January 17, 2018

Iran Watch – September 7, 2007

[spoiler title=”Iraq, MEK and US Retreat”] by James Zumwalt
Human Events
For 17 years before the US invasion of Iraq, a lion roamed the border, foraging into Iran on occasion before returning to its Iraqi safe haven. Its prey was the Iranian mullahs’ elite military force — the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). It enjoyed tremendous hunting prowess, growing in size and strength. But during the 2003 invasion, US forces attacked, de-clawed and caged the beast in an effort to placate those who feared it most — Tehran’s leadership. As anti-war critics insist upon a quick US withdrawal from Iraq, they show little concern, if any, for the lion’s fate in the wake of such a departure. We must not ignore the lion’s fate now less its subsequent slaughter, in the event of a US withdrawal, becomes yet another post-war holocaust for which our actions were responsible.

The “lion” is the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) — also known as Mujahedin-e Khalq or “MEK.” It is an ideological group, first organized in 1965 by students at Tehran University opposed to the Shah’s rule, who objected as well to fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. Following Iran’s 1979 revolution that brought the brutal Ayatollah Khomeini regime to power, MEK was gaining popular support. A peaceful MEK-sponsored demonstration in 1981 against Khomeini’s brutality led to one of Iran’s most severe human rights abuses. Security personnel, on Khomeini’s orders, opened fire on half a million demonstrators, arresting many who were later executed in prison. MEK’s response to this violence was violent as well, attacking IRGC elements and numerous Iranian government officials involved in the torture and execution of Khomeini’s critics. As Khomeini cracked down on MEK’s membership, its leadership fled to France.

However, MEK’s residency in France was short-lived. In a deal made between Paris and Tehran to effect the release of French hostages held by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1986, the French government ordered MEK out of the country. Homeless, it re-located to Iraq where, in spite of its Iranian membership, it was tolerated by Saddam Hussein who saw MEK as a buffer to Iran. Its goal ever since 1979 has been single-minded — to bring about a regime change in Iran to one respectful of individual rights. It was able to build an impressive liberation army by capturing hundreds of tanks and other military equipment from the IRGC.

The issue of determining whether the lion was friendly or not to the US was muddled when — at the request of the Iranian regime — the Clinton Department of State listed MEK as a terrorist organization. Various accusations against MEK have included involvement in terrorist attacks against US citizens working in Iran under the Shah, cooperating with Saddam to put down the post 1991 Gulf war uprisings, and so forth.

An independent group, represented by former Congressman Dick Armey, has assessed these allegations and the evidence upon which State relied in reaching its decision, finding State’s decision was “fundamentally flawed.” Far from being terrorists, Armey found MEK to be “a pro-democratic organization that for more than 40 years has worked to bring democracy and freedom to Iran. The MEK has repeatedly been a pawn, sacrificed in US-Iranian and Franco-Iranian relations.” Ironically, it was put on the terrorist list in 1997 as a “goodwill gesture to Iran” the greatest state sponsor of terrorism. Clearly fearing MEK, Iran managed to run an effective propaganda campaign to paint MEK in a terrorist light. Meanwhile, as MEK spends its tenth year on the list, State has yet to similarly list Iran’s IRGC whose Qud’s Force fuels the war in Iraq.

A fundamental difference in beliefs exists between MEK and Iran’s clerics, the former believe in man’s right to exercise free will; the latter totally oppose it. And, as contrasted by Iran’s Islamofascist views which subjugate women to male rule, MEK women occupy the top positions in government and the military.

Recently revealed secret communications between Washington and Tehran, initiated by the latter, occurred at a time Iran feared both the US and MEK, before and immediately after Baghdad’s collapse. The focus of those communications was on MEK. In exchange for Washington removing the MEK thorn from Iran’s side, Tehran promised to behave in Iraq. This pact led to US attacks against MEK during the Iraq invasion. In what is perhaps the most revealing of tests of this lion’s demeanor, however, MEK refused to retaliate against US forces. Thus, while the US abided by its side of the pact with Iran, Tehran failed to abide to its side.

