THE BLOG

WikiLeaks Disclosures and the Historic Opportunity on Iran

Thousands of classified documents were released last week by WikiLeaks about developments in Iraq since 2003. But they don't just underscore serious shortcomings in Iraq, they also amplify the urgency to revisit the US policy on Iran. This is made chillingly clear when a glance at the nearly 400,000 military files proves that the Iranian regime meddles extensively in Iraqi affairs to the point of controlling the government and using death squads to unleash a wave of terror and crimes throughout the country.

But the documents also leave a more troubling impression: Washington exercised a deafening silence even as it knew about Iran's destructive role.

Indeed, even before the recent revelations, for seven years, the main Iranian opposition group in exile Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) disclosed thousands of documents about the Iranian regime's meddling, including a detailed list of 32,000 agents on Tehran's payroll, leaving no excuses for inaction.

Now the revealed field reports point to the intimate US knowledge of the heinous and systematic human rights violations carried out by some Iraqi forces led by outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Those responsible for such crimes owe their reprehensible gains and survival almost exclusively to their patrons in Iran.

As evidence piled up and a pattern emerged about the Iranian regime's increasing control of the Iraqi government, training of Shiite militias, and smuggling of caches of weapons across the Iran-Iraq frontier, Washington chose silence almost as if deliberately turning a blind eye.

One document describes how the American military had confirmed in 2009 that mortar attacks against the Green Zone were carried out by an Iran-backed militant group. Again, such cases were kept in the dark or feebly responded to.

All this explains why the mullahs in Tehran continue to perceive Washington as weak and indecisive. A false-hope-turned-policy has lingered for years among US officials that the more the Iranian theocracy is placated the more it will be tamed. But, in reality, a string of attempts to appease the mullahs, including a controversial 1997 decision by the State Department to blacklist the MEK, only emboldened them, something made abundantly clear in a post-2003 Iraq.

Even after President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with an invitation for unconditional talks, the regime and its proxies in Iraq intensified their illicit and deadly conduct, which should have served as a serious wake up call for the administration.

Historically, the regime views the domination of Iraq as a do-or-die part of its strategy to export fundamentalism throughout the region. And it has learnt a valuable lesson: advance the agenda forcefully enough and Washington will concede.

The US has not yet, but should really soon, learn its lesson, too: appeasing a medieval theocracy in Iran will only translate into a devastated Iraq controlled by a nuclear-armed Iranian regime.

Silence is no longer an option. The Iranian regime and its proxies in Iraq, starting with Maliki, should be held to account in an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.

The Obama administration should also turn its attention to the moral and legal obligations it has thus far forsaken in the context of the failed policy of placating Tehran.

One of the most serious examples where a recalibration of the moral compass is urgently needed concerns the 3,400 Iranian dissidents residing in Camp Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad.

In 2009, in a flagrant contravention of the Geneva Conventions, the protection of Camp Ashraf was transferred to the Maliki government, whose forces - not surprisingly in light of the WikiLeaks evidence -brutally attacked the residents, killing 11 and injuring hundreds, at the behest of Tehran.

As the Iranian regime and Maliki keenly await another opportunity to perpetrate more crimes against Ashraf residents, the US is duty-bound to reassume their protection in line with its obligations under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In the same vein, the State Department should act promptly to remove the MEK off the terror list, in accordance with US law. A federal appeals court ruling in June strongly suggested that the designation should be revoked, pointing to a clear lack of credible evidence and violation of the group's due process rights. Secretary Hillary Clinton should listen to the courts and dozens of Congressmen who are calling for the MEK's delisting, and not to the Iranian tyrants.

It is indeed ironic that a group, whose disclosures have led to the saving of Iraqi and American lives in Iraq according to former and present US officers, continues to be unjustly restricted in the US at the request of a terrorist regime.

Washington's Iran policy should be two-pronged: standing firm against the regime and complying with its moral and legal responsibilities vis-à-vis the Iranian opposition. These should be regarded as mutually exclusive. That means any hesitation to stand firm against the regime - possibly due to the regime's agreement to participate in more nuclear talks with the West to buy more time for its program - should absolutely not delay or stop a responsible US decision to observe its legal and moral obligations and resume the protection of Camp Ashraf residents.

Washington's decision to turn a blind eye has made it an unwitting accomplice to Tehran's destructive policies. A firm policy, including comprehensive sanctions, is obviously needed, but this must not conjure up the false dilemma that without direct negotiations, the US will inevitably head towards a military conflict. We've seen how Iran acted in Iraq in response to Washington's overtures for direct negotiations.

There is a third option, which includes supporting the Iranian people and unshackling their organized opposition. Sadly, that option has remained to be deliberately hampered in Washington; but it is an undeniable imperative for a peaceful resolution of both the Iran and Iraq crises, and that is why President Obama should recognize it. Time to act is now.