AS THE United States prepares to withdraw most, if not all, of its troops from Iraq by year’s end, Iran’s pervasive influence in that country becomes an ever more worrisome concern. And now a deadly assault by Iraqi security forces on an Iranian opposition group living inside Iraq — an attack that Senator John Kerry rightly termed a massacre — ought to set off alarms in Washington about the subservience of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to the regime in Tehran.
The Iranian dissident group known as the PMOI has a checkered history. It played a prominent role in the uprising against the shah, then came into conflict with the theocratic regime of Ayatollah Khomeini. Thousands of its adherents were imprisoned, tortured, and executed. In the early 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq war, a few thousand PMOI members were installed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein at a site called Camp Ashraf near the Iranian border. From there, they carried out bombings and assassinations against Khomeini’s henchmen in Iran. In addition, they provided US intelligence with important information about Iran’s nuclear program. However, they were also accused by some Iraqi dissidents of assisting in Hussein’s murderous attacks on Iraqi Kurds.
None of their past actions, however, can justify what Iraqi troops under Maliki’s authority did to them in the early morning of April 8. A video shot and edited by the PMOI shows unhurried Iraqi sharpshooters firing at unarmed civilians and heavy military vehicles running them over.
Confirming PMOI claims that 34 people were killed, including 7 women, and more than 200 wounded, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said Friday, “There is no possible excuse for this number of casualties.’’ The Obama administration will look feckless if it does not back her call for “a full, independent and transparent inquiry’’ and for the prosecution of those found responsible.
Washington has a special obligation to demand accountability because Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Baghdad the day before the attack, met with Maliki, and warned of Iran’s dangerous influence in the region. As if to crow over Tehran’s predominance in Baghdad, the Iranian foreign minister declared a day after the killings, “We appreciate the move by the Iraqi government.’’
The United States and its allies must act quickly to relocate abroad some 3,000 PMOI members still in Camp Ashraf. Toward this end, the State Department needs to remove the group from its terrorist list; it was placed there in 1997 as a goodwill gesture to facilitate dialogue with Iran. That didn’t work, and it has been many years since the PMOI did anything that could be construed as terrorist.
The regime in Tehran, however, is more terrorist than ever. And more influential in Iraq.