Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Former neocon darlings biting the dust

The WaPo reports that the Iraqi government has ordered the evacuation of the Iranian rebel group Mujahidin i-Khalq (MEK) from Camp Ashraf.

So may be ending a sorry - and sordid - tale of a terrorist group once beloved by Bush's neocon set.  The MEK are an Iranian dissident group that at one time opposed the Shah's regime, then turned against the newly installed Islamic regime and wound up in exile in Iraq, where they lined up with Saddam's forces against Iran in the 1980-1988 war.  Over the years they engaged in acts that can only be classified as terrorism in almost anyone's book - and they made it onto various lists of terror groups.

But once the US conquered Iraq in 2003, people like Dick Cheney and neocon luminary Richard Perle (known in DC circles as the "Prince of Darkness") saw them as potential allies whom the US might co-opt in the fight for "regime change" (a favorite neocon expression a few years ago) in Iran.  (OK, they might be terrorists, but they'd be our terrorists.  You got a problem with that?)  As Gary Sick once noted:
"They get all sorts of people to sign their petitions. Many times the Congressmen don't know what they're signing." But others "are quite aware of the fact that this is a designated terrorist organization, and they are quite willing to look the other way for a group that they think is a democratic alternative to the Iranian regime."
The US set them up in Camp Ashraf, and had been shielding them there for the last few years.

But no more.

The US is headed for exit from Iraq; the Shii-dominated government in Iraq and Shii Iran now have very close ties; and the Iranian government has more than one bone to pick with the MEK.  Note at the end of the WaPo's report:
As others debate the MEK's fate, the group appears more isolated than ever. It recently broke off communications with the International Committee of the Red Cross. The European Commission has begun distributing a white paper to lawmakers, many of whom support the MEK, in an effort to taper their support for the group.

"We're trying to educate them," said a senior Western diplomat involved in the efforts, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic rules. "We collectively tend to forget what bad guys the MEK are."

American officials say they can do little under the terms of a bilateral agreement other than urge the Iraqis to act humanely.

"We not only have no obligation to protect them, we cannot intervene," said Philip Frayne, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy.

MEK members say the United States owes them more.

"I am afraid of these soldiers," said Maryam Zoljalali, 28, who moved to the camp eight years ago from Sweden. "I don't know what they will do in the future."

After standing by uncomfortably for a few minutes as camp residents waved placards and photos around journalists, Iraqi troops ordered the reporters back to their vehicles.

Inside one bus, an Iraqi soldier scoffed as he looked out the window.

"They had satellite dishes before anyone in Iraq," he said, a reference to the preferential treatment accorded to the MEK under Hussein. "We used to come here as laborers when they were the commanders."

Asked whether the turned tables were an opportunity for revenge, another soldier laughed.

"I have nothing to do with this," he said. "But their state wants them back."
I'll be curious to see if, say, a John Bolton, a John Hannah, or a Douglas Feith - or, what the heck!  Where are you, Bill Kristol? - feverishly pens an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about how America ought not abandon such allies.

Or, perhaps they'll all prefer to keep their heads down and wait till it all goes away.


Young Activist said...

How much of a policy shift does this represent? It would appear the Obama administration has concluded prominent U. S support for anti-Iranian terrorist groups did more to strengthen the regime in Tehran than undermine it, however it would be interesting to compare the new administration's stance on the MEK to its attitude on Jundallah who apparently received at least some tacit support and sympathy from the Bush administration.

John Robertson said...

It would be interesting indeed. More and more, my sense is that Obama's approach to such groups will be almost as pragmatic as Bush's, but without the neocon veneer. As for Jundullah specifically, Obama's stance will also depend on their stance vis-a-vis Pakistan's fight with the "Taliban."


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