Iraq’s Puppet Master

July 31st, 2009
Published in Middle East Times / Insight July 31, 2009

Once again, Iran’s mullahs play the West for a fool.

When international pressure mounts against Tehran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seek a release valve in the form of a foreign policy diversion to enable them to carry on with their business. This is done either by proxy or directly. In each case, it involves an unprovoked act of aggression.

Twice within the past three years, this ploy was effectively used by Tehran to take focus off its nuclear weapons development program. In July 2006, it involved using its Islamic proxy group, Hezbollah, which owes its existence in Lebanon to Tehran’s mullahs. On the mullahs’ orders, Hezbollah launched a surprise attack against Israel. Israel’s response led to a 33-day war. That conflict and its aftermath consumed the world community’s attention for the rest of the year.

In 2007, again under pressure for its nuclear weapons program, Tehran took a direct role in creating an international incident. Fifteen British naval personnel, operating in a small boat away from their mother ship, had boarded a vessel, in international waters, suspected of carrying contraband. The Iranians seized the Brits, claiming they were in Iranian waters. British authorities protested, giving the Iranians the boarding party’s GPS coordinates, which plotted in international waters. Rejecting those coordinates, the Iranians provided different coordinates — which, interestingly, also plotted into international waters. Quickly recognizing their mistake, the Iranians re-submitted a set of coordinates that finally plotted in Iranian waters. Eventually releasing the Brits, the Iranians again managed to take the focus off their nuclear weapons program.

Now, Tehran needs to get both its nuclear program and its current domestic unrest out of the spotlight. Anti-government demonstrations have continued in the aftermath of the June 12 sham presidential election by which Khamenei gifted the office to Ahmadinejad. To do so, Tehran turned to a proxy again, targeting an Iranian opposition group the mullahs have long sought to destroy — the MEK, Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (or PMOI).

The MEK has opposed Islamic extremism since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini imposed it on the Iranian people in 1979. Persecuted by the extremists who killed thousands of their members, MEK relocated to Paris in 1981 and later, at the invitation of Saddam Hussein, to Iraq in 1986. Taking up residence at Camp Ashraf on the border with Iran, MEK became a constant thorn in Tehran’s side.

For this reason, Tehran twice “made nice” with Washington. In 1997, the enticement by perceived moderate (but really not) President Mohammad Khatami of normalized relations led the U.S. to designate MEK a terrorist group. And, in 2003, prior to the Iraq invasion, Tehran suggested it would stay out of Iraq if the U.S. disarmed MEK. The U.S. abided by its side of the deal; Iran did not.

During the 2003 invasion, MEK voluntarily surrendered to U.S. forces. Disarmed, MEK members became “protected persons,” under U.S. occupying forces, restricted to their “reservation” at Camp Ashraf. The U.S. ensured MEK’s safety — until Jan. 1, 2009, when it relinquished responsibility to the Iraqi government. Dominated by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other Shiites, the Iraqi government has catered to the wishes of the Shiite mullahs in Iran.

On July 28, without warning, and as is typical with Iranian-inspired aggression, without provocation, Camp Ashraf was raided by Iraqi soldiers who brutalized the unarmed residents. Like the bloody scenes clandestinely filmed in the streets of Iran recently, similar scenes of beatings by security forces have been transmitted from Iraq. Many of the victims are women. Eight MEK members have died; nearly 400 have been injured; and several have been abducted.

Amazingly, Maliki seems to have no concern over his openly kowtowing to the Iranian mullahs. He has barred the foreign press from entering Camp Ashraf to film what is going on there — with one noticeable exception. Two Iranian state television networks, affiliated with Khamenei’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and Iran’s Qods forces, have been given entry. They undoubtedly will film as many of Ashraf’s residents as possible for future identification after the Camp is eventually closed and its residents either returned to Iran or sent to another country. This would be the equivalent of the Nazis going into the Jewish ghettos of Europe in the 1940s to film occupants for subsequent identification and extermination. The only thing Maliki could do to make the process easier for Tehran is to tattoo prisoner numbers on each MEK member’s forearm.

Iran again plays the U.S. for a fool. It succeeds in getting us to disarm MEK, to restrict members to Camp Ashraf thus curtailing anti-mullah activities in Tehran and to turn security for the chicken coop over to the fox – Tehran’s proxy, Maliki.

The hand inside the Maliki puppet brutalizing Ashraf’s residents is Iran’s. The U.S. must stop Maliki from doing Iran’s bidding or else U.S. forces must re-establish control over the Camp to stop the killing. For having disarmed MEK members with the promise they would be protected, the U.S. now has a duty to ensure that is done. A failure to remove the puppet master’s hand from the puppet will leave blood on US hands.

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