June 29, 2017

Iran Watch – May 2, 2008

[spoiler title=”War with Iran: Closer than Ever”] Dan Rabkin
5/1/2008
Global Politician
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the Iranian Opposition’s parliament-in-exile, is one anti- regime organization worthy of Western support.

The NCRI’s 500+ members represent varying political tendencies and ethnic/religious groups within Iran. Kurds, Baluchis, Turkmens, Arabs, Sunni Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians all have representation, as do secular, religious, nationalist and liberal groups. Half of the NCRI’s members are women and the organization’s stated goal is “to establish a democratic, secular and coalition government in Iran.”

Remarkably, instead of supporting the NCRI and cultivating it into a tool to bring down the theocracy in Iran, for decades, Western governments have been actively impeding its efforts at the behest of the mullahs in Iran.

In 2003, the State Department closed the NCRI’s American offices on the grounds that the group is a front for the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI, also known as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq/MEK/MKO), by then a designated foreign terrorist organization in the United States and Europe. There is debate about whether the NCRI is the MEK’s political wing or if the MEK is only a member of the NCRI. Either way, the time has come for both of these organizations to be de-listed from the terror record. (In Europe the MEK is a designated terrorist organization, while the NCRI is not; in the U.S. both are.)

In the U.S., according to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, an organization can only be classified as a foreign terrorist organization if “the terrorist activity of the organization threatens the security of U.S. nationals or the national security of the United States.” By all accounts, today’s NCRI and MEK do neither of those things.

The Iraqi-based MEK was established by students at Tehran University in the 1960s as an anti-Shah leftist group. Its estimated 10,000-20,000 members are led by the husband and wife couple of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi (who is also President-elect of the NCRI). After assisting in the downfall of the Shah, MEK members were forced to flee Iran when the new Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, turned against them. The leadership established their headquarters in France.

Operating from their Iraqi camps the MEK has attacked and spied on Iran for decades. In the process, the NCRI was the first to reveal to the world, in August 2002, the whereabouts and true purposes of Iran’s hidden nuclear facilities in Natanz and Arak. In addition to providing vital intelligence about Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program, they have also supplied intelligence on Tehran’s other impious activities in the region such as Iranian-sponsored attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Arguably, the only time they have ever “threatened the security of U.S. nationals” was in the 1970s when the current leadership was languishing away in prison and an aligned Marxist splinter group attacked organizations viewed as sympathetic to the Shah.

In fairness, the MEK’s alliance with Saddam against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War has turned a significant portion of the Iranian population against it and by no means is it strong enough to bring down the mullahs on its own. Regardless, why are the U.S. and Europe hampering the MEK’s work to weaken the radical regime in Iran by designating it a terrorist organization – a designation that literally means no American can deal with them, U.S. banks must freeze their assets, and any American giving them any kind of support violates the law?

In short, since the 1980s, Western governments have acted out against the MEK to placate Iran, the world’s top sponsor of terrorism. In 1986, the MEK was forced out of France as part of a deal between the French and Tehran, made by then French PM Jacques Chirac, in which the Shia terrorist group Hezbollah released French hostages it was holding in Lebanon.

In the late 1990s, as Middle East expert Daniel Pipes writes, the State Department designated the MEK a foreign terrorist organization “to curry favor with Iranian ‘moderates.'”

In 2001, then British Home Secretary Jack Straw followed suit. A year later, and at British insistence, the EU went along and labeled the MEK a terrorist organization. Amusingly, as Chris Booker writing for the Daily Telegraph tells it, Straw himself admits to doing so “at the behest of the Tehran regime.”

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, American armed forces arrived at the MEK’s camps. The group’s members quickly signed ceasefire agreements with the Americans and were disarmed of their thousands of tanks, anti-aircraft guns, armored personal carriers, artillery, and military vehicles. All 3,800 residents of the main camp, in Ashraf, were questioned and put under investigation. A 16-month review by seven U.S. agencies, including the FBI and State Department, determined that there was no basis to charge any MEK members with violations of American law. Irrespective of that, Iraq’s Shia Islamist government has promised its Iranian peers that the MEK would be expelled from Iraqi territory. Thankfully, nothing has come of that threat yet.

The inhabitants of Camp Ashraf are currently being guarded by coalition forces as its residents have been declared protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention. So, officially, the MEK are now “protected terrorists.” “Terrorists” that must be protected against Iranian attacks and have their supply runs escorted by the U.S. military.

On top of doing the mullahs’ work for them by disarming and effectively locking up the MEK, this situation is, at the same time, taking valuable coalition resources away from the war in Iraq.

