The Islamic Republic of Iran has desired to dominate its neighbor ever since the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980. Indeed the late Ayatollah Ruhoallah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic Republic, declared his desire to conquer Qods that is Jerusalem, by way of Kerbala, the Shiite holy city in south central Iraq. Although the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 in a stalemate after eight long, hard years, Khomeini's dream was not forgotten by his followers. It has taken Iran some seventeen years to achieve its goal, but with the unintentional help of America and our allies, Saddam Hussein having been removed from power, the Iranian regime and her proxies have succeeded in filling the power vacuum. Iran has become the de facto ruler of much of Iraq. How has Teheran done this?
When Saddam Hussein went after the Shiite marsh Arabs in 1991, following the First Gulf War, Iran opened its borders and allowed their fellow Shiite Iraqis to find safe haven. Iran also began to support these Iraqis and through providing social services indoctrinated them in its fundamentalist approach to Islam. The roots of a Khomeini type of Islamic outlook were planted in the Shia Iraqis living in Iran at that point. Leaders were cultivated and organizations like the Supreme Islamic Council for the Revolution in Iraq (SICRI), led by Ayatollah Bakir Al Hakim, were encouraged and supported. As long as Saddam remained in power, the Iranians bided their time, content to cause Saddam an occasional headache. But once their old nemesis was neutralized, the ayatollahs saw that they had a perfect opportunity to fill the vacuum. Iran also has given support and encouragement to Muqtada al Sadr, leader of the 'al-Mahdi Army", another Shiite resistance group in Iraq.
SICRI organized the Badr Corps as its militia, with the direct help of the Pasdaran, Iran's 'Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps", Khomeini's and Khámenei's theological army. It is the Badr Organization which has been involved in running the secret prisons for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.
Since the American invasion of Iraq, Iran began to forge political ties with a variety of Iraqi political parties and ethnic groups. Both ethnicities and religious factions were wooed and/or seduced with money and power, as were some secularists. If you are getting confused about changing alliances in Iraq, welcome to the Middle-East; check you watch and the calendar to see who is aligned with whom.
Along with the political ties that Teheran began to fertilize (everyone present understands what type of fertilizer the Iranians use? Hint: it's not Tohmins, but it's green) the regime set its proxies such as the Ansar es-Islam terrorist group to spread chaos in the northeast, and with the Badr Organization, to support insurrection in the Shia south and Baghdad regions.
The Iranian support for insurrection became crystal clear this past July when munitions with Iranian manufacture signatures were discovered by our British allies to be used by Iraqi insurrectionists against the British tanks in the Basra region. Subsequently, our forces have encountered special armor piercing Iranian mines as well, with deadly consequences. The Iraqi-Iranian border having become exceedingly porous, trucks from Iran are reported to cross regularly, loaded with arms and munitions for use against the Allied forces. Our military has become very familiar with Iranian manufactured hardware (i.e., arms and munitions), the hard way.
Of late, Iranian importations into Iran have included huge amounts of propaganda materials concerning the December 15th elections of tomorrow. The Iranian regime wants to have a slate elected that is close to it and will accept an Islamic state similar to the Iranian model. Iran is backing SICRI in order to produce a clone of itself. All the while Teheran keeps on claiming that it is not interfering in Iraqi affairs. Believe that--and since I'm from New York--I'll sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, cheap!
If Iran were only sending propaganda materials into Iraq—around here we'd call it 'lobbying"—it would not be so bad, although it definitely is a form of interference. But Iran is not content to allow the Iraqi public to vote on its own for its choice. No, in typical regime fashion, it has sent teams of Vevak agents (agents of the dreaded Ministry of Intelligence and Security, MOIS) to harass, intimidate and assassinate rival candidates as well as elections' observers so as to influence the outcome. Not content with these criminal activities, Iranian agents also have bribed individuals, smeared rivals with the Baathist label, invented fictitious voters, imported Iranians to vote, and resurrected the dead to vote (just like in Iran this last June) and arranged to have ballot boxes disappear.
There are documentations and testimonies of the Iranian-organized, trained, and sponsored Badr organization's involvement in the several Iraqi Ministry of the Interior torture-center/prisons, a new one uncovered with some 625 Sunni detainees just one week ago. While Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh has denied the allegation of torture, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates otherwise. Sunni Arab detainees haven't acquired strange tattoos while in his prisons; they have acquired the classic signs of those who have suffered torture.
