August 20, 2017

Abandoning our Iranian Friends in Iraq

TOWN HALL

By Reymond Tanter

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.