of Dynasty. Today on The Diane Rehm Show, Diane discussed al-Sadr's return with Nadia Bilbassy (MBC), Susan Glasser (Foreign Policy) and James Kitfiled (National Journal).
Diane Rehm: We have an old friend coming back to Iraq from his so-called exile in Iran. What has prompted Moqtada al-Sadr to come back to Iraq, Susan?
Susan Glasser: Well you know after months and months of political uncertainty, there's now the formation of a new government in Iraq and I think you have a moment where we're going to see actually whether the Islamic parties in Iraq take the center stage again, whether they make a full throttle sort of challenge to steer the course of the new Iraq. And I'm curious to see what happens. He was greeted as a -- almost a conquering hero in a way.
Nadia Bilbassy: Yeah
James Kitfield: You know this -- I was actually in Iraq in 2004 with a unit that was given orders to capture or kill him and that was rescinded. This guy is virulently anti-American. I think it's less an Islamic issue than a Shi'ite versus Sunni issue. He's very closely aligned with Iran. He's a Shia. He has his militia. But his militia was defeated twice by the Iraqi army so he --
Diane Rehm: Right
James Kitfield: And then he kind of went underground. And his party kind of joined the political process and they won 40 seats. He became a king-maker in this last election and he was able to throw his 40 seats in the coalition with Maliki so Maliki -- the former prime minister is going to be the future prime minister -- so he's a king-maker and that's why I think he returned. He saw that he now, he's going to have, I think, 8 of the three dozen ministries in the new government. So the time is ripe for him to sort of come back and play sort of the political champion of his party. It can't bode very -- I can assure you the Americans and the United States is very worried about his ties to Iran. That's the bad news. The good news is if he -- if he decisively decided to play politics, to try to exert influence through politics, that's probably something we can live with. It's when his militia was a Hezbollah-like armed group --
Diane Rehm: Sure.
James Kitfield: -- outside of politics that he was sort of public enemy number one to the Americans. But he's not -- he's not doing that now.
Diane Rehm: Except that you worry whether it could lead to some sectarian violence.
Nadia Bilbassy: It could. And I think the people who are worried the most are the Sunnis because don't forget that his army, Jaish al-Mahdi, has been responsible for some of the most grotesque, terrible massacres in 2006 and 2007. But you asked, Diane, why he returned? I think he returned because of the blessing of Iran. The day he returned to Najaf as a hero, he visited the grave of Iman Ali and he was surrounded by all of his supporters. And it coincided with a visit of the Iranian Foreign Minister who the Ambassador to Baghdad said that Moqtada al-Sadr is a stabilizing force in Iraq now. Also, he made peace with his old nemesis which is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Let's not forget that Maliki ordered the security forces to unleash a campaign against his Mahdi army in Basra and almost wiped them out. So he did not forget that. But because of this realliance with Iran and I think he was given also assurance that he's not going to be on trial for a killing of another assassination of another Shi'ite leader, he was allowed to come back. Now his self-imposed exile was for religious reasons. He went to Qom, which is the most revered religious Shi'ite city in Iran to learn because he wants to be an Ayatollah. He did not reach that degree. He's coming back now not as a firebrand rebel trouble maker but as a respected politician who -- as James said, he has forty seats in Parliament, he might have influence. And I think he will give every reason for the Americans to be worried about but I think his argument will be he will influence the Iraqi government in not keeping any American bases after the withdrawal of 2011. And it also demonstrates that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is showing some kind of independence from the Americans to allow somebody so vehemently against the Americans to come back as a hero.
Susan Glasser: Well I think that's the real point that we'll all be looking at this year: At what price did Maliki purchase, in effect, this renewed scene. Remember that came after months and months of months of political stalemate. It was only broken by making what some people -- certainly here -- saw as a deal with the devil. This is the price of that deal. For now they're talking reconciliation. For now they're repositioning Sadr as a political leader and, you know, respected parliamentarian. What happens if Maliki doesn't do his bidding sufficiently? If Iran turns away? If he's too conciliatory towads the Sunnis ? Then I think is when you face the renewed violence, not immediately --
Nadia Bilbassy: Yes.
Susan Glasser (Con't): -- but over the course of this year you face that potential. And I'm glad you spotlighted this issue of the renewed American presence. Things have not worked out as the Americans anticipated they would after the "withdrawal." They expected to maintain a very robust military presence inside Iraq for the foreseeable future but, in fact, you could see that this was not going to be the case and that you may see almost no American military presence after the end of the year --
Nadia Bilbassy: Like South Korea.
Susan Glasser (Con't): -- which would be a big change. Yeah.
James Kitfiled: That is the thing to watch. There are two things to watch. Do the -- because he comes back into the government, do the Sunnis bolt? We haven't seen that yet. If they bolt from the government that's very bad news because that's the sectarian divide that almost plunged the country into civil war. Hasn't happened yet. Allawi's got also a lot of seats and ministries in this new government. So if the Sunnis stay as part of the political process that will be a good sign. If they bolt? Bad sign. Also the American base is an interesting point. And we have 50,000 troops still in Iraq. We did expect that we would negotiate a new Status Of Forces Agreement with Iraq so there would be some residual US presence there because they don't have an army that can really defend their own borders. And they're in a pretty bad neighbourhood. If all the Americans leave at the end that certainly means that our strategic relationship with Iraq will be damanged, it means -- I don't expect that to happen because we have a lot of leverage with them. Basically, their whole arsenal now is American weapons, they need our Air Force, they don't have their own air force, they don't have a navy. So basically watch what happens with the American presence. If it goes down to zero, I take the point, it will be a blow to the strategic relationship.
I would like to pick back up with Nadia next week from another section of the broadcast. But staying on al-Sadr, Aaron C. Davis (Washington Post) reports, "Lawmakers across Iraq's political and ethnic spectrums waited Thursday for word from anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, saying his first address after returning from nearly four years of self-imposed exile in Iran would likely say a lot about his intended approach to Iraq's fragile new government." The speech is supposed to be delivered Saturday. W.G. Dunlop (AFP) reports that Baghdad residents appear split on Moqtada al-Sadr with some highly supportive and others, like Khaled Abdul Rizak, against it. Rizak states, "I am against his return and I am against the government in general -- all of them, including Moqtada al-Sadr are stealing this country." Joel Wing (Musings On Iraq) offers:
What Sadr does next is the big question. He's supposed to make his first address after arriving in Najaf on January 8, to lay out his program. Some early targets for the Sadrist camp are probably finding jobs for their followers through the ministries they control, asserting themselves in parliament, and building up patronage systems to bring in new recruits. Sadr can only hope to build upon his success, as he definitely aspires to be a national leader. He could become a rival to Maliki without holding any official office. That will only happen if the Trend continues to focus upon politics and services. That's always been a problem for Sadr. In 2005 when he tried to join the new government after the U.S. handed over sovereignty, his movement split, and he ended up turning his back on politics to try to win back the street. That backfired as well as his followers became predators on their own people after they'd purged many Sunnis from various neighborhoods across central Iraq.

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