Along with all these misdeeds, the Iranian regime has used its influence on the new Shiite Iraqi government to threaten and pressure the Iranian resistance organization, (Mujahedin-e- Khalq) MeK, arranging to have the Interior Ministry cut off water and food supplies to Camp Ashraf in Diyalah Province where nearly four thousand Iranian resistance members are housed under the provisions of Article Four of the Geneva Conventions and the protection of the US Army. The Interior Ministry has threatened to revoke the Mek members' protected status and their welcome in Iraq--a status confirmed by 2.8 million Iraqi signatures on a petition of support for the MeK—and to require them to repatriate to Iran by the end of October, 2006, which would amount to a certain death sentence for every one. Iran has also arranged the kidnapping of two MeK members in Baghdad last August; to date, nothing has been heard of either of them.
Now, what can we do to curb Iranian influence and interference in Iraq? I believe that it's time for us to recognize that our long term enemy are the Islamic fundamentalists, whether Sunni or Shia. Of nation states, it is Iran that poses the greatest threat to us today. It is time for us to recognize that presently we are supporting the wrong groups in Iraq, groups that are closely allied with Iran and are acting as Iran's proxies. It is time for us to say: 'Stop; we're changing sides in order to support those forces that oppose Iran and also believe in democracy."
We need to realize that so far, we have given Iraq to the Iranians. This also means that in this not so nice, nor so perfect neighborhood, we don't have the luxury of having that many friends in the region. Problems in Iraq are not going to be solved in a day or two; we need to realize that we are in this for quite some time to come. At the same time, we need to be more sophisticated in our comprehension of with whom and with what we are dealing.
Now what about Iran itself? It's time for our government to realize that the MeK is not a terrorist organization, never was, and never will be, unless our government, God forbid, were to be taken over by the mullahs. It is the regime in Teheran that rightly fears the MeK and the larger political coalition of NCRI (National Council of Resistance of Iran), because both oppose the cruel, despotic, theocratic rule of the ayatollahs, and both are sworn to overthrow the regime in order to end Islamic rule in Iran and to turn Iran into a secular democracy, at peace with the world.
So what are our policy options? Clearly change in regime is essential. After eight years it should be clear that appeasement does not work. It did not work with Hitler; it has not worked with the ayatollahs.
Option number two, the military option is a non-starter for two reasons. First, we do not have the same situation as Israel had with the Osirak reactor in 1981. The Iranian nuclear project is much better hidden and along with not knowing all the sites, too many are in urban centers where collateral damage is unacceptable.
Second, Iranians--as much as they hate the regime, and some 90+% do hate it—Iranians are patriotic and would rally behind the flag to expel any foreign invader, even one who came to 'liberate" them from despotic rule. So, as strong as our military is, it does not help us here, and most of us here realize that we already are stretched somewhat thinly with our commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
This brings us to option number three: regime change by the Iranian people itself. As Bruce McColm of Iran Policy Committee indicates, the principal opposition group is the MeK/NCRI; Iran is more concerned about this group than all other groups combined. But because of a failed policy of appeasement and the regime's successful disinformation campaign this group remains on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) list. As many in Washington have said, it is time to take them off of the list and re-empower the Iranian people to throw off the tyranny of the ayatollahs.
Iran Policy Committee's White Papers # 3 indicates why the MeK and the NCRI should be taken off the FTO list. Read the white paper yourself and judge the facts. I trust any objective reader will come to the right conclusions, because the truth is that only the MeK is popular enough, and thank God, democratic enough to lead the Iranian people in a successful democratic revolution against the mullah regime of Ali Khámenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That is the reason that the regime regards the MeK as its only real enemy. Our trust should lay with the MeK, which has been our sole source of accurate and reliable information about both Iran's nuclear and missile programs. It is time to realize who our real friends are and who aren't. A critical step in supporting Iranian freedom movement requires the immediate removal of Iran's main opposition group, the MeK and the NCRI off of the FTO list. More than anyone, this is a signal to Teheran's regime that America stands with those who can finish the job of changing the regime there and bring freedom and democracy to Iran.
Professor Rabbi Daniel M. Zucker is founder and chairman of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a New York based organization dedicated to teaching the public and our elected officials, especially at the federal level, of the need to establish democracy in the middle-east region and the dangers posed by those opposed to democracy and freedom of thought. The son of refugee from Nazi Germany, Rabbi Zucker has been active in human rights issues for more than thirty years. Active in the Soviet Jewry movement, the Syrian Jewry movement and a leader in the rescue of Ethiopian Jewry, Rabbi Zucker has traveled to the Horn of Africa and the Middle-East to negotiate rescues and release of those held hostage by tyrannical regime. Through work with Iranian Jews and contacts with Iranian Muslims Rabbi Zucker has become active on behalf of regime change in Iran. Rabbi Zucker is also active in the movement to stop the genocide in Darfur.