When American forces defeated those of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003, they also captured and disarmed a group that had been labeled “terrorists” about six years earlier.
This group — called the Mujahideen e-Khalk — is an Iranian exile group much feared by the kakistocracy that runs Iran. Why, then, was it labeled terrorists? Because – at the request of the Iranian mullahs, the principal sponsors of terrorism in the world – the MEK had been labeled “terrorists” by the Clinton administration as a goodwill gesture.
In 2004, the MEK — still held in Iraq’s Camp Ashraf — were declared “protected persons” under the Geneva Conventions by the US commander there. The effect of this declaration was to make the US government responsible for the well-being – not to mention the survival — of the MeK held in Ashraf.
At midnight on December 31, 2008, under the security agreement reached earlier between Washington and Baghdad, a “heart” transplant occurred. The heart of the US occupation of Iraq — control of Baghdad’s high profile Green Zone — reverted to Iraqi control. The heart was transplanted to Iraqi forces deemed qualified to accept security responsibility for the area.
While some US forces will remain in Iraq until subsequent drawdowns occur at the end of 2011 and later, there are numerous influences now at play in the country. Three of these influences will be readily discernible and measurable in the months and years ahead — that of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), the Iraqi government and the US government.
Ever since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Tehran has actively sought to influence events there while attempting to maintain a low profile while doing so. But where Iran’s mullahs identify a threat in their efforts to spread the Islamic Revolution, they aggressively seek to eliminate it. No where has this been more evident than its efforts targeting the MEK.
MEK has a long history of fighting oppression in Iran, going back to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s reign of terror. When this reign rendered MEK homeless in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein—firmly believing “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” — allowed the group to take up residence in Iraq, along the Iranian border, at Camp Ashraf. From there, MEK conducted successful attacks against the mullahs until the 2003 invasion.
Voluntarily surrendering their arms to the Coalition, MEK was granted protected status at Camp Ashraf under the Fourth Geneva Convention, guaranteed by US occupation forces. This protection continued until the January 1, 2009 change, when responsibility for their security reverted – legally — to Iraq.
The influence wielded by Tehran’s Shiite mullahs over the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government was made clear when Baghdad informed MEK, just ten days prior to US security responsibilities passed to Iraq, that remaining in Iraq was no longer an option — plans were underway “to close the camp and deport its inhabitants to their native country, or voluntarily to a third country.”
The US Embassy later qualified the Iraqi statement, announcing US forces would remain at Ashraf to ensure MEK’s humane treatment and to prevent their forced return to Iran. But now, through the joint efforts of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khameini and Iraqi leaders bowing to his pressure, a campaign of lies and disinformation has been launched, putting MEK’s future back on the endangered list.
On February 28, following a meeting between Iraq’s president and Iran’s Supreme Leader, the latter called for implementation of a bilateral agreement to expel MEK from Iraq. A later visit to Iraq by Iranian officials, including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, resulted in Baghdad issuing a statement last week making false claims against MEK officials. The claim was MEK leaders had disrupted efforts by Iraqi officials to interview Camp members’ on their preference in returning to Iran or leaving for a third country. The statement warned MEK “the government will not back away from its decision to close the camp.” The claim is groundless, to which both International Red Cross and US military officials can attest — for they witnessed MEK leaders providing Iraqi officials with unfettered access to its members on February 25-26. Thus, the Iraqi statement clearly represents a conspiracy by certain pro-Iran Iraqi officials to “create” a false basis for the eventual expulsion of MEK to placate Tehran.
Additionally, these Iraqi officials have initiated a campaign to isolate Camp Ashraf, cutting off supplies which now threaten the health and safety of its inhabitants, banning the entry of Iraqi workers and abusing residents — all in violation of international law.
This all comes after an incident occurred last month — and only confirmed on Monday–demonstrating Tehran’s lack of concern over its interference in Iraqi affairs: an Iranian drone was shot down by US forces in Iraq. Due to the length of time the drone spent in Iraqi airspace, it was clear the violation of Iraq’s territorial integrity was no accident but an effort by Tehran to monitor MEK activities at Camp Ashraf. This was either an illegal act by Iran or a legal one authorized by Iraqi government officials supporting Tehran. In either case, it should be of concern to Washington.
On January 1, 2009, the sun seemed to shine brightly over Iraq, initiating a great step forward in its independence. But it may set quickly on a failed Iraqi democracy unless Tehran’s influence is countered. This requires that the US, despite its waning influence, move quickly to ensure MEK’s security and survival. Iran would like nothing more than to bring MEK back home to be executed at the mullah’s leisure. Not only will such an event prove a waxing of Iranian influence, it will prove a waning of US global influence for failing to have prevented a great human tragedy.
The legal responsibility for MEK’s safety may be Iraq’s. But the moral responsibility is still ours.
Will President Obama stand by and allow the MEK leaders and members to be sent to their certain execution in Iran? Or will he live up to America’s clear obligation to preserve their safety?