On Monday, May 28, 2007, the United States and Iran begin a rare face-to-face discussion regarding the security of Iraq. Tragically, for Iraq and the entire region, they come to the table with a set of goals that are diametrically opposed. One wants to escalate violence and further subvert the country while the other wants to reduce tension and stabilize the nation. One seeks to establish a radical theocratic state modeled after its own, and the other a secular Iraq.
The Iranian regime has three objectives in attending these talks. The first is winning the release of the five commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) arrested by American forces in January. Though Iran claims these personnel were diplomats, they are actually top-level commanders of the Qods Force of the IRGC, the regime's deadliest force, specializing in terrorism.
The Iranian regime's second objective is the expulsion out of Iraq of Iran's main opposition group, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which is based in Ashraf City, 100 miles north of Baghdad. Iran believes that the 3,800 members of the MEK have played a significant role in unifying the more moderate voices of Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis against the Iranian influence in Iraq, and therefore is the biggest obstacle to the Iranian regime's ambition of establishing a sister Islamic republic in Iraq.
The MEK has also been instrumental in exposing major nuclear sites of Iran as well as its clandestine terror network in Iraq. The group is now guarded by the United States military as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Ironically, the U.S. State Department includes the MEK on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) in an effort, many members of congress believe, to placate the mullahs in Tehran — even though administration officials and military officers acknowledge that the MEK has been the most helpful to the U.S. on Iran.
Iran's third objective is to push for the withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq, which is necessary for Iran's ultimate goal of establishing global Islamic rule.
The United States has one request: that Iran stop destabilizing Iraq by halting its provision of weapons, explosives, money, and training to the Shiite militias and radical Sunni elements in Iraq.
Iran's long history at the negotiating table shows that it is not in the United States' interest to agree to any of Tehran's demands.
Already, there have been indications that Iran is not taking the talks seriously. When direct talks were first announced earlier this month, Iran announced that it would send the deputy foreign minister to participate. Days later, Iran stated that the job would go instead to its ambassador to the United Nations. Soon after that announcement, Iran once again downgraded its representative, stating that its ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, would lead the Iranian delegation. Kazemi Qomi himself has a long history of inciting instability in Iraq, as a former commander of the Qods Force.
Even if the regime does reverse this tactic and treat the talks seriously, it will do so without any intention of acting on any commitments it makes. On nearly every major negotiation, and especially on the nuclear issue, Iran has come to the table only to rebuff all requests made of it, or to afterward disregard any commitments it makes. For the mullahs in Iran, every inch that the U.S. concedes is interpreted as a sign of weakness that further emboldens the Iranian ruling clerics, and invites more terrorism and sectarian violence.
And Tehran is already doing its most to drive up violence in Iraq. According to sources inside Iran, the Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFP) used against the Multi-National Force in Iraq are built in Iran on the confidential order of the Qods Force — the same force the five IRGC commanders captured by the US are a part of — which moves these deadly weapons to Iraq by its Iraqi agents and distributes them among various terrorist proxies.
Iran has also set up command headquarters for the Qods Force of the IRGC in Iran to coordinate its terrorist activities in Iraq. Currently, Iran has as many as 32,000 Iraqis on its payroll, including senior officials in the Iraqi police, ministries, the National Assembly, and other institutions.
Moreover, using a well-coordinated network, Iran has been sending millions of dollars into Iraq every month, both as cash and through wire transfers.
In addition, the Qods Force has allocated several bases in Tehran, Karaj, Qom, Isfahan, as well as the provinces of Kermanshah, Ilam, Kurdistan, and Khuzestan for the military training of Iraqi death squads and terrorist networks. These individuals travel to Iran in groups under various covers, using both legal and illegal borders.
Since February 2006, Iraqi militias have been trained in Qods Force camps in Iran including the Imam Ali Garrison in northern Tehran. This base has been IRGC's main location for training foreign terrorists in Iran, but is now allocated entirely to the training of Iraqi militias.
Given its massive investment in Iraq to date, the probability that Tehran will give up its network in Iraq and decommission its Qods Force is next to zero. Any concessions made by the U.S. would therefore only serve to undermine its own agenda.
The problem in Iraq is neither a civil nor a sectarian war. Iraq is now a battleground for the clash of two alternatives: the Islamic extremist option, which gets its orders from Tehran and seeks to establish an Islamic republic in Iraq, and a democratic alternative seeking a pluralistic democracy in the country.
Iraq will be secure and stable when Iran's influence is cut off, its agents arrested, militias disarmed and Tehran's proxies purged from the Iraqi government. At the same time the coalition of secular and nationalist Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds should be empowered. To accomplish that, the Unites States should be ready to take drastic measures regarding Iran.
War is not a viable option, but pressuring the Iranian regime, disrupting Iran's operations in Iraq and empowering the moderate voices in Iraq are all practical and effective steps that can, and must, be taken. Indeed many members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, including presidential candidates, argue that the U.S. can best exercise its leverage against Iran by removing the MEK from the FTO list. In addition to allowing the MEK to use its full resources to counter Tehran's agenda in Iraq, such a move would send to the Iranian regime the unmistakable signal that the U.S. is serious about halting Iran's terrorist influence in Iraq and the rest of the region.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.