“Insulting Statements” Strain US-Iraqi Relations
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government’s demand that a US congressional team leave Baghdad after a congressman made “insulting statements” has once again strained sensitive relations between the two nations.
Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican congressman from California, angered Iraqi politicians and the citizens by suggesting that Iraq should repay the US millions of dollars when the country’s economy prospers.
Rohrabacher made the widely reported comments in a press conference in Baghdad last week after he and five other members of the congressional delegation met with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The delegation reportedly told Maliki that a US congressional committee is investigating violence between Iraqi forces and members of the Iranian dissident group Mojahedi-e-Khalq Organization that killed 34 people and injured 200 at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad.
Following the comments, the Iraqi government told the US Embassy that the delegation was no longer welcome in Iraq, government spokesman Ali al-Dabagh said.
“This is the stance of a sovereign state towards the unacceptable attitude of those congressmen,” he said.
“Iraq is not an American colony where such insulting statements can be made against [Iraq’s] own interests,” Dabagh maintained.
Dabagh also said the delegates and the prime minister did not discuss Baghdad repaying the US government for the aid it has provided since ousting Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.
“In fact we should be the ones to demand compensation for all the damage and losses our people suffered as a result of their occupation,” he said.
Dabagh acknowledged that the delegation’s views did not reflect the US government’s position, and that the statements may have been made because of next year’s US election campaign.
An Iraqi government spokesman also said Iraqi government had rejected a request by the congressional team to visit Camp Ashraf.
“This is about sovereignty and we cannot allow just anyone to roam our country freely as they wish,” said the Iraqi government spokesman.
Mojahedin-e-Khalq is a dissident Iranian group whose members moved to Iraq in the 1980s and sided with the Iraq in its eight-year war with neighboring Iran. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003, the group has come under attack from the Iraqi army and militia groups believed to be funded by Iran.
Human rights organizations have called for investigating the April Camp Ashraf incident, the details of which are still unclear. Iraqi forces are accused of killing Iranian dissidents after storming the camp, while the Iraqi government claims the rebel group’s guards fired on residents.
The Iranian authorities want the Iraqi government to close down the camp and hand members of the Mojahedin-e-Khalq, which is banned in Iran and is also branded a terrorist group by the United States. Dabagh said the Iraqi government will try to find a country where members of the group can safely relocate.
Before heading to Baghdad, the congressional team was met by the Kurdistan region president Massoud Barzani. A source from president’s office said Barzani had thanked the United States for toppling the former regime.
Mohammed A Salih, Rudaw