• 7 February 2014
  • Posted By Samia Basille
  • 0 Comments
  • MEK, Persian Gulf

House Hearing Examines Iran-Iraq Relations

Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, spoke at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing about Al Qaeda’s resurgence in Iraq on Wednesday, February 5. Answering the questions of several lawmakers, he notably addressed the critical role that Iran plays in the complicated Iraqi political realm.

When Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) expressed concern over supposed close ties between Iraqi senior officials and the Iranian government, mentioning reports that Iraq is allowing Iran to fly over its territory to arm Hezbollah in Syria, McGurk offered a more nuanced picture of the relationship between the two countries. While he acknowledged that Iraqis should be more active in seeking to stop overflights to Syria, he also stressed that “Iraq’s relation with Iran is multifaceted. . . We found very few instances in which we have seen Iraq acting at the behest of Iran.” He cited Iraq’s oil production, its ratification of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol in 2012, and their support of the Geneva 1 communiqué about transition of power in Syria as evidence that Iraq maintains independence from Iran.

According to McGurk, the Iraqi government is also careful to enforce international sanctions against Iran, although “they share a 3000 km border. There is trade, there are cultural ties. It’s impossible to stop everything.” He pointed out that Iraqis have increased their oil output and cut off many transactions with Iranian banks. Rep. George Holding (R-NC) mentioned negotiations between Iraq and Iran over the possible construction of a pipeline that would supply Iranian gas for new power plants in the Iraqi province of Basra. McGurk recognized that “the pipeline is concerning if it goes forward.”

The future of Camp Liberty, which shelters 2,900 members of Mujahedin e-Khalq (MEK) – a cult-like group widely opposed by Iranians that was only recently removed from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations – was also repeatedly questioned by lawmakers. The camp has been attacked by outside groups on several occasions, leading to efforts to relocate the camp’s residents. While the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) seeks to relocate the militants outside of Iraq — some members were already relocated to Albania and Germany — the MEK’s leadership has ceased cooperating and has prevented further members from leaving the camp. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Wendy Sherman, indicated last year, the MEK leadership has not allowed residents of the camp to know their options for relocation.

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) insisted that Iranian Americans living in his district are extremely worried about the lives of family members and friends belonging to the MEK. He told McGurk: “Many of those people are sitting behind you . . . wanting for help.” McGurk agreed that this issue should be an international human rights concern, and that countries around the world should work to relocate them.

While McGurk seemed confident that Iraq-Iran relations do not threaten U.S. interests, he insisted that such issues are not addressed in the current talks between the Western powers and Iran: “Given the existential threat that a nuclear Iran would pose to our interests in the region, we focus the nuclear negotiations specifically on the nuclear issue.”

Posted By Samia Basille

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