But there are moderate Iranian Shiites in Iraq whom the Bush administration promised to protect in July 2004 and who deserve at least diplomatic protection of the Obama team. Just as ideals suggested saving Kurds and Yazidis in Iraq, ideals also apply for Iranian dissidents; all are under siege—Kurds and Yazidis from nonstate Islamists (ISIS); Iranians in Iraq from proxies of the only Islamist state: the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Obama administration is willing to use lethal force and place American lives at risk to protect Kurds and Yazidis; but it is only necessary to use diplomatic muscle to get Iranian dissidents held in prison-like circumstances out of Camp Liberty, Iraq and resettled in America.
Responsibility to Protect (R2P) applies to unarmed civilians subject to harm by well-armed states. Hence, it does not apply to efforts of ISIS in Iraq against Yazidis or attacks of ISIS against Kurds in Syria. R2P applies to Iraq; as the State, it is responsible for shielding Iranian dissidents who are civilians on its territory from war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and related crimes against humanity. According to the secretary general, R2P “requires the international community to step in if this obligation is not met.” If the State protector is perpetrator of crimes, it is doubly guilty.
The U.S. military protected Kurds in northern Iraq with a no fly zone during the era of Saddam Hussein; Washington had not agreed in advance to protect them in Syria. The United States made the 2004 commitment to protect Iranian dissidents if they voluntarily gave up its weapons to the American forces, which they did and are now left without even diplomatic protection.
The dissidents are from the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and its largest unit, People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran/Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (PMOI/MEK); they are the main opposition that rejects clerical rule and provides valuable intelligence on Tehran’s cheating on nuclear commitments and bypassing U.S. sanctions.
Assaults on dissidents
June 2009 demonstrations in Iran: Iraqi forces attacked the dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq on July 30, killed 11, held 36 as hostages, and released them in October.
After February 2011 unrest in Iran, Baghdad’s forces attacked Ashraf on April 8. There is video evidence of them aiming and firing at residents.
On September 1, 2013, a third attack on Ashraf killed 52; assailants seized seven hostages; the UN stated, “The missing persons are reportedly being held somewhere in Iraq and may be at risk of being returned involuntarily to Iran, which would be a serious breach of international law.”
On February 9, 2013, shells fell on Camp Liberty, where the PMOI had been moved, killing six dissidents and wounding over 50; the UN called these attacks, “a despicable act of violence” on asylum seekers entitled to international protection. Fire from Badr Brigade of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps implicates Tehran.
The way forward
Under Section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Iranian dissidents can be admitted into the United States. If there were perceived, though groundless, legal impediments to admission as refugees, State and Homeland Security can issue a group-based exemption to the PMOI.
Each PMOI resident of Camp Liberty signed a declaration renouncing participation in or support for terrorism, confirming delivery of all military equipment and weapons under their control, and promising to refrain from taking up arms or engaging in hostile acts against Iraq.
Homeland Security is the nominal lead department in bringing the PMOI here; but the interagency process is dominated behind the scenes by the White House. It may fear Tehran will walk away from nuclear talks if PMOI members come here. To the contrary, Iran only responds to pressure, i.e., if PMOI members are brought to America, Tehran is more likely to comply in the talks. Nevertheless, if Tehran convinces Moscow and Beijing to ignore Washington’s unilateral sanctions, the talks are history and Congress may pass even more stringent sanctions.
Bottom line: If the United States uses lethal force to protect Kurds and Yazidis, Washington can use diplomatic clout to protect Iranian dissidents in Iraq en route to resettling them here.
Tanter is president of the Iran Policy Committee and was a member of the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration. His latest book is “Arab Rebels and Iranian Dissidents.”