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Iraq: UN Special Adviser

Volume 746: debated on Monday 1 July 2013


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the United States, other allies, and within the United Nations, regarding the successor to Martin Kobler as UN Special Adviser in Iraq, and about that individual’s responsibility for Camp Ashraf.

My Lords, officials in New York and at our embassy in Baghdad have had informal discussions with international partners about the appointment of a new special representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq. The UN has a critical role to play in helping the Government of Iraq to address the challenges facing the country, and we hope that a new United Nations Secretary-General special representative will be appointed as soon as possible.

My Lords, I do not know whether to be heartened or disheartened by that Answer. The reality is that Martin Kobler has been an absolute failure. He has been compromised by the fact that his wife is an ambassador to the Iraqi Government, and it appears that effectively no one—not the United Nations, the United States or the United Kingdom—is concerned about the sequence of attacks on Camp Liberty, condoned, it would appear, by the Iraqi Government. After moving people from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, when are we going to see some compassion for the 3,000-plus Iranian refugees?

I understand the strength of the noble Lord’s feeling on this matter, which is one on which we have had discussions in the past. We do not accept the criticisms of Martin Kobler. Indeed, in his latest report on Iraq, the United Nations Secretary-General made specific reference to and paid tribute to the work of Martin Kobler. We believe that a new representative needs to be appointed quickly and that a huge range of issues needs to be dealt with by the head of the UN once that appointment is made.

In relation to his comments on Camp Liberty, the noble Lord is aware that the UNHCR is overseeing Camp Liberty. It is its intention to ensure that various countries around the world accept these individuals from Camp Liberty. I understand that some countries have now come forward: Albania has offered to take 210 and Germany is relocating about 100. Of course, we are assessing certain individuals who in the past have been given refugee status in the United Kingdom.

Is the Minister aware that the residents who have been transferred to Camp Liberty from Ashraf have been subjected to missile attacks and other pretty awful conditions, which are so bad that they are seeking a return to Ashraf? The influence of Mr Kobler has not been exercised on their behalf and something should be done to assist these very unfortunate people.

I am aware of two specific attacks; namely, one that took place in February of this year, which resulted in, I think, nine deaths, and one that took place in June of this year, which I understand resulted in the deaths of two residents. However, on both occasions, Iraqis outside the camps lost their lives as well. We have to see this in the context of, sadly, the rising level of violence in Iraq: for example, in May, 1,000 people lost their lives. I am also aware that responsibility for the attacks has now been claimed by the Mukhtar Army, which is an individual militia group and not the Government of Iraq.

My Lords, surely we cannot accept the context to which my noble friend was referring as any form of justification for what has been taking place in Camp Liberty. Is there not ample evidence that there has been widespread abuse, violence and killings over a long period? How much longer will this go on before action is taken by the two Governments concerned—the United States and the United Kingdom—the United Nations and the Government of Iraq? Is it not to be condemned that the word of President Maliki is not to be trusted at all? He gave commitments, which he has not honoured. When will that happen?

I hear the point that my noble friend is making. Noble Lords may be aware that there is a long history to this matter. The particular group, Mujaheddin e Khalq, which originally was in Camp Ashraf and was moved to Camp Liberty, is being assessed by the UNHCR for relocation. Concerns have been raised about the conditions within the camp—concerns about water, sanitation and electricity. This is not to justify the conditions in those camps but they are similar to, if not sometimes better than, some of the conditions that people face in Baghdad. It therefore has to be viewed in the context of the country in which we are operating.

My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware that ever since the evacuation of people from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty, which I suppose is the most misnamed camp in the world— I have often described it as a concentration camp—we have had reports of these goings-on and the conditions that have been mentioned. The Minister just said that the Government are trying to advise the Iraqi Government so that they get credibility. Would they not get more credibility if they were to allow the media, lawyers and doctors to go into the camp, which has been denied to outsiders? There is no confidence in Kobler, whatever the Minister may say today. People outside who have been watching this situation know that the United Nations has been pretty poor. Will she please use her best endeavours to get the doors open to the outside world so that we can see what is going on and hear the truth?

My Lords, because of noble Lords’ concerns I have raised this matter with officials, who I understand are currently in discussions with members of other embassies. This is a UN lead and it is important, therefore, that whatever we do we do in conjunction with other countries. I understand that they are now looking at potential dates when members of various embassies could go together to the camp. However, this has to be done in conjunction with the security concerns that there are in Baghdad at the moment.