My Lords, the US has confirmed that it intends to transfer responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqi authorities. Transfer should take place before
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the rather ominous directive of the Iraqi Government of
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
My Lords, I think that we should let those on the Cross Benches speak.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.