Undermining Iraqi Security by Giving in to Tehran’s Demands

Fox News, October 7, 2008

Alireza Jafarzadeh (Foreign Affairs Analyst)

With an eye to the crucial provincial elections to be held in Iraq in the coming months, and the end of the UN mandate of US-led Multi National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), the ayatollahs’ terror campaign is growing increasingly vicious. The goal is to keep the Iraqi government divided and weak, and hence vulnerable to Tehran’s machinations.

If held free of interference by Iran and its Iraqi proxies, those elections could be a milestone toward establishing a democratic, non-sectarian nationalist government in Iraq — an option Tehran will go very far to remove.

Iran’s strategy, adopted by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in tandem with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, seeks a weak, sectarian government by the Shiite majority, susceptible to Tehran’s pressure and influence and inclined to act at Tehran’s behest.

The Iranian regime is working overtime to sabotage the vote by assassinating key Iraqi officials and politicians, particularly from the nationalist, non-sectarian block. Meanwhile, Tehran is pursuing the same goal by exerting tremendous pressure on the Iraqi government, in a bid to disrupt the ongoing security negotiations between Baghdad and Washington, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker referred to the strategy in his familiar diplo-speak in an interview with the Associated Press. Citing Tehran’s “fundamental desire to oppose the development of a fully secure and stable Iraq,” Ambassador Crocker said, “I think they would like to keep Iraq off balance as a way of being able to control events here to the satisfaction of Tehran.”

A US military spokesman told CNN that Iraqi Shiite fighters who were trained in Iran to operate in assassination squads are starting to return to Iraq and “planning assassinations of key [Iraqi] government and security officials, as well as coalition forces.”

Tehran’s war on Iraqi political reconciliation includes a well organized assassination campaign against rising nationalist politicians, regardless of their religious and ethnic background, and leaders of the Sons of Iraq and Awakening Councils, whose cooperation in ridding Iraq of terrorist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Qods Force has been decisive in improving security.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times last week, Ambassador Crocker warned that while Iran is “pushing very hard to derail ongoing security talks,” it is also “tightening its ties to Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq and co-opting them from anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada Sadr.” He said that “Iran has a history of using members of political or other opposition groups in other countries to its advantage.”

Tehran’s officials are hardly trying to hide their distain for notions like non-interference in Iraq’s internal affairs. In a statement viewed by The Los Angeles Times as “appearing to be speaking on behalf of Iraqis,” Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi-Qomi told The Times that “the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government look at the [security] agreement as being imposed on them.”

Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, formerly the mullahs’ president, weighed in last Friday during a sermon in Tehran: “The Americans persistently want to impose the agreement, which surely does not support the interests of Iraq and is harmful to the future of Iraq.”

In early September, Iran’s parliamentary speaker, Ali Larijani, told a group of Iraqi journalists that a security deal with the U.S. would humiliate Iraq. This and similar statements have irked some Iraqi officials, such as Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who criticized Tehran for trying to interfere in the negotiations. “Those who objected to the agreement right from the start were Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army and some officials in the Islamic Republic,” he told Al Hurra TV.

Meanwhile, the behind-the-scenes pressure by Iran has also intensified, according to an Iraqi official quoted by The Wall Street Journal. The London Daily Telegraph reports that Iraq’s prime minister “Nouri al-Maliki replaced professional diplomats on the negotiating team with members of his private office in August, a development that has pro-Iranian politicians at the heart of the negotiations.” Since then, relying on its Trojan Horses, Tehran has in effect paralyzed the talks.

Along the way, the ayatollahs’ regime has exacted strategic concessions from the United States by again dangling the promise of its cooperation – or less opposition – over the security agreement in exchange for dismantling the forces of the main Iranian opposition located in Iraq. Tehran has been relentlessly pressing the Maliki government to insist, on the pretext of Iraqi national sovereignty, that US-led MNF-I hand-over protection of Camp Ashraf to Iraqi security forces.

Camp Ashraf is the residence of Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK), and their families in Iraq. The PMOI members have been recognized as “Protected Persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention by the United States, the MNF-I, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Obligated by the “Protected Persons” status, US forces have been providing their security.

In Iran, the PMOI-led resistance poses a strategic threat to the viability of the ayatollahs’ regime. In Iraq, Camp Ashraf’s location and influence has been a key factor in the Iraqi campaign to thwart Tehran’s nefarious designs, Middle East experts believe. Hence, Camp Ashraf has preoccupied the mullahs, especially since 2003. No surprise there.

What is astonishing is that the American side of the negotiations keeps falling for the “Iraqi sovereignty” line. On September 9, The Washington Times quoted a White House official as saying, “The United States is consulting with the Iraqi government concerning the ongoing transfer of security responsibility to Iraq.” This has emboldened Tehran, which reads the American acceptance of the demand as a sign of weakness, and in turn the mullahs have increased their pressure on Iraq’s government and campaign of terror against Iraq’s people.
Not to mention that turning Ashraf over to Iraqi security forces precipitates a humanitarian crisis. Talk about putting the fox (Tehran) in charge of the hen house!

When will Washington learn the bitter lesson that appeasing the mullahs at the expense of the Iranian resistance always backfires? Many members of U.S. Congress, Republicans and Democrats, believe that especially at this crucial juncture, just months before a decisive election in Iraq, the United States is, by its own hands, depriving itself and nationalist Iraqis of a major ally in the campaign for a democratic, secure, and non-sectarian Iraq free of Iran’s nefarious influence.

International Humanitarian Law as well as obvious strategic imperatives behoove the United States to remain in charge of Camp Ashraf’s protection as long U.S. forces are in Iraq.