By Lord Tarsem King
THE HILL – The U.S. and its allies are currently in Geneva negotiating with Iran to end its suspected nuclear weapons projects. But the U.S. faces another pressing foreign policy challenge that simply cannot be placed on hold. A top priority is the establishment of a national unity government in Iraq that will not be beholden to Iran.
President Obama is keeping his commitment for a phased withdrawal, which the U.S. economy needs. But at issue is what we would leave behind, how political stability will be safeguarded after we’re gone, and how Iran will be prevented from interfering in the absence of the U.S. troops.
Iraq under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the past four years has been far from democratic. The hundreds of thousands of Iraq war documents released by WikiLeaks have disclosed countless cases of torture, rape, and murder by Maliki’s security forces.
The Obama administration had hoped that the gap left by outgoing U.S. forces would be filled by a national unity government – an indigenous counterbalance to regional intruding forces after years of turmoil.
The Parliamentary elections earlier this year were won by the secular alternative despite a heavy Iranian-backed campaign. Yet, disregarding the outcome, Maliki impeded the formation of a new government and ignored Iraqi voters’ will, all with Tehran’s backing. The country had eight months of stalemate in forming a new government.
There now seems to be a fragile deal towards a unity government. Maliki’s chief rival, Ayad Allawi, whose bloc won the most votes in the election, will join such a government as head of a committee overseeing national security.
This plan will hopefully not collapse. It may be the last chance to save Iraq from Iranian domination.
Maliki, whose first term was riddled with arbitrary arrests, torture, monopolization of power, does not deserve to be part of the new government. He is more part of the problem than the solution for Iraq. And he owes his second term in office to Iranian meddling.
Among the reports revealed by WikiLeaks were warnings that “Iran is gaining control of Iraq at many levels of the Iraqi government.” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Lebanese Hezbollah jointly trained Iraqi Shiite militias near the city of Qom in Iran, and the Iranian regime even targeted American forces. One document confirms that mortar attacks in 2009 against the Green Zone were carried out by a Shiite militant organization backed by Iran’s theocratic rulers. This was almost a year after President Obama took office and sought to open a diplomatic dialogue with Iran’s leaders.
President Obama’s mistake was to think it possible to negotiate with Iran for a secure and stable Iraq. Surely, we did not lose thousands of our best sons and daughters to see despots who are beholden to Tehran gain power.
Now, the U.S. should reveal all the evidence of Iran’s multifaceted meddling in Iraq and should make genuine efforts to expel the regime’s agents from the country. It must support Iraq’s independent and democratic forces and guarantee that the era of Tehran dictating the policies of the Iraqi government are over.
A case in point is how Tehran’s opponents, members of the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI), are treated in Iraq. Tehran seeks another bloody crackdown on Camp Ashraf, where 3,400 PMOI members live in Iraq, in exchange for its support for Maliki in the current political quarrel. And Maliki’s pressures against Ashraf are a good indicator of his allegiance to the Iranian regime. There are credible reports that during Maliki’s trip to Tehran in October, Saeed Jalili, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, explicitly instructed Maliki on implementing new suppressive measures against Ashraf residents. This should be alarming to all of us.
Ashraf acts as the bulwark against Iranian meddling in Iraq, and millions of Iraqis have supported it on this basis and humanitarian grounds. Thousands of parliamentarians and legal experts around the world have warned that Tehran’s agents and proxies are waiting for the right opportunity to annihilate the residents of Ashraf. The U.S. should reassume the protection of Camp Ashraf. This is a humanitarian imperative and a savvy political step in confronting Tehran’s influence in Iraq.
The world rightly views Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat requiring international sanctions, but its threat to dominate Iraq is equally ominous. The test is before the Obama administration. The future of Iraq should not be fumbled.
Lord King of West Bromwich, a Member of the United Kingdom’s House of Lords from the Labour Party, is a member of the British Parliamentary Committee for Iran Freedom.