Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ahmadinejad foes need a shield

The Washington Times
By Brian Binley
August 24, 2008

America's Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno will take over the top brass job in Iraq next month while Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards Quds Force continues to train Shi'ite militias to kill Iraqis and Coalition troops.

As Iranian-sponsored violence continues, there remains a powerful force in Iraq with far greater local knowledge than the U.S. military and anti-fundamentalist Islamic roots that has thus far acted as the principal bulwark to complete Iranian domination of Iraq's political landscape.

The People's Mujaheedin of Iran (PMOI), based in Camp Ashraf in Iraq's Diyala Province for more than two decades, is the main democratic opposition movement to the ayatollahs' regime in Tehran.

Following the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, the group voluntarily disarmed and its members confined themselves to Camp Ashraf. From there, they rallied Iraqis of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to take a firm stance against Tehran's expansionist policies in Iraq.

The group has been instrumental in providing intelligence to the West on Iranian meddling and arms transfers fueling the insurgency.

In what U.S. officials admitted at the time was an incentive to the government of then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Washington blacklisted the PMOI a decade ago. The copycat ban was applied in the United Kingdom and the European Union, but the U.K.'s Court of Appeal and the European Court of Justice annulled both designations, describing them as "perverse" and "unlawful."

In Iraq, the PMOI has won significant support, with some 3 million Shi'ites announcing in June that they were backing the group on the grounds that it acts as the strategic counterbalance to Iranian aggression and sponsorship of sectarian strife. Even though the PMOI is a Shi'ite movement, the group is very popular among Iraqi Sunnis who fear their country is facing a second "secret occupation" by Tehran.

Prominent Sunni lawmakers including Saleh Mutlaq and Adnan al-Dulaimi who heads the largest Sunni bloc in Parliament openly support the group's presence in Iraq, noting that the U.S. has designated all PMOI personnel in Ashraf as "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, meaning they cannot be extradited or involuntarily displaced within Iraq.

Despite this support, the al-Maliki administration, widely suspected of being infiltrated greatly by allies of the Tehran regime, has said it wants to expel the group from Iraq. This declaration is in breach of international law and the Principle of Non-Refoulement.

Regrettably, Tehran's proxies in the Iraqi government have now stepped up pressure on U.S. forces to end their protection of Ashraf and hand over its control to Iraqi forces. Given the Iraqi government's public calls for the group's expulsion, such a scenario would be in violation of the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law, as it would undoubtedly lead to the massacre of the brave men and women of Ashraf.

Any hostile action toward the Mujaheedin in Ashraf may convince many Sunni leaders that the United States is impotent to prevent Iranian domination of Iraq and that they must resort to arms to tackle a wider backlash against their citizens. Gen. Odierno would have a tough time bringing such Sunni tribal leaders into official government service.

A crackdown on Ashraf would also tip the balance of power in Iraq mightily in favor of the regime, resulting in extensive repercussions for U.S. troops and overall American strategy in this fledgling democracy.

The Bush administration and any serious contender to fill the presidency should seek to guard Ashraf City against Iranian aggression if only to ensure American and Coalition interests in Iraq and the Middle East.

Brian Binley is a member of Parliament in the United Kingdom from the Conservative Party.