Since 2003, the ayatollahs’ regime has been relentless in sowing terror and mayhem in Iraq. Capitalizing on a series of U.S. errors, both strategic and tactical, Tehran has accelerated its drive to force the Multi-national forces out of Iraq and become the de-facto power-broker in Iraq. Perhaps the most despicable of the many nefarious acts by Tehran and its Iraqi proxies, is the assassination of non-sectarian, pro-democracy Iraqi leaders. According to the Associated Press, the Qods Force, aided by Arabic-speaking agents of the Lebanese Hezbollah, has been training Iraqi Shiite assassination teams in four locations inside Iran. Recruits are drilled in methods to murder Iraqi political figures, including many judges, U.S. soldiers and Iraqi forces. AP also reports that the training operation has the ''knowledge and approval of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.''
While Tehran’s terrorist campaign in Iraq has been widely reported, little has been written about its concerted efforts to eliminate its principal opposition, the People’s Mujahedin Organization (MEK/PMOI), which is based in Iraq. In recent months, Tehran has tried to exploit the complicated negotiations between the United States and Iraqi government over the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), to advance its strategic aims, including the elimination of the 3,500 MEK members in Camp Ashraf in Iraq.
Hassan Kazemi Qomi, a senior commander of the notorious Qods Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp, who is now Tehran's ambassador to Iraq, told the state-run media on August 21, 2008 that the MEK "has six months to leave Iraq," and that the Iraqi security forces intend to take over the control of Camp Ashraf. The camp has been protected by the United States military since 2003.
Who is the MEK and why does Tehran think now is the time to eliminate it — something it has failed to accomplish for nearly three decades?
Established in 1965 in opposition to the Shah, all of the MEK’s founders were arrested by the Shah’s secret police in 1971-72 and most executed. Following the 1979 revolution, the MEK became Iran’s largest political party, with hundreds of thousands of followers across Iran.
Early on, the organization was active in the political process, but soon found itself in conflict with the forces of Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini ordered a brutal crackdown in June 1981. As many as 120,000 MEK members and supporters have since been killed.
Beginning with the 1981 crackdown, many MEK members and supporters went into exile in France, but in 1986 when the French government sought improved relations with Tehran, it expelled them. The MEK leadership with several thousand followers relocated to Iraq, where they established a number of bases. The largest of these is Camp Ashraf, located near the town of Khalis, in Diyala Province.
Long before the outbreak of war in 2003, Ashraf declared its neutrality and remained non-belligerent. In May 2003, in a move which won the praise of CENTCOM for its ''significant contribution'' to the ''Coalition’s mission to establish a safe and secure environment for the people of Iraq,'' the MEK agreed to the ''voluntary consolidation'' of its forces and disarmed. At the time, General Raymond Odierno acknowledged the group's ''cooperation with US forces and its commitment to democracy in Iran.''
In July 2004, after a vigorous 16-month review by seven different U.S. agencies, including the State Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation, every MEK member in Camp Ashraf was cleared of any violations of American law. U.S. Forces recognized the Ashraf residents as ''protected Persons'' under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Multinational Force-Iraq has been responsible for the protection of the base.
The MEK has maintained close ties with its Iraqi neighbors, who share its aversion to Tehran’s agenda in Iraq. This common bond was underscored on June 17, 2008, when it was announced that more than 3 million Iraqi Shiites had signed a petition condemning Iranian meddling and declaring support for the MEK and Ashraf residents. This was a strategic blow to Tehran’s efforts to depict Iraq’s Shiites as its supporters.
In retaliation, Tehran is trying to compel Washington to hand over the protection of the unarmed residents of Camp Ashraf. The mullahs’ surrogates — Trojan Horses in the highest political echelons of Iraq — are exerting tremendous pressure on the Nuri al-Maliki government to demand that Ashraf’s ''protection'' be undertaken by Iraqi security forces, known to be permeated with agents on Tehran’s payroll.
Members of the U.S. Congress as well as Middle East experts insist the U.S. must not comply. Lt. General Edward Rowny (ret.), former Special Advisor for Arms Control to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, believes that Tehran seeks the transfer "as a step to create a sister theocratic state — the Islamic Republic of Iraq." Ambassador Rowny said that such developments would be a severe setback to the gains MNF-I has made with its "counterinsurgency strategy, military surge, and political bounce from the surge."
Professor Raymond Tanter, an adjunct scholar at The Washington Institute, noted, ''If Ashraf's security responsibilities were transferred to Iraqi security forces, as demanded by the Iranian regime, it would be a flagrant violation of international laws and conventions…such a move would certainly invite a humanitarian catastrophe. No U.S. president would want to leave such a legacy.''
Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum and the Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, wrote that ''According to the Convention against Torture of 1984, to which the U.S. government is a party, expiration of the U.N. mandate does not end the American obligation to continue to protect MEK members in Iraq.''
Pipes states that ''The Bush administration has stayed silent about these developments but it has the duty and the interest — based on its humanitarian commitments, its international law obligations, and its need for allies against Tehran — to insist in its status-of-forces negotiations with Baghdad that MEK members at Camp Ashraf remain under the protection of the U.S. military.''
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) declared in a recent statement that ''The U.S. must maintain its commitment to uphold the legal and humanitarian obligations as they relate to the people of Ashraf. In order to prevent a large scale humanitarian catastrophe, the U.S. government must retain the sole responsibility for their protection in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention rules.'' Sounding the alarm about ''a near slaughter of these refugees by the Iranian regime and its proxies,'' Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) also called on the U.S. government to continue its protection of Camp Ashraf.
Congressman Bob Filner (D-CA) stated that handing Camp Ashraf over to Iraq’s security forces "would be an obvious breach of the U.S. obligations under international law and would invite a humanitarian catastrophe." He concluded "This must be avoided at all cost."
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
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.
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.