Iran’s influence in Iraq is of increasing concern as U.S. forces prepare to leave at the end of the year, for when the U.S. forces are gone, they will not be leaving an Iraq with a benign government, but one led by a dictator who openly terrorizes his people and is increasingly subservient to Iran.
Nouri al-Maliki is not only prime minister but Iraq’s Defense, Interior and National Security minister, and in these capacities he recently, at Tehran’s behest, ordered a brutal crackdown on 3,400 Iranian refugees living in a camp northeast of Baghdad.
The defenseless refugees, members of the main Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) based at Camp Ashraf, came under an armed assault in April that left 36 camp residents killed and 350 injured.
Despite confirmation by the United Nations of the scale of the carnage, U.S. forces in Iraq failed to intervene either before or after the attack. They failed to provide protection for the residents. They failed even to provide an escort for all the injured needing medical aid.
The camp remains under siege, as it has been since the U.S. handed it over to Iraq in January 2009, and Maliki has made clear his intention to expel the residents in violation of their rights under the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law.
What makes matters worse is that the U.S. State Department has, in order to placate Iran, wrongfully blacklisted the PMOI as a foreign terrorist organization. This has been the case since 1997, despite strong bipartisan objection on Capitol Hill and court rulings in the group’s favor in Britain, Europe and the U.S.
In June, there was a major rally in Paris, which drew as many as 100,000 Iranians and non-Iranians from across the world, to condemn Iraqi human rights violations at Ashraf and to call for the establishment of a permanent UN monitoring team at the camp. There was a bipartisan show of U.S. support for the cause, as Democrats such as former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Republicans such as former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani came to urge President Obama to support this option.
They and other top former American officials called on the current administration to offer to protect a UN monitoring outpost that is established at Ashraf. As few as 20 U.S. soldiers and a small UN team on watch could prevent another attack and more loss of life.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (under President George W. Bush) was also at the Paris gathering to point out that Iraq was misusing the U.S. terror label against the PMOI to murder its members at Ashraf. As Ridge did, I call on President Obama to order the State Department to immediately revoke the PMOI’s terrorist designation and allow Iran’s largest and best-organized opposition group to help bring about democratic change in Iran.