Foreign Affairs

U.S. Must Defend Anti-Iran MEK, Not Dicey Libya Rebels

When violence in other parts of the world endangers lives, the U.S. must selectively choose where to intervene and where not.   

Two groups of rebels endure death and destruction today.  President Obama has opted to help one—which has done nothing to show itself worthy of risking a single American life—but not the other—which has proven invaluable in exposing a major threat to our future existence.

One rebel group opposes Libya’s Mummar Gaddafi.  We do not really know who makes up this group are or what they represent.  We have no legal obligation to help them.  There is no immediate threat to U.S. national security interests mandating our involvement.  No measurable objective is offered to provide us with a well-defined exit strategy.  Despite all this, President Obama has commited U.S. military forces to a third war to save Libyan lives. 

The other rebel group opposes Iran’s mullahs.  Known as Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), we know a lot about them.  Opposed to the Shah of Iran long ago, MEK turned its focus against Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when he came to power in 1979.  In Khomeini, it saw a much more dangerous threat to the Iranian people—Islamic fundamentalism.  Meanwhile, Khomeini saw MEK as a threat to his regime.  In 1981, when MEK peacefully demonstrated against Khomeini, he ordered protesters shot, killing thousands.  Driven out of Iran, MEK surprisingly ended up in 1986 in Iraq—at the invitation of Saddam Hussein.

Believing “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Saddam allowed MEK to establish a base— Camp Ashraf —on the border with Iran.  From there, MEK conducted numerous cross-border raids with devastating impact. 

Reeling from these attacks and using the false promise of improved relations with the U.S., Iran convinced Washington in 1997 to designate MEK a terrorist organization.  The U.K. and European Union followed suit.  Internationally, MEK became isolated as Tehran became more aggressive. 

In 2003, as the U.S. prepared to invade Iraq, Tehran made another false promise to the U.S.:  De-fang MEK and Iran would stay out of Iraq.  Again the U.S. took the bait.  As U.S. forces attacked Camp Ashraf, MEK—not wanting to fight us—voluntarily disarmed.  In doing so, they accepted “protected persons” status under the Fourth Geneva Convention (prohibiting extradition to Iran, forced repatriation to any country, or relocation in Iraq ), with U.S. forces to guarantee their protection.  

Having renounced violence, MEK subsequently sought its delisting as a terrorist organization.  Its efforts paid off with the U.K. and the European Union.  But not the U.S.—which recently has even been ordered by an American appellate court to reassess this decision.

The U.S. failure to delist MEK is unwarranted, not only because MEK has renounced terrorism, but also because of the risks it has taken in using its network within Iran to reveal Tehran’s secret nuclear arms program.  MEK was first to reveal the program’s existence in 2002, and has continued to report on it ever since—with a 90% accuracy rate.  On April 6, MEK held a news conference to disclose yet another Iranian facility, the “TABA complex,” which for four-and-a-half years has secretly been manufacturing centrifuges. 

U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessments on Iran have been lacking for want of in-country assets—a void MEK fills.  It provides the West with highly credible information about Tehran’s nuclear program at great cost. 

With a dominant Shia population in both Iraq and Iran, Tehran wields influence over Baghdad’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Because of this, Tehran pressures Maliki to eradicate the Camp Ashraf “problem” by returning its residents to Iran for execution.  Perhaps unwilling to go that far yet, Maliki nonetheless does Iran’s bidding.  Iraqi security forces surround Camp Ashraf, holding MEK residents hostage.  Maliki allows Iranian agents into the camp to identify some for special targeting.  In July 2009, an unprovoked and violent encounter resulted when Iraqi forces stormed the camp, killing several unarmed residents. 

It is not a coincidence what happened immediately after MEK’s April 6 news conference revealing Iran’s TABA complex.  On April 7, Maliki ordered U.S. forces outside the camp to leave.  On April 8, 2,500 Iraqi soldiers in armored vehicles launched an attack against the 3,400 unarmed residents imprisoned there.

Videos of the assault are shocking.  Iraqi soldiers, confronting unarmed targets, “bravely” stand in the open, shooting residents like “fish in a barrel.”  In one case, a resident filming the massacre to document the atrocities is gunned down for doing so by an Iraqi soldier.  Other residents, simply carrying wounded friends to safety, are shot in the back.  Iraqi vehicles are seen running over victims.

While the U.S. had no legal obligation to intervene on behalf of Libyan rebels, it does have a legal obligation, based on its accepted role in 2003 under the Geneva Conventions, to intervene on behalf of MEK rebels being slaughtered at Camp Ashraf.  Yet we stand aside, allowing Iran to impose its will upon them through the offices of an Iraqi leader serving as Tehran’s lapdog. 

It is unconscionable that Obama had U.S. forces surrender their role as MEK’s protectors on Maliki’s orders.  Our inaction to stop the bloodshed is a death sentence for Ashraf’s residents, a violation of our legal obligation to protect them and contributes to the mullahs’ success in eliminating an opposition group seeking to end Iran’s nuclear program.  Sadly, while intervening in Libya to help rebels who may well turn on us later, we choose not to intervene in Iraq to help rebels who have proven worthy of our intervention.  

As Ashraf burns, President Obama fiddles to curry favor with an Iraqi murderer.

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