In one final act of contrition by the MEK, they agreed to being disarmed and their freedom of movement restricted. MEK surrendered all weaponry to the US; it submitted its members to extensive US investigation to ascertain if any were involved in terrorist activity (no charges against a MEK member were ever filed); and, finally, the MEK agreed to be caged. Limited to free movement only within the confines of Camp Ashraf in volatile Diyala Province, MEK was granted “protected persons” status under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

But this protection is provided by the lion’s handlers — the US Government. Only a handful of members are allowed out under close US supervision and protection. Meanwhile, MEK has been winning over local tribesman in Iraq’s Diyala Province — once considered one of the most violent areas but now considered one of the least. The local tribes also extend protection to MEK. Tehran fears MEK’s presence in Iraq as the lion has unified moderate Iraqis and been effective in conducting US/Sunni mediations. MEK’s very positive contribution to peace and stability in the region was recently recognized in a petition signed by more than five million Iraqis.

If anti-war critics prevail in demanding a US withdrawal from Iraq, what will happen to MEK? “Protected persons” receive international recognition as such for only so long as an occupying force is in Iraq. Thus, upon a coalition force withdrawal, MEK loses this protective status. When asked about such an outcome, MEK Secretary General, Ms. Mojgan Parsai told Fox News in May 2007, “If the US withdraws from Iraq before democracy is established in this country, it virtually means that it would hand over Iraq to the Tehran mullahs who are the godfather of terrorism; if a democratic government is in power in Iraq, then we should have no problem with the US forces leaving.”

It is doubtful Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki — closely connected to Iran’s mullahs — would do anything to help MEK. And, thousands of displaced MEK would generate a tidal wave of refugees, receiving little support from neighboring countries already overburdened by a continuing flow of Iraqi refugees. Rest assured too, as soon as Iran felt brazen enough to do so, it would target MEK for total destruction, either directly through the IRGC or indirectly through Iranian-supported Iraqi Shiite militias.

Also to be considered is whether we give the MEK the arms we confiscated so it could defend itself when US forces withdraw from Iraq. The answer is obvious — for not to do so would result in a massacre of MEK by Iranian forces. And just as critical is the timing of the weapons return. It is unknown whether regular maintenance has been performed on the weaponry. Just like an unused sword loses its sharp edge, so too does a MEK army denied use of its weapons and equipment for training. This army needs to be given the capability to prepare for the fight of its life — and with adequate time to do so.

If there is any “grand bargain” with Iran as US forces leave Iraq, the protection of MEK members is a responsibility we must meet. For such a bargain to abandon the MEK members — at least 3000 of them in Camp Ashraf — would be to sentence them to death.

The fate of MEK is one of but several considerations that must be well thought out prior to conducting a US withdrawal. Those politicians suggesting short term timetables for this are clearly failing to consider the full impact. Many Iraqis who have been loyal to the US will also pay the ultimate price for having backed the wrong horse. Because US forces today protect it, the lion sleeps tonight. But with the withdrawal of US caretaker forces tomorrow a possibility, the de-clawed lion may well be slaughtered as easily as the sacrificial lamb.

James Zumwalt is a retired Marine who served in the Vietnam and Gulf wars. He has written opinion pieces on foreign policy, defense and security issues for dozens of newspapers. He is president of his own security consulting company. [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Iran: Amnesty International appalled at the spiraling numbers of executions”] Amnesty International is appalled at the reports of the execution of 21 people in Iran this morning, bringing the total number of executions recorded by the organization since the start of 2007 to 210.

This figure exceeds the 177 executions recorded in 2006, although the true figure for both years is likely to be higher. At least two child offenders were among those executed to date in 2007.

Amnesty International has catalogued scores of unfair trials in recent years and the organisation is concerned that many of those executed today faced unfair trials, and a failure to ensure that fair trial safeguards in death penalty cases are implemented in all cases without exemption or discrimination.

Under Iranian law, the accused has no right to legal representation prior to being formally charged. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has stated that all defendants facing the imposition of capital punishment must benefit from the services of a competent defence counsel at every stage of the proceedings.

The scope of capital crimes in Iran remains extraordinarily large and includes vaguely worded charges, such as “enmity against God” (moharebeh ba Khoda) “being corrupt on earth” (mofsed fil arz), which refer, inter alia, to those accused of using firearms against the state; carrying out acts of robbery and to those who are considered to be carrying out espionage against the government. These crimes, including those of are adultery by married people, and same-sex sexual conduct, regarded as a crime against God and as such are not subject to pardon. Discretionary laws over which judges have the power to impose the death penalty include those relating to national security offences. [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”Take inside track in trying to keep Iran in check”] September 5, 2007

As America anticipates the reports next month from Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on the current military and political status of our efforts in Iraq, more and more attention is being paid to the destabilizing and deadly role being played by Iran in this conflict. And rightfully so.