Over the years, literally thousands of senators, congressmen, and various European parliamentarians have urged their respective governments to de-list the NCRI/MEK. The European Court of Justice, the European Court of First Instance, and the United Kingdom’s Proscribed Organizations Appeals Commission have also all come out with rulings in favor of de-listing the MEK.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House International Relations Committee’s Central Asia and Middle East Subcommittee, has described the group as one that “loves the United States. They’re assisting us in the war on terrorism; they’re pro-U.S.”

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Cal.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, said they are “the only group on the terrorist list that’s been more helpful to the U.S. and more harmful to our enemies.”

Former presidential candidate Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) accused the French government of doing “the Iranian government’s dirty work” after French police raided MEK properties in 2003.

Numerous U.S. soldiers and commanders in Iraq have referred to them as “patriots,” pro-American, and vital intelligence assets.

In any case, the designation sticks. A label that not only causes immense confusion, but that considerably encumbers the NCRI’s and MEK’s work to end the mullahcracy in Tehran. By the NCRI’s own account, it is spending 80% of its resources fighting the designation – money that could otherwise be spent gathering crucial intelligence on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and its nefarious activities in the region.

So why do they remain a designated terrorist threat?

In 2004, The Washington Post ran an article which detailed secret contacts taking place between the Americans and the Iranians. The issue at hand was a deal that would see Iran “hand over some senior al Qaeda operatives in its custody and the United States would transfer to Iran some prisoners it was holding from the Iraqi-backed (MEK) organization.” The deal never happened. It was reportedly scuttled by the Pentagon because of its belief that the MEK could be “useful in fomenting regime change in Tehran.”

In 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), claimed to have discovered a letter written after the 2003 invasion of Iraq “where Tehran offers to withdraw military backing for Hamas and Hezbollah as well as give open access to their nuclear facilities in return for Western action in disbanding the (MEK).”

Very appealing offers – if only they had not been made by the terrorist regime in Tehran.

It would be naïve of us to think that Iran’s support for Hezbollah – or any Iraqi Shia militia for that matter – could ever be stopped. The two are practically joined at the hip – the terrorist groups’ leaders are groomed in Iranian seminaries in Qom and the membership is armed and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The “open access” the mullahs promise to afford to their nuclear facilities is something that they are already required to do by numerous international treaties and resolutions. If they do not abide by the rules of those accords, why would we be thick enough to believe them this time?

The time to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is running out. In the little time we do have left, everything and anything must be done to try to weaken the regime in Tehran. The NCRI and MEK are only two of the many organizations working tirelessly to bring real change to Iran – we should be supporting all of them. But, the fact that we are vigorously obstructing the efforts of, arguably, the most effective and well- organized of the lot to appease the mullahs is something that has to stop.

As my friend and Iranian pro-democracy activist of many decades, Majid Saatchi likes to tell people, “appeasement of the ‘moderate’ Rafsanjani and the ‘reformist’ Khatami got us Ahmadinejad”; in the same sense, it is frightening to imagine what appeasement of Ahmadinejad will get us.

Dan Rabkin is a Middle Eastern affairs and national security analyst based in Toronto. He was awarded Canada’s Governor General’s Medal in 2005. He was also a short-listed national finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship. Dan’s expertise lies in Middle Eastern and security affairs, but he is also knowledgeable about the situation in the former Soviet Union and speaks fluent Russian. [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Iran regime’s Qods Force commander is a key player in Iraq”] Thursday, 01 May 2008
By HANNAH ALLAM, JONATHAN S. LANDAY and WARREN P. STROBEL
McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD- He’s one of the most powerful men in Iraq, and he isn’t an Iraqi government official, a militia leader, a senior cleric, or a U.S. military commander or diplomat.

He’s an Iranian general – and at times he’s more influential than all of them.

Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani commands the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds [Qods] Force, an elite paramilitary and espionage organization whose mission is to expand Iran’s influence.

As Tehran’s point man on Iraq, he funnels military and financial support to various Iraqi factions, frustrating U.S. attempts to build a pro-Western democracy.

According to Iraqi and American officials, Suleimani has ensured the elections of pro-Iranian politicians, met frequently with senior Iraqi leaders and backed Shiite elements in the Iraqi security forces that are accused of torturing and killing minority Sunni Muslims.

“Whether we like him (Suleimani) or not, whether Americans like him or not, whether Iraqis like him or not, he is the focal point of Iranian policy in Iraq,” said a senior Iraqi official who asked not to be identified so he could speak freely.

McClatchy Newspapers reported on March 30 that Suleimani intervened to halt the fighting between mostly Shiite Iraqi security forces and radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia in the southern city of Basra.

