It was an innocuous enough statement. The fact that it referred to an event that had occurred while much of the World – and particularly the Western media – was on holiday, explains why it received such little coverage. But then good news, especially if it is associated with the United Nations rarely does.
The statement in question came from the UN secretary General Ban ki moon. With customary understatement, it read “Secretary General Ban ki moon has welcomed an agreement between the United Nations and the Iraqi Government that provides for the voluntary relocation of residents of a camp hosting Iranian exiles, saying that the pact lays the foundation for a peaceful and durable solution to the Camp Ashraf has been home to several thousands of Iranian refugees for many years, primarily formed of members of what is known as the ‘People’s Mojahedeen of Iran’.
No friends of the Iranian Government, this group was in danger of becoming yet another dangerous flashpoint, since the Iranian Government wanted the camp closed and the exiles returned – to a fate unknown. Under Saddam Hussein’s rule, this was never going to happen – but with the new Iraq now much closer to the Iranian orbit, there was every indication that a forced return was on the cards. Prominent US politicians such as Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton rightly voiced concern for them, while others believed that the refugees plight could yet become the blue touch paper, the excuse for wider score settling over far bigger issues such as Iran’s contested nuclear programme. But as a result of the deal brokered by the United Nations, and in particular by Ban ki moon’s Special Representative for Iraq, Martin Kobler and representatives of the Iraqi Government, the inhabitants of Camp Ashraf instead find themselves under the responsibility of the UN Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. The closure date of the camp – which had been set for December 31st - has been extended, while the status of individual exiles is decided by the UNHCR.
There is of course no absolute guarantee that the agreement may not break down, but at the moment the prospects are good. The plan to forcibly repatriate the exiles to Iran has been dropped, more time has been bought and the international community is now effectively in charge of determining the fate of the camps inhabitants.
Could Camp Ashraf have yet become a Casus Belli for a wider conflict in the region? It is possible, although we could never have been certain. But conflicts have begun over much less.
In the grand scheme of things the deal over the Iranian exiles of Camp Ashraf inside Iraq may not be that significant in terms of the number s of people whose fate may have just taken a turn for the best. But it surely does demonstrate just how important the United Nations and its agencies are, but how frequently they are undervalued. Many of the large newsgathering Networks don’t appear to have correspondents based at the United Nations. Rarely do they send reporters to cover the UN, unless there is some crisis involving Iran or North Korea at the UN Security Council. So it is hardly surprising that this ‘good news’ story which reflects well on all of those involved, has barely featured on the news Richter scale at all. Isn’t it high time that changed?