April 12, 2011

Iraq bows to Iranian pressure to expel MEK

In yet another indication of Iran's significant and growing influence over events in Iraq, the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered that the Iranian mujahidin-e khalq (MEK, also known as the People's Mujahidin of Iran, PMOI) opposition group resident at a former military facility, Camp Ashraf, leave the country. At least al-Maliki did not give in to demands from Tehran to repatriate group's members to Iran where most of them would likely face the death penalty.

Since the U.S. invasion, which I supported, and the U.S. government's abysmal conduct, which I criticized, of the aftermath of the removal of Saddam Husayn, Iran has emerged as the primary power broker in the country.

Iran's position as power broker was underscored by the recent formation of an Iraqi coalition government of the Shi'a and the Kurds. These two groups were able to thwart the will of the Iraqi electorate who cast more ballots for secular candidate and former prime minister Iyad 'Alawi, but 'Alawi was never able to form a government thanks to the maneuverings of Nuri al-Maliki, of course backed by Iran.

Nuri al-Maliki is widely regarded as an Iranian stooge; I am in that camp. Many Iraqis refer to him as nuri al-irani, "Nuri the Iranian," and to his office as qali irani, "the Persian rug." To many of us, it appears that he receives his marching orders from Tehran. The decision to expel the MEK from Iraq certainly originated there, and I am willing to bet that the recent deadly attack on Camp Ashraf was not solely al-Maliki's idea. According to the MEK, 34 of its members were killed and over 200 wounded. Then the Iraqis delayed the entrance of American military medical teams to assist the wounded.

You might be tempted to ask, "Just who is in charge?" Unfortunately, the Obama Administration apparently ceded that role to the Iranians. That is what happens when you pursue a policy of established withdrawal dates and a rush to the exit regardless of the situation on the ground. Pull out your troops without an accurate assessment of the security situation and say good bye to influence over events in one of the most important countries in the region. The best the Administration could do is to "urge Iraqi officials at the highest levels to avoid violence and show restraint."

Not surprisingly, the Iranian regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad praised the Iraqi raid on the MEK camp. The Iranians have jailed or executed many members of the group in the past, and will not hesitate to do so in the future. The question is where will the group, mostly ethnic Persians, go?

The group has been useful to the United States in the past, and could be again. The MEK/PMOI were key to uncovering Iran's nuclear program; much of the initial intelligence was gathered by MEK sources inside Iran. They have access that can be of use to the United States should the Obama Administration push for regime change in Iran. The MEK has an established, and apparently effective intelligence network inside Iran, and have shown the willingness to conduct lethal operations against regime targets.

Iran has an abysmal record on human rights, has American blood on its hands in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is developing a nuclear weapons capability. Perhaps we should be utilizing the MEK to effect some - as Obama said during the campaign - "change we can believe in."