Sunday, March 30, 2008

As four more rockets thumped into buildings in the Baghdad Green Zone on Tuesday, it became devastatingly clear that promises made by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his trip to Iraq in early March were worthless. According to reports, two of the rockets landed in Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s compound but mercifully there were no deaths or serious injuries.

When accused of interfering in Iraqi affairs, Iran has always emphasised its innocence. But this weekend the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, blamed Tehran fairly and squarely for the barrage of rockets which have hit the Green Zone over the past week. “The rockets that were launched at the Green Zone,” he said, “were Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets,” and he added that the groups that carried out the attack were funded and trained by the Iranian regime’s Qods Force.

In response to this heightened violence, Mr. Al-Maliki has flown to the southern city of Basra to oversee an operation targeting the stronghold of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his followers within the Mahdi Army. Clearly, Iran’s support for rogue elements in Iraq has increased rather than diminished since Mr. Ahmadinejad traveled to Baghdad this year; and it is believed that at least 40 individuals have been killed in Basra as the relative calm has been broken by intermittent fighting.

It is in this volatile climate that the U.S. searches for a solution to end the Iranian regime’s destructive influence in Iraq. Many believe that the solution lies with the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK/PMOI), an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq’s Diyala province, which is dedicated to bringing an end to the present Iranian regime, and as Iran’s baleful influence in Iraq has increased, so has the support for this opposition group increased among the Iraqi population and Western politicians.

Based in Ashraf city, 40 miles northwest of Baghdad, the MEK has for many years now been a major thorn in the side of the Iranian regime. It was the MEK that first exposed Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, and since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the MEK has exposed Iran’s infiltration into Iraq on a number of occasions. Most notably it has revealed the existence of two training centers in the outskirts of Tehran, where the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps train and arm Shia militia men; and it is these same Shia militias that are now believed to be behind the rockets that have targeted Baghdad’s Green Zone.

The Iraqi military operation in Basra is clearly helping to diminish the influence of rogue elements in Iraq loyal to Iran, but it is clear that in spite of the promises Mr. Ahmadinejad is believed to have made to Iraqi officials, the Iranian regime has no desire to limit its support for terrorist entities, whether they be in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine or Afghanistan. Surely this means that victory in Iraq must now be seen as the first step in cutting Iran’s influence across the Middle East, and a failure on that front would be a terrible setback in the quest for Middle East peace.

The elections in Iran earlier this month have shown clearly enough that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has tightened his grip on the country and the Revolutionary Guards Corps has increased its power and influence. This makes almost certain an even more intransigent attitude by the regime toward the West. Following Vice President Richard Cheney’s trip to the region to obtain greater support for isolating Iran, the U.S. would surely therefore do well to look at the MEK, which has the means and the will to bring about change in Iran, as a solution to this entire crisis.

The Rt. Hon. Lord David Charles Waddington is former home secretary of the United Kingdom under former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

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