A story that has received little coverage this week has been the Iraqi government’s assault on the MEK headquarters at Camp Ashraf north of Baghdad. The MEK or Mujahideen-e-Khalq is an Iranian terrorist organization that opposes the Islamic Republic – you may remember that early on in the current Iranian uprising the regime blamed a bomb blast at the Imam Khomeini shrine on the MEK. The MEK has been engaged in an often violent struggle against the Islamic Republic almost since its founding.
The MEK found sanctuary in Iraq under Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam viewed the MEK, a collection of Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic, as a useful ally in the struggle against Iran – not unlike the way the Iranians provided a haven and training for Dawa and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (which you may now know as Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq).
This is where the story gets interesting. Dawa is of course the party of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose party received sanctuary and arms training in Iran. And while the United States lists the MEK as a terrorist organization and viewed it as an ally of Saddam Hussein, the US reached a separate peace with the MEK following the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Since then, American-led forces have protected the MEK’s headquarters at Camp Ashraf – that is, until this week.
In January, the United States transferred control (protection) of the MEK’s headquarters to the Iraqi government. At that time, both Prime Minister al-Maliki and National Security Advisor al-Rubaie warned the MEK that, after more than 20 years, they could no longer find safe haven in Iraq. Then, in a two day operation this week, Iraqi government forces assaulted and took control of Camp Ashraf. After initially denying any MEK had been killed in the assault, the Iraqi government now acknowledges that 7 Iranians were killed.
That the Iraqi government would move against the MEK so soon after regaining sovereignty is a troubling indicator both of the waning of American influence in Iraq and the amount of influence the Iranians exert over the Iraqi government. The MEK, while a terrorist organization, was not a threat to the Iraqi regime – as part of the 2003 agreement with the United States it had been mostly disarmed . Nor was it a serious threat to the Iranian regime. While the MEK was blamed for the recent bombing of the Imam Khomeini shrine, it is a highly improbable culprit – the bombing was more likely an attempt to distract the Iranian public from the post-election dissonance. The MEK was, however, like the Baluchs and the Kurds, a long-standing annoyance for the Islamic Republic. It is hard to view the Iraqi governments move against Camp Ashraf as anything more than a government filled with beneficiaries of Iranian protection doing the Iranian government’s bidding.