Raymond Tanter, a professor emeritus from the University of Michigan in an opinion piece on Sunday in TownHall highlighted the terrorist threats facing members of the main Iranian opposition group People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI or MEK). He wrote:
On July 4, 2016 (8:35 pm Iraqi time), over 50 missiles were fired against Camp Liberty. Because of the proximity of Tehran’s militias in range of Camp Liberty, it appears as if they were launched by those affiliated with the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Damage assessment reveals that parts of the camp were completely destroyed. As many as 40 residents were injured, and astonishingly no one was killed during this massive attack.
Nevertheless, each time the oppressors of Liberty get away with attacking the camp it increases the likelihood of even more hostile assaults in the future.
Once several opponents of Iran left for safety in Iraq, Tehran sought to destroy them there. Several factors coincide to explain why Tehran is assaulting its dissidents in Iraq—members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), the main resistance group that rejects clerical rule, and espouses a secular, democratic, and nonnuclear Iran.
The regime is using the upcoming anniversary of the nuclear deal with Iran on July 14, 2016, as a time to crack down on its opponents. Washington has placed the deal with Tehran over the security of those aligned with the United States and have the capacity to place pressure on the regime on behalf of the Iranian people.
In 2014, Washington agreed to a four-month extension of ongoing nuclear talks until Nov. 24. This period was a time of peril for opponents of Iran because they were and are of great value in revealing intelligence about its nuclear cheating.
Contrary to Iran’s disingenuous offers to be transparent in nuclear talks of Jan. 17, 2005 and Mar. 23, 2005, MEK intelligence revealed in late 2005 that Iran may have been engaged in nuclear-related work at an underground site near the city of Qom.
Three Western allies disclosed on Sept. 25, 2009 intelligence about the Qom site during a G-8 economic summit in Pittsburgh, implicitly validating a resistance disclosure of the same site four years earlier. And by January 2012, Iran acknowledged it had begun enrichment at that heavily fortified site, now known as the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.
A case of retaliation as it relates to nuclear revelations came on September 1, 2013. The organization had in previous years uncovered a number of undeclared nuclear sites and announced them in a series of press conferences, e.g., in Washington during July.
Tehran retaliated to take advantage of ongoing secret nuclear talks with Washington, which let the regime off the hook by saying very little about the assault. Yet in October 2013, the resistance disclosed additional intelligence about suspect weaponization activities by Iran. Another missile attack was waged on Camp Liberty in December 2013, killing four and wounding dozens.
On top of the upcoming nuclear anniversary, there are the deteriorating political-military situation in Iraq and Tehran’s increasing problems with its discontented population. Iran uses such moments as times to crack down on its opponents at home and abroad.
In June of 2009, the regime put down country-wide demonstrations in which dissidents tied to the MEK participated. Iraqi forces acting on behalf of Tehran then attacked MEK members located at that time in Camp Ashraf, Iraq during July of that year. Iraqis killed 13, held 36 as hostages, and only released them in October under intense international pressure.
On April 8, 2011, a day after a major nuclear revelation in Washington by the dissidents, Camp Ashraf came under a major assault by the Iraqi Security Forces, leaving 36 dead, and hundreds wounded, in what was described as “Massacre” by then Senate Foreign Relations chair, John Kerry.
A year after moving to Camp Liberty, on Feb. 9, 2013, rocket and mortar shells fell on the dissidents, killing 9 and wounding over fifty. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees called these attacks, “a despicable act of violence,” describing residents as asylum seekers entitled to international protection.
The Way Forward
Hark back to the nuclear deal with Iran agreed on July 14, 2015. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced legislation to extend the sanctions law for 10 years. Other members are exploring the possibility of introducing bills that focus on the Iranian regime’s financial infrastructure involved in terrorism, missile development, and human rights abuses.
Democrats and Republicans are unhappy with the lack of change in the behavior of the Iranian regime, are considering tougher measures. A Democratic senator who voted for the Iran deal said it is not America’s responsibility to promote foreign investment in Iran, despite efforts by Secretary of State Kerry to encourage investment there. Delaware Senator Chris Coons said on June 23, 2016, “I don’t think it’s our job to act as the chamber of commerce for Tehran.”
Nearly a year after the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement, Iranian dissidents in Iraq are more vulnerable than ever to Tehran-sponsored assaults by its militias in Iraq. To prevent them from intensifying attacks on Camp Liberty, Washington could use its diplomatic leverage with Baghdad to protect Iranian oppositionists and expedite their resettlement out of Iraq to Albania. On June 29, 2016, Senator John McCain introduced a bill (S.3114), which calls for the safety and security of Camp Liberty residents as well as their safe and the expeditious resettlement to Albania. Absent political pushback against Iranian militias from the executive branch, such congressional initiatives are a welcome path forward.
Raymond Tanter, a professor emeritus, University of Michigan; and a former senior staff member, National Security Council, Reagan-Bush administration, is an adjunct scholar of The Washington Institute, researching U.S. policy options toward Iran.
From 1981 to 1982, Dr. Tanter served on the National Security Council staff and was personal representative of the secretary of defense to the 1983-1984 arms control talks held in Madrid, Helsinki, Stockholm, and Vienna. Currently, he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr. Tanter received his doctorate from Indiana University and has taught at Northwestern, Stanford, University of Michigan, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The recipient of a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Amsterdam, he has served as a fellow at both the Hoover Institution and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. As scholar-in-residence at the American embassy in Tokyo, Dr. Tanter lectured on petroleum interruption scenarios, with special reference to the Middle East. At Georgetown, he teaches courses on the Arab-Israeli conflict, international security affairs, and ballistic missile defense. He was scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute during fall 2001.
His latest book is “Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents.”