Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ashraf City can bring democracy and freedom to Iran

September 20 2008
By Lord King

Lord King of West Bromwich says protection of Iran’s opposition is vital to scores of Birmingham families.

Iranian families from Birmingham last month travelled down to London to join a demonstration of hundreds of their compatriots in support of the Iranian opposition group, the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran.

The demonstration outside the UK headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross drew also human rights activists who sought to highlight the situation faced by the Iranian opposition in Ashraf City, Iraq.

The PMOI in Ashraf has long been seen as the greatest threat to the Iranian regime, with its mixture of democratic ideals and female leadership. The 4,000-strong opposition group has prided itself on offering a ‘third option’ to the Iranian crisis, democratic change through the Iranian people and their resistance movement – a far better alternative to war and appeasement.

However, the Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq have now put this Iranian group in danger. Iranian influence in Iraq has increased greatly over recent years as Tehran funds, trains and supplies weaponry to terrorist militias in Basra and beyond. This support for terrorist militias is the main cause of Coalition deaths.

Iranian proxies are now believed to control a number of high-ranking positions in Iraq, while infiltration into the Iraqi police and military has left the Iranian opposition in danger of Tehran’s terrorism.

The safety of these Iranians working towards a free and democratic Iran must be guaranteed. It is a duty of the Coalition and international human rights organizations to certify the safety of this opposition group. It is for this reason that I travelled with a number of the Birmingham families to the rally in London, taking the opportunity to voice my support for this cause.

I met with ICRC officials and highlighted the support that the Iranian opposition has both in Iran and Iraq. I voiced the great concern of a majority of British MPs and over 200 members of the House of Lords who have shown support for Ashraf City and its residents.

In fact, the PMOI has gained the support of over 5.2 million Iraqis who see this group as the single most effective barrier against Tehran’s fundamentalist influence on their nation. More than 70,000 people gathered in Paris on 28 June in support of the Iranian opposition movement and its President-elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi.

In today’s climate the story of Ashraf and its residents is not only one of humanitarian justice, but also of hope for peace and democracy in Iraq and Iran. The clear message from the Birmingham residents and all others gathered was not only one of personal safety for their families, but for the guarantee of safety for a group that so many see as the only hope for a positive solution to the Iranian crisis.

The United Nations and its Secretary General Ban Ki-moon must now make a pledge to the families of the Ashraf residents that protection of this city will remain fully in the hands of the Coalition and their presence in Iraq cemented under international law.

This would guarantee the safety of an opposition group whose sole aim has been to bring about democracy and freedom in Iran, an aim that must be supported by us all. As the world searches for a solution to ending Iran’s destructive influence it need look no further than Ashraf City. Ashraf and the PMOI can now be the light at the end of a dark 29-year tunnel for the people of Iran.

I know that with the support of the international community this group can bring democracy and freedom to Iran - a conclusion which will not only guarantee the safety of the Iranian people, but a solution which will greatly increase the likelihood for peace in Iraq and the wider Middle East.

I will use a statement famed by the President-elect of the Iranian opposition to conclude - ‘we can and we must’ she exclaimed addressing the 70,000 gathered in June. Now we can and we must support Ashraf City as the single most viable hope for democratic change in Iran.

* Lord King of West Bromwich, from the Labour Party, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom