Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Officials from the Iranian opposition organization, Mujahideen-e-Khalq, said that they are counting on Iyad Allawi, former Iraqi Prime Minister, and leader of the ‘Iraqiya’ bloc, to assume the position of Head of the ‘Council for Strategic Policies’, which is due to be formed. They are relying on this appointment in order to secure their own fate, and hinder the efforts of Nuri al-Maliki’s government, which aims to deport the organization from Camp Ashraf, located northeast of Baghdad, and on to a third country, under pressure from Tehran.
There is no agreement yet on the powers of this council, whether they will be merely advisory, or executive, but proposals indicate the Allawi will be the leader, with a membership of senior Iraqi leaders, including al-Maliki.
Around 3000 members of Mujahideen-e-Khalq have remained in Camp Ashraf since they were welcomed there by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, in the early 1980s. After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, successive governments in Baghdad have called for the group’s deportation, considering them to be a ‘terrorist organization’, whose elements are inciting civil unrest.
A member of the Iranian opposition group told Asharq Al-Awsat: “This council could limit the individual power of al-Maliki, and his other devices, in terms of making security, political and foreign policy decisions. This is not what the Iranian regime wants”.
Another official in the camp said: “The Council for Strategic Policies is expected to be presided over by one of the leaders of the Iraqi parliament, and at the moment we hope this is Iyad Allawi, in order to protect us from the committee to close Camp Ashraf, which al-Maliki is closely linked with”.
Eight months after the elections, Iraqi leaders reached a power-sharing agreement, which resulted in al-Maliki securing a second term in office, as did President Jalal Talabani, whilst the Speaker of the Parliament was awarded to Osama Najafi, a leader of the ‘Iraqiya’ bloc. However, it is not certain yet whether Allawi will agree to assume leadership of the ‘Council for Strategic Policies’.
According to an official in the Iranian government, Tehran does not feel satisfied with this political agreement, which was devised in accordance with the winners of the Iraqi parliamentary elections on the 7th of March, because the government that was agreed upon, headed by outgoing Prime Minster Nuri al-Maliki, “is not expected to work in the same way that the previous government operated. Perhaps [al-Maliki] will have obstacles in front of him. Perhaps he [al-Maliki] will be forced to tolerate the Baathists”.
Although the Iranian official, when speaking to ‘Asharq Al-Awsat’, highlighted the importance his country attaches to the ‘Council for Strategic Policies’, which is currently being developed by the constitutional powers in Baghdad, it does not reflect the nature of Iran’s relationship with al-Maliki at this time, who is regarded by many politicians to be closer to Tehran than he is to his Arab surroundings.
Some argue that American and Arab pressure on Iraq to form a ‘government of national consensus’, could directly impact upon the presence of Iranian politicians in Iraq, in a positive or negative manner, whether they are supporters of Tehran, or opponents. Thus the ‘Council for Strategic Policies’ has powers to monitor the work of officials within the state, and curb the political orientations of those who are pro-Iran, or against, in order to achieve stability in the Iraqi interior, and in the wider region.
Amid efforts to form a government in Baghdad, members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, in the U.S. Congress, have expressed concern about the impact of Iranian influence in Iraq. Reports quoted Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, as saying in a committee meeting: “We are concerned about Iranian influence in the region”.
For his part, Shahin Ghobadi, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said: “From now until the Iraqi government is formed, Iran is trying to impose death upon our brothers in the Iranian opposition camp, located in Iraq (Camp Ashraf)”. However, he also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the formation of the new (Iraqi) government will not be as the Iranian regime wishes, because all the Iraqi factions agreed upon the principle of national participation. This participation gives a new style to the government and its power. We believe that this legitimizes the powers of the new authority. It will not be the situation that the Iranian regime had been hoping for over the past four years, although the bloc (led by Iyad Allawi) did not receive its full entitlement”.
Ghobadi added that dozens of Iranian dissidents are ill with chronic diseases at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, stating: “They are dying slowly. They need urgent treatment, and from now until the Iraqi government is actually formed, Iran is trying to impose death upon them”. Among those in the camp, there are at least 12 inhabitants suffering from cancer.
The ‘National Council’, which was formed as the mainstream political representation of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, fears the continuation of policies from al-Maliki’s government into a new phase, because this would “prevent any possibility of providing treatment for the Iranian dissidents in Iraq”.