Iraqi officials now confirm that in addition to that meeting, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani personally met Suleimani at a border crossing to make a direct appeal for help.

View Source Here [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Evidence of Tehran’s Destructive Meddling in Iraq Is Mounting”] On April 28, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations joined a chorus of other top officials warning of Iran’s subversive campaign. Ambassador Khalilzad told the U.N. Security Council that the Qods Force, the elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, “continues to arm, train, and fund illegal armed groups in Iraq.” He cautioned that “this lethal aid poses a significant threat to Iraqi and multinational forces and to the stability and sovereignty of Iraq.”

Late last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed to the Qods Force for its “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Adm. Mullen added that evidence would be publicized in the coming days that newly made Iranian armaments are being smuggled into Iraq at an increasing rate. These reports echo the information I revealed in February about the Qods Force’s new military/political infrastructure, designed to expand its operations inside Iraq. Why now? Simply put, the ayatollahs and their primary mover and shaker in Iraq, the Qods Force, are going for broke before they lose their “Iraq opportunity.”

To this end, the Qods Force has created a new command headquarters in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah, from where it directs three operational axes — northern, central and southern. A Qods Force top officer named Haj Amiri is the new HQ’s commander and many former and current commanders of the Badr Corps, the militia formed by Iran, which is now closely aligned with the Maliki government, are under his command.

The Northern Axis is perhaps the most vital to the ayatollahs’ new terror build-up, which is why the HQ’s commander Amiri is also in charge of this axis. The Northern Axis’s operations in Baghdad are handled by Abu-Jafar Al-Boka, previously with the Badr Corps. To effectively train would-be Iraqi terrorists, the new command HQ in Kermanshah utilizes several fully equipped and staffed training bases. Two bases in Kermanshah’s Kenesht valley, the Jalil-Abad Hizbollah Base in Varamin near Tehran, and the Isfahan Training Base in central Iran are presently the primary sites.

Even before this strategic expansion, Iran had acquired significant intelligence and political assets in Iraq. When Iraq’s previous regime fell, Tehran’s intentions were largely ignored or misunderstood. The mullahs took advantage and launched what is essentially a proxy war against the United States. The ayatollahs’ regime, through the Qods Force, now owns nearly 3000 houses, properties, apartments, businesses, and hotels throughout Iraq; has set up more than 20 groups and parties; has as many as 40,000 Iraqis (many within Maliki’s government) on its payroll; has set up 100 libraries and runs 380 Koran study centers as well as video clubs, 7 TV and 3 radio stations, 30 publications, and an extensive network of mosques.

Thankfully, the news is not all bad. The U.S. military surge strategy has had positive results, and there have been impressive successes by the Iraqi Awakening Councils (also known as the Sons of Iraq) in pushing back the Sunni and mainly Tehran-controlled Iraqi Shiite terrorist groups. As evidenced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s failed trip to Iraq in March, Tehran has had almost no success in developing any strategic popular traction among ordinary Iraqis, particularly Shiites, despite five years of non-stop meddling.

And Tehran’s political anchor within the Iraqi government, the ruling Shiite block United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), is plagued with internal divisions mostly over the allegiance toward Tehran of its two main pillars, Nuri al-Maliki’s Al-Dawa Party and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Externally, the UIA is under tremendous pressure from the block of independent non-sectarian Iraqi politicians, who are demanding it stop kowtowing to Tehran and begin solving Iraq’s political, security, and economic problems.

As the date for the provincial elections approaches (they are scheduled for fall), the UIA, and by extension Tehran, are sensing that the honey moon in Iraq could be coming to an end. The ayatollahs and their Iraqi surrogates are visibly worried about the rise of an Iraqi counterforce. At the core of this counter force are Iraq’s political and tribal leaders who have consistently challenged the Iranian gains in their country. These leaders are allied with the democratic Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK). They insist that the MEK’s deep democratic Islamic and anti-fundamentalist roots make it an indispensable catalyst for their success.

The ayatollahs’ and their Iraqi surrogates have recognized that they must push full court before all the gains they have made in Iraq are reversed forever. Iraq’s independent secular leaders and their strategic allies, the Mojahedin, know that they, too, must push back to rid Iraq of Tehran’s malicious meddling. The U.S. cannot stand idly on the sidelines and hope for the best. America needs to throw its weight behind the anti-extremists, actively work to cut off the Qods Force’s influence in Iraq, and reach out to those Iraqis and Iranians who are committed to the goals of democracy and secularism.

View Source Here [/spoiler]