The MEK, Iran and Iraq

BY Herschel Smith
6 years, 11 months ago

Tom Ricks has a depressing and saddening post on the influence of Iran in Iraq relying on a first hand account by an Army officer.

Ghaz, as you may know, is mainly Shia in the northern half and Sunni in the southern half. We closed the last JSS in Ghaz on Sept. 7 (it had been allowed to stay open past the 30 June deadline) and the day after it was closed the Iraqi army battalion in south Ghaz raided the South Ghaz (Sunni) SOI headquarters, confiscating weapons and equipment a US unit had supplied them back in 2007-2008. The JSS, which straddled the Shia-Sunni fault line across the middle of Ghaz, was basically the buffer for the Sunni in the south. SOI and local council leaders were reported to have fled the neighborhood, citing Shia militia threats. Keep in mind, directly to Ghaz’s north is the Shia enclave of Shulla, a mini-Sadr City that is basically controlled by JAM remnant groups (and a heavily complicit Iraqi Army battalion). This Shia influence spills into north Ghaz and has been encroaching upon south Ghaz over the past several months.

For various reasons I am not concerned about Sunni-controlled areas like Anbar in Western Iraq (I am convinced that the Iraqi Police in Sunni-controlled areas have the upper hand).  But I am very concerned about the degree to which Iran controls the politics inside of Iraq, and no President since Carter has seriously confronted the Iranian Mullahs.  This was the great risk in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we have not acted to in any way ameliorate that risk.

A good indication should be forthcoming as to where Iraq stands in its independence from Iran.  The MEK (People’s Mujahedin of Iran) had previously been in some trouble with the advent of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).

An Iraqi judge ruled that the 36 dissidents, who went on a hunger strike in captivity, should be released. But Iraqi Interior Ministry officials, using new tactics, have argued that the dissidents entered the country illegally and should be expelled — obviously to Iran. If this tactic is successful, it could be applied to the 3,400 or so PMOI members remaining in Camp AshrafThe National Council of Resistance of Iran bluntly warned of the then-imuienant problem.

With the signing of a Status of Forces Agreement and the beginning withdrawal this year of American forces to their bases, the United States ceded sovereignty over Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis. The United States sought, and received, promises from the Iraqi government that Camp Ashraf’s population would be protected after the handover.

But Iran has been pressuring sympathetic Iraqi politicians to close the camp and expel the PMOI members. On July 28, Iraqi forces, saying they were establishing a police presence in the camp, launched an attack, killing 11 dissidents, wounding 450 and taking 36 hostages. U.S. forces nearby remained aloof.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran bluntly warned of the then-imminent problem.

Mohaddessin told Aftenposten, “We warned the United States that if the responsibility to protect Camp Ashraf is transferred to Iraq a humanitarian catastrophe would occur because the Iraqi government does Iran’s bidding. The forces’ attack against the camp did not surprise us; What we didn’t expect was the degree of brutality.”

There may be a reprieve coming.

Wednesday, Iraq’s chief prosecutor, Ghadanfar Mahmoud, issued a blanket order for police to release 36 members of an Iranian opposition group who were detained during a raid on their camp in northern Iraq in July.

The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran has claimed Iraqi security forces have refused to free the men even though they have not been charged by judicial authorities.

The group operated for years in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, but nearly 3,500 members have been confined to a camp since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The U.S. military turned over responsibility for Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis on Jan. 1.

“(The detainees) should have been released by now … We have issued orders to all police stations to release them wherever they are,” said Mahmoud.

As they have had in so many instances before, the Iraqi government has yet another opportunity to demonstrate that they aren’t lap dogs for the Iranian Mullahs.  If it weren’t so sad and so worn by now, the same thing could be said of the U.S. “negotiations” with Iran which have been going on for 30 years.

The Obama administration’s talks with Iran—set to take place tomorrow in Geneva—are accompanied by an almost universally accepted misconception: that previous American administrations refused to negotiate with Iranian leaders. The truth, as Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said last October at the National Defense University, is that “every administration since 1979 has reached out to the Iranians in one way or another and all have failed.”

After the fall of the shah in February 1979, the Carter administration attempted to establish good relations with the revolutionary regime. We offered aid, arms and understanding. The Iranians demanded that the United States honor all arms deals with the shah, remain silent about human-rights abuses carried out by the new regime, and hand over Iranian “criminals” who had taken refuge in America. The talks ended with the seizure of the American Embassy in November.

The Reagan administration—driven by a desire to gain the release of the American hostages—famously sought a modus vivendi with Iran in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War during the mid-1980s. To that end, the U.S. sold weapons to Iran and provided military intelligence about Iraqi forces. High-level American officials such as Robert McFarlane met secretly with Iranian government representatives to discuss the future of the relationship. This effort ended when the Iran-Contra scandal erupted in late 1986.

The Clinton administration lifted sanctions that had been imposed by Messrs. Carter and Reagan. During the 1990s, Iranians (including the national wrestling team) entered the U.S. for the first time since the ’70s. The U.S. also hosted Iranian cultural events and unfroze Iranian bank accounts. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright publicly apologized to Iran for purported past sins, including the overthrow of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s government by the CIA and British intelligence in August 1953. But it all came to nothing when Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed that we were their enemies in March 1999.

Most recently, the administration of George W. Bush—invariably and falsely described as being totally unwilling to talk to the mullahs—negotiated extensively with Tehran. There were scores of publicly reported meetings, and at least one very secret series of negotiations. These negotiations have rarely been described in the American press, even though they are the subject of a BBC documentary titled “Iran and the West.”

At the urging of British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, the U.S. negotiated extensively with Ali Larijani, then-secretary of Iran’s National Security Council. By September 2006, an agreement had seemingly been reached. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, her top Middle East aide, flew to New York to await the promised arrival of an Iranian delegation, for whom some 300 visas had been issued over the preceding weekend. Mr. Larijani was supposed to announce the suspension of Iranian nuclear enrichment. In exchange, we would lift sanctions. But Mr. Larijani and his delegation never arrived, as the BBC documentary reported.

My friend and fellow Marine father Michael Ledeen then goes on to describe the decades-long failure of sanctions against Iran.  It is must reading – especially for the current administration.  It remains to be seen whether Iraq fails as an independent state in light of the Iranian pressure from within and without.  It also remains to be seen what role the U.S. will play in regional stability.  Will we continue the same pattern of failed negotiations, or will we bring enough pressure to cause regime change – the only hope of avoiding war?


You are currently reading "The MEK, Iran and Iraq", entry #3937 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iran,Iraq,Iraq SOFA and was published October 1st, 2009 by Herschel Smith.

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