Iraq: Ashraf City

– in the House of Lords on 26th November 2008.

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Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What assurances they have received from the Government of Iraq that all residents of Ashraf City will be protected in the event of any withdrawal of American forces currently stationed there.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the US has confirmed that it intends to transfer responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi authorities. Transfer should take place before 31 December. The Iraqi authorities have given assurances that residents will be treated humanely. The Iraqi human rights ministry plays a key role in the transition. The US and the ICRC continue to follow developments at the camp closely and are content with Iraqi assurances so far received. The US and Iraqis have discussed the transfer with UNHCR and UNAMI.

Photo of Lord Eden of Winton Lord Eden of Winton Conservative

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the rather ominous directive of the Iraqi Government of 17 June which called for the removal of US troops and their replacement with Iraqi forces, and for the expulsion of the PMOI residents in Ashraf City? Does he realise that expulsion in those circumstances would almost certainly mean execution? This is an extremely serious situation. Can he assure the House that he will keep a very close eye on developments and secure what guarantees he can from the Iraqi Government to avoid what would otherwise become a humanitarian catastrophe?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, this is primarily a matter for the United States, to which this group surrendered at the time of the invasion in 2003. The US has sought clear understandings from the Iraqi authorities that there will be no such expulsions and that the group will be properly protected. The ICRC is content so far with the understandings received.

Photo of Lord Archer of Sandwell Lord Archer of Sandwell Labour

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the question is not so much, "What are the intentions of the Iraqi Government?" but, "What would be the intentions of the Iranian Government if these people were delivered up into their hands?". Does he agree that if there is to be any hope of their survival it is vital that we persuade our American allies that the fate of these people is in their hands?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, some 300 members of this group have returned—they are admittedly low-level people in most cases—and we have no evidence that they have been inhumanely treated on their return. However, it has been the intention of the Americans in the understandings that they have sought from the Iraqis that Camp Ashraf remains open, and therefore that those individuals in it will not be expelled.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Deputy Chief Whip, Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence

My Lords, will the Minister encourage our allies to make sure that there is at least some international monitoring of the situation when the Americans leave, and that there is some way of reporting back if there is a deterioration in the circumstances of these people?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, it is for exactly that reason that the United States has involved both the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations in trying to ensure continued international monitoring.

Photo of Lord Waddington Lord Waddington Conservative

My Lords, the Minister referred to the responsibility of the United States but surely Britain, by virtue of its membership of the multinational force, will be as much in breach of international law as America if the protection of Ashraf City is handed over to Iraq without any real expectation that the rights of the inhabitants will be respected and that the Iraqi Government will not return them to Iran. Surely that must be the legal position.

I return to the point made by my noble friend Lord Eden. In the light of the directive issued by the Iraqi Government on 17 June, it is surely very odd to take at face value present assurances by the Iraqi Government that these people will not be expelled, because the directive to which I referred calls for their expulsion.

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, on the second point, the United States absolutely shares the noble Lord's concern, which is why it has pressed the Iraqi Government to ensure that undertakings to look after this group are in place. I think that they are satisfied that that is the case. As to the UK's legal responsibility, it is our view that the MEK/PMOI specifically chose American forces to surrender to. Secondly, the proclamation from the multinational commander at the time in 2004 that confirmed camp resident status as being "treated as protected persons" was clearly made on behalf of the United States alone.

Photo of Baroness Turner of Camden Baroness Turner of Camden Labour

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are 1,000 women among these refugees in Ashraf City, who are very concerned about the possibility of their being returned under the care, so to speak, of the present Iranian Government, in view of their policy and attitude on women's rights?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, there is no doubt that with the return of these people to the Iranian Government, the rights not just of women but of the whole group would be in some jeopardy. That is why I assure my noble friend that the United States has worked hard to make sure that the camp remains open and people are not at risk of return.

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench

My Lords, is this not a premature decision, given the failure of the Iraqi Government at present to protect the Chaldeans, the Syriacs, the Yazidis and other minorities, whose lives are endangered on the Nineveh plains where they have been expelled from Mosul? Is it not premature to change the status of those Iranians in Ashraf City?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will agree that there is a difference between the dispersed communities to which he refers and the limited capacity of the Iraqi Government to protect them and the situation of this group, contained within Ashraf City. The right of protection can easily and effectively be transferred to the Iraqi authorities, so long as they are committed to playing that role.

Photo of Lord Dykes Lord Dykes Spokesperson in the Lords (Europe), Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, Spokesperson in the Lords (Cap Reform), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

My Lords, aside from the special and heart-rending situation in Ashraf, is not the sobering reality for us all that, since 2003—five years ago—all Iraqi citizens want western foreign forces to leave as quickly as possible, particularly after so many citizens have been killed in Iraq?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, the noble Lord asks a very different question. I do not know whether all Iraqis share that view, but obviously there is a dramatic change in direction in which there is a rundown of western forces in Iraq. It is important that this group's rights be protected while we recognise that new situation—that Iraqis will be responsible for security and human rights in Iraq.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Shadow Minister, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Shadow Leader, Parliament, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, is the situation covered in the status of forces agreement that the Americans signed with the Iraqi Government, which seems very unpopular in the Pentagon? Have we raised this matter directly with the American authorities?

Photo of Lord Malloch-Brown Lord Malloch-Brown Minister of State, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Minister of State (Africa, Asia and the UN)

My Lords, on the latter point, we have raised it directly with the American authorities. I doubt that it is in the status of forces agreement but I shall respond to the noble Lord in writing on that.