Sanam Vakil is a doctoral candidate and researcher in the Middle East Department at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
Sanam Vakil is a doctoral candidate and researcher in the Middle East Department at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
WASHINGTON -- The announcement of the cease-fire negotiated between the United States and the Iraqi-based People's Mujahedeen guerillas is a shocking development that is counter to the U.S. strategy in both the Iraq are and the war on terror.
Moreover, it demonstrates the myopic and contradictory vision that continues to guide U.S. policy in the region.
The Mujahedeen Khalq (MKO), also known as the National Council of Resistance and the People's Movement, is an internationally recognized terrorist group that has been on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization list since 1992.
Not only has the MKO been responsible for terrorist activities that have resulted in the death of Americans, but its members also participated in the 1979 U.S. Embassy seizure and subsequent two-year hostage crisis. It opposed the release of the hostages in 1981. The group is outlawed in Iran.
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, having fought to contain Iranian advances during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and to repress the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in northern and southern Iraq after the 1991 gulf war.
The Pentagon, which negotiated the cease-fire with the MKO, is assuming that such an alliance will facilitate the U.S. effort 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 undoubtedly will link a U.S.-MKO alliance to the MKO's complicity in Mr. Hussein's treacherous terror campaigns. Iraqis regard the MKO as Mr. Hussein's ruthless 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 United States.
Perhaps the Bush administration thought that such a cease-fire with the MKO, whose base in northeastern Iraq the Americans attacked early in the war, would be used to bolster U.S. interests in the reconstruction of Iraq and the region generally.
An alliance with the MKO could be used as leverage against the Iranian Shiite clerics who are allegedly trying to exert their influence over Iraq's Shiites, which represent 60 percent of the population. But this tactic 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 program.
The Bush administration has refused to side with different factions within the Iranian government. Rather, it argues that U.S. 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 administration's 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 promptly corrected.
Most notably, the agreement with the MKO contradicts U.S. policy implemented after Sept. 11. How is it possible to fight a war on terror when the United States has made an accommodation with a terrorist organization considered as dangerous as the terrorist group of al-Qaida?
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 administration's future initiatives to curtail terrorism.
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