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Iraq: Camp Ashraf

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 27 April 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in the light of recent developments in Camp Ashraf.

My Lords, following the unfortunate events on 8 April at Camp Ashraf, Foreign Office Minister Burt released a statement calling on the Government of Iraq to cease violent operations in Camp Ashraf immediately. British embassy officials, including our ambassador in Baghdad, have raised concerns about the incident with the Iraqi President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Human Rights. We have made it clear to the Iraqi authorities that we deplore any loss of life and have urged them to set up an independent investigation into the incident.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer, but will he acknowledge that for many years noble Lords in all parts of this House have warned of an impending disaster at Camp Ashraf? Tragically, and in the most brutal way, that has now happened. In the light of the recent slaughter of unarmed civilians by Iraqi forces, is it not clear that Maliki’s word counts for nothing, that he is in hock to Iran and that he is intent on eliminating Ashraf by whatever means? In those circumstances, is it not wholly reprehensible that the Americans have virtually walked by on the other side? Surely there is only one solution remaining: for an international force or UN-mandated body to intervene immediately in Ashraf to provide essential security and much-needed medical assistance.

My Lords, those are some very ambitious demands. Perhaps I should explain to the House that on 8 April Iraqi police and armed forces entered Camp Ashraf, which is an extensive camp in an area that was given to the MEK, or the PMOI—whatever you wish to call it—by Saddam Hussein some 25 years ago, and in the course of that confrontation some 30-plus people were killed and 70-plus people injured. Since then the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has visited the camp, as has a US medical team. We are continuing to discuss with UNAMI and the Iraqi Government what else can be done to assist in this situation.

Is the Minister aware that the Iraqis’ claims that some of the 35 Ashraf residents massacred by Iraqi troops and some of the 350 wounded were shot by the PMOI leadership are totally untrue, and that the interior ministry conducted a search for weapons and explosives at the camp in April last year but found nothing more than 23 decaying empty packets of firecrackers? In the light of this further assault on these defenceless refugees, will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to make a personal phone call to Mr Maliki to demand the immediate withdrawal of his offensive forces, and to ask the UN to take over responsibility for the safety and security of residents and to restore proper access to medical treatment and supplies to those injured in this recent attack?

My Lords, I was not aware of allegations that some of the casualties had been shot by their own side—I simply had not heard that. We recognise that this is a very complicated situation. The Iraqi Government are now the Government of a sovereign state.

Of course they have responsibilities, but this is in effect an extraterritorial enclave in Iraq and there are some very large issues. We accept as a Government that, in time, Camp Ashraf should close. The question is how that is negotiated with all sides.

My noble friend will be aware that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for a full, impartial and independent inquiry, which you are not going to get from the Iraqi Government. Will my noble friend therefore urge the Foreign Secretary to initiate a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the Secretary-General to appoint such an inquiry and also demanding that the 1,000 Iraqi troops occupying a third of Camp Ashraf be immediately withdrawn?

My Lords, the fact that Iraqi troops are occupying a third of Camp Ashraf is itself evidence that Camp Ashraf is a very extensive area. As I understand it, that is part of the issue that the Iraqi Government are concerned with—they wish to reduce the area currently occupied by Camp Ashraf. The UN is actively engaged in this. I am told that UN mission members visit Camp Ashraf virtually every week.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the term “unfortunate circumstance” misleadingly and euphemistically represents what has happened in Camp Ashraf? Does he accept that what happened there was a massacre—wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter? Will the Government consider the need to send a delegation from this House, or from Parliament in general, to Camp Ashraf? Furthermore, will they consider sending Nouri al-Maliki and his Camp Ashraf dispersal committee to court at The Hague?

My Lords, there is a good deal of violence all the way across the Middle East at present, with which the United Nations is actively engaged. I have to reiterate that Iraq is now a sovereign state; that the United Kingdom Government are doing their best to investigate what has happened; that this is a long-standing confrontation going back to the change of government in 2003 in Iraq; and that it is not as simple to resolve as the noble Lord suggests.