- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

President Obama’s former national security adviser warned Wednesday that Iranian leaders have effectively turned Iraq into a “client state” and are bent on exploiting the regional war against the Sunni Muslim Islamic State group to promote their own brand of Shiite extremism throughout the Middle East.

“Iran’s grand strategy entails consolidating the hold it has gained in Iraq — a grip it seeks to tighten, directly and through proxies — and by stoking the sectarian fires,” said retired Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones.

Gen. Jones, who served as national security adviser at the start of the Obama administration from 2009 through 2010, told the Senate Committee on Armed Services that the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL, has “given Iran a new pretext for extending its reach.”

“We would be wise not to forget that Tehran isn’t interested in fighting ISIL to stop it from imposing an extreme brand of Islam through barbarity and manipulation in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere,” he said in prepared remarks. “The Mullahs are only interested in stopping ISIL from getting in the way of Iran sustaining a client state and imposing its brand of Islamic extremism through violence and manipulation.”

He made the assertion during a committee hearing focused not only on Iran’s influence in the region, but the years-long struggle of the controversial Iranian dissident group, the People’s Mujahedin — some 2,800 members of which have remained in a state of semi-captivity in Iraq since U.S. forces invaded the nation in 2003.

Gen. Jones testified alongside former Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent, and both men lamented the Obama administration’s failure to provide more assistance and refuge to members of the Iranian dissident group — commonly known in Washington as the “MEK” or “PMOI” — who have been left in the lurch in Iraq since the departure of U.S. forces in 2011.

While U.S. lawmakers and intelligence officials have for years praised the MEK for spying on and providing insights into Iran’s clandestine nuclear activities, the group’s controversial involvement in violence during the 1980s found it listed as a terrorist organization for years in Washington.

The Obama administration officially removed the group from terror lists in 2012.

On Wednesday, Gen. Jones described the group’s members in Iraq as “refugees” and asserted that Washington has been “slow, ineffective, and even reluctant in responding to our humanitarian obligation to facilitate” their relocation out of Iraq.

• Guy Taylor can be reached at gtaylor@washingtontimes.com.

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