Having worked closely for the past year with the Iran Policy Committee, a Washington-based think tank focused on U.S.-Iranian policy, my colleagues and I have watched a steady, provocative escalation of Iran’s arming, training and financing of insurgents in Iraq. This involvement has cost the lives of American military men and women, and Iran shows no sign of backing down.

The Bush administration has stepped up its warnings to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the extreme fundamentalist Islamic clerics who control him. This strong response comes none too soon. In addition to its deadly role in Iraq, the Tehran regime is a prime sponsor of Hamas, Hizballah and Al Qaeda terrorist activity worldwide. Most significantly, Iran is also actively pursing a policy of uranium enrichment to develop a nuclear weapon in 1-3 years.

But what options are available to U.S. policymakers? Until recently, it was thought our only two choices were economic sanctions and diplomacy, or military intervention. Both options have their place, but taken independently neither is likely to accomplish the goal of getting Iran out of Iraq. Diplomacy with Iran, or the “Appeasement Policy” as some call it, has failed miserably. Iran is more bellicose today than ever before, even after years of sanctions. Military strikes may succeed in taking out nuclear facilities, but the long-term consequences of military engagement in Iran can hardly be predicted with certainty.

So the United States and its Western allies must consider utilizing a “Third Option” against the Iranian government: Empower the Iranian people by unleashing strong, vibrant, moderate opposition groups to bring about change from within the country. Only by forcing the mullah regime to look over its shoulder and face the very real forces of change that exist both inside and outside of Iran will we slow or stop the reckless intervention being waged by that government worldwide. Only domestic pressure will force the Iranian government to tend to its own backyard.

One such opposition group that could play an important role in isolating the Iranian regime and bringing together sectarian groups to forge a political consensus is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. The MEK and its umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, are the principal opposition groups facing the mullah regime in Tehran and are poised to bring real pressure to bear against the government. [/spoiler] [spoiler title=”It’s Iran we’re fighting, says Basra commander”] By David Blair, Diplomatic Correspondent3:17PM BST 06 Sep 2007
British forces in southern Iraq have been fighting a “proxy war” against Iran, the commander of the troops who withdrew from Basra Palace has said. While the Army has frequently accused Iran of stirring violence across southern Iraq by arming Shia militias, no officer has been as blunt as Lt Col Patrick Sanders, commander of 4th Battalion The Rifles.

He told the BBC that 5,500 British soldiers still based at Basra Airport could return to the city if called upon by Iraq’s newly trained security forces.
This may happen if Iraq’s army needs help against Basra’s Shia militias – who Britain accuses Iran of arming and training.

“We are engaged, or we have been engaged, effectively in a proxy war with Iran and if that resumes then they (Iraq’s security forces) will need us to help,” Lt Col Sanders said.

He added that Basra was benefiting from a “lull in violence” and his troops had carried out a smooth and bloodless withdrawal from the palace in the city’s centre. This took place in cooperation with Iraq’s British-trained forces and after talks with the Shia militias.

“There was a lot of potential for some quite serious violence and attacks on us. I’m delighted that it passed off without incident,” Lt Col Sanders said.

In July alone, Shia militias fired 750 mortar bombs at the British base in Basra palace. Of all the armed groups faced by British forces in southern Iraq, the Jaish al-Mahdi, or Army of the Mahdi, led by the radical cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, was judged to be the most dangerous.

But Lt Col Sanders said it was “complete nonsense” to suggest that his troops had been defeated. “The militias, and the Jaish al-Mahdi in particular, have thrown just about everything they have got at us. They have been unable to engage us in open fighting. We have been able to patrol around the city at will, on foot and in vehicles, any place or time of our choosing,” he said.

“It’s been dangerous, and the level of violence that we have been engaged in and the casualties we have suffered are testament to that. But the notion that this is a defeat is nonsense.”

British forces still hold overall responsibility for security in Basra province. But their primary task is now “overwatch”, not combat.

They will stand ready to assist local security forces, continue training Iraqi soldiers and protect the essential supply route linking American forces in the centre of the country with their depots in Kuwait. Lt Col Sanders said their base at Basra Airport was not nearly as vulnerable as their old positions in the Palace. “Basra is quiet and stable at the moment and it augurs well for the future. The militias are talking to each other and they are talking to the Iraqi security force leadership. That is all encouraging,” he said. Lt Col Sanders’s troops are due to leave Iraq in late November and early December. He said they would be replaced, indicating that Britain’s military presence will continue into 2008.

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