A shortsighted alliance with terrorists

The announcement of the cease-fire negotiated between the United States and the Iraqi-based Peoples Mujahideen guerillas is a shocking development that is counter to the US strategy in both the Iraq and the war on terror. Moreover, it demonstrates the myopic and contradictory vision that continues to guide US policy in the region. The Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MKO), also known as the National Council of Resistance and the Peoples Movement of Iran, is an internationally recognized terrorist group that has been on the State Departments Foreign Terrorist Organization list since 1992. Not only the MKO has been responsible for terrorist activities resulting in the death of Americans, but its members also participated in the 1979 US Embassy seizure and subsequent two-year hostage crisis. It opposed the release of the hostages in 1981. More damning is its 18-year alliance with Saddam Hussein, who provided it with sanctuary and financial support in its efforts to oust the theocratic Islamic government in neighboring Iran. The MKO was a loyal supporter of its Iraqi benefactor, fighting to contain Iranian advances during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war and to repress the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings after the 1991 Gulf War. The Pentagon assumes that an alliance with the MKO will facilitate US efforts to secure and stabilize Iraq in the near term. But the shortsightedness of such a policy is twofold: First, it delegitimizes America’s stabilizing role in Iraq because the Iraqi people will link a US-MKO alliance to the MKOs complicity in Saddam Husseins terror campaigns. Iraqis regard the MKO as Saddam Husseins mercenaries. Second, allowing the group to retain its weapons and use them to fight other armed groups in Iraq, as per the agreement, will cause further domestic instability in Iraq by creating a situation susceptible to civil war. Introducing warlordism to Iraq does not benefit the US. Perhaps the Bush administration thought such a cease-fire with the MKO, whose base in northeastern Iraq the Americans attacked early in the war, would bolster US interests in the reconstruction of Iraq and the region. An alliance with the MKO could be used as leverage against the Iranian Shiite clerics who are allegedly trying to exert their influence over Iraqs Shiites, who are 60 percent of the population. But this will only inflame the already tense relationship between Iran and the United States, including hindering any engagement with Tehran on its disputed weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration refuses to side with different factions within the Iranian government. Rather, it argues that US support should be given to the people of Iran. Cutting a deal with the MKO will send the wrong signal to the Iranian people and undermine the administrations efforts to capitalize on their pro-American sentiments.

The Iranian street can quickly turn against America unless this apparent contradiction in the war on terror is corrected. Most notably, the agreement with the MKO contradicts US policy implemented after Sept. 11, 2001. How is it possible to fight a war on terror when the United States has made an accommodation with a terrorist organization considered in Washington as dangerous as Al-Qaeda? By working with the MKO, the Pentagon has legitimized its terror tactics and increased the likelihood that such associations can be made with other terrorist organizations.

Ultimately, engaging the MKO has discredited the Bush Doctrine and the administrations future initiatives to curtail terrorism.

Sanam Vakil

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