Abandoning our Iranian Friends in Iraq

Posted: Nov 21, 2014 12:01 AM

During 18-24 November, the Vienna talks resumed between major powers and Iran. The narrative: How many of Iran’s 19,000 centrifuges should be mothballed to prevent breakout before inspectors can detect a race for the bomb; one or two chambers for testing high explosive devices in secret weaponization work, (if two, inspections would be harder); and ongoing cheating around sanctions because there is “no such thing as a good Iranian bank.”

Although the front story is important, consider the backstory: war for Washington between realists and conservatives over a moral and strategic case for keeping faith with friends.

Realists deal with states as they are and pay less attention to how they treat people. Conservatives are more likely to take into account the odious nature of a regime like Iran, its abysmal human rights record, and strategic value of keeping faith with its people. President Barack Obama is a realist who ignores how Tehran treats people and discounts being faithful, if Washington closes an arms control accord with Tehran.

President Ronald Reagan was a conservative who condemned the Soviet Union as an “evil empire,” succeeded in reducing oppression of Soviet people, and negotiated arms control with Moscow. Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev concluded the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces accord in 1987 and established the foundation for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which concluded in 1991 during Bush 41. Reagan and his successor made strides in persuading Moscow to accept the Helsinki Final Act, which allowed for human rights to flourish in the Eastern bloc, break away from Moscow, and demise of the Soviet Union.

Obama properly uses “pure evil” to condemn beheading of an American citizen by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); he does not censure the Iranian regime, which engages in public hangings of political dissidents and encourages Baghdad to oppress the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI)—Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty, Iraq.

Given Obama’s realism, he ignores the plight of friends left behind in Iraq after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces. Even with reintroduction of military advisors embedded in Iraqi and Kurdish units to degrade and destroy ISIS, there is little attention to friends we left in Iraq, vulnerable to persecution. But Obama is not alone leaving friends behind. A Republican realist, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, abandoned Vietnamese who helped U.S. troops during the war until it was too late in 1975.

During a 2007 campaign speech, Candidate Obama stated, “We must also keep faith with Iraqis who kept faith with us.” But later, Team Obama has allowed resettlement in the United States of “only a tiny fraction of our own loyalists.”

In the context of battle between White House and Congress over immigration reform from countries to the south, resettling refugees is a controversial issue. For Iranian dissidents in Iraq, resettlement here has bipartisan support. Conservative and liberal Members find common ground on Capitol Hill. Americans are unaware of this accord or its strategic import, and Team Obama ignores the dissidents.

For Tehran, the PMOI in Camp Liberty is of strategic import. These dissidents have extensive contacts on the ground in Iran and are strategic assets against Tehran. They have historic ties in Iraq that can help tilt the balance against radical Sunnis and counter an extremist Shiite arc of Tehran and Damascus. A main reason Iran encourages Iraq to launch assaults against Camp Liberty is to demoralize members and destroy the PMOI as a political force in and against Iran.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) of which the PMOI is the largest unit, announced November 10, that agents of Iraq’s National Security entity and Badr Organization stole property from Camp Ashraf where the PMOI had been resident before Camp Liberty.

I reviewed a letter of September 5, 2013 from UNAMI and a supporting document of agreement among UNAMI, Government of Iraq (GOI), and NCRI. The document states, “The GOI shall safeguard and guarantee all Ashraf property.” Theft of Ashraf property is a macabre example of the adage, “Promises are made to be broken and lies are meant to be kept.”

By sidelining the NCRI, realists in Washington allow Tehran to consolidate its domination of Iraq and expand its influence in Beirut and Damascus; sidelining the NCRI, according to one conservative strategist, makes “Washington’s strategic error…enormous.” That said, research indicates the way forward is to resettle the PMOI from Liberty, combine it with expat clout, and reinforce that influence with continued robust intelligence capabilities.