Preparing for Regime Change in Iran

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Excerpts from “Preparing for Regime Change in Iran,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, available at Fikra Forum

 “Maryam Rajavi, your endeavor to rid your people of the Khomeinist cancer is an historic epic that…will remain inscribed in the annals of history.” -His Royal Highness, Prince Turki Al Faisal

On July 9, 2016, I observed a rally in Paris at which Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, former ambassador to the U.S. and intelligence chief but no longer in any official position, addressed Maryam Rajavi, President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The Turki option — regime change in Iran — turned up the heat on Tehran. When the crowd chanted, “The people want regime change,” the Prince joined the crowd in Arabic saying, “I, too, want regime change” in Iran, a remark that brought the house down.

With some Arabs leading the call, various dissidents like the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK) core of the NCRI are accelerating their calls for regime change in Iran. The Arab conflict with Iran has been mainly sectarian, but Turki sought to move the conflict to a strategic level with a greater focus on removing the “revolutionary” nature of Iran’s regime. With some support for the NCRI in the U.S. Congress, European national parliaments, and the European Parliament, it is time for the West to join this effort.

Georgetown University students and colleagues in the Iran Policy Committee conducted a study to assess the image of the NCRI and other Iranian dissident groups, including organizations not espousing regime change. Using the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) for the period from January-December 2005, we performed a content analysis and determined the NCRI/MEK was the topic of discussion almost four time as often as all other dissident organizations combined.

We updated the 2005 study by using the large number of attacks by the IRGC or Iranian proxies against the NCRI. Again, the NCRI family of entities were targeted more than other rebellious minorities in Iran. In addition, the Iranian regime regularly sets up expositions throughout the country to convince Iranians to refrain from paying any attention to the NCRI.

If the regime were not so leery of the NCRI, they would hardly pay so much attention to it. Furthermore, Iran would not spend its political capital with foreign governments asking them to suppress the group or seek the destruction of Camp Ashraf/Liberty in Iraq, where MEK dissidents were confined in exile at Liberty until September 9, 2016.

The 2009 uprising showed that millions in Iran wanted regime change, a goal espoused by the NCRI, whose members paid a disproportionate price for participation. Some Arab governments are now lining up with Iranian dissidents because they perceive the revolutionary enemy regime at their doorstep. As the Prince attempts to redraw the arc of history, this is the time for the West to join the coalition that could shape the future.

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*** Other contributions of the author at The Washington Institute  are available in Arabic at: http://bit.ly/2exfybj

*** Click here for the Arabic Word version of “Preparing for Regime Change in Iran”

Professor Raymond Tanter served on the U.S. National Security Council and as Personal Representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in the Reagan-Bush White House.

 

 

 

Preparations for Assaults on Iranian Dissidents in Iraq by Iran’s Forces and Proxies

20861a34-74b5-4c36-b1a2-76c2f2601f05Consider the strategic value of Iranian dissidents in Iraq, current preparations and prior attacks by Iranian regime proxies, and responsibility to protect.

For Tehran, Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty, Iraq are of strategic import. Despite the regime’s charm offensive, talks on its nuclear file are likely to deadlock. And even if negotiations resume after a pause, military options are bound to become front page news again. The dissidents have extensive contacts on the ground in Iran and are potential strategic assets for Washington and its allies against Tehran. The dissidents have historic ties in the area that can help tilt the balance against radical Sunnis and counter an extremist “Shiite arc” of Tehran and its counterpart in Damascus.

Iran seeks to demoralize the dissidents in Iraq so they abandon their cause, repatriate them to Iran, and destroy them as the only organization that challenges clerical rule in Tehran. Moderate Sunni Arab Kingdoms like Jordan and Saudi Arabia are quietly sympathetic to the dissidents because they help counter the threat from radical Iran. Because of their strategic import, during June 2009 demonstrations in Iran in which colleagues of the dissidents participated, Iraqi forces acting on behalf of Tehran attacked the dissidents in Camp Ashraf, Iraq on July 30. Iraqis raided the Camp, killed 11, held 36 as hostages, and then releasedthem in October.

When unrest recurred in Iran during February 2011, Baghdad again ordered an attack to be launched against dissidents in Ashraf on April 8. There is video evidence of Iraqi forces directly aiming and firing at Camp residents.

On September 1, 2013, there was an attack on Ashraf that killed 52 residents, and assailants seized 7 as hostages. The UN stated, “The missing persons arereportedly 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.”

Rocket and mortar shells fell on the dissidents in Camp Liberty, killing six and wounding over fifty, on February 9, 2013. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) called these attacks, “a despicable act of violence” and described residents as asylum seekers entitled to international protection.

Read more: bit.ly/1nol8wA 

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Stabilizing Iraq— Refrain from Coordinating with Iran Pressure Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by Arming Syrian Moderates Condition U.S. Arms and Airstrikes on Inclusive Political Coalition

The following talking points are the basis of two media appearances by Raymond Tanter on 18 June 2013: BBC World Service Newsday, Radio, 2205 EDT and World Service TV, 2215 EDT

Thanks to Michael Eisenstadt for insights on which some of these bullets are based.

First, stop the loose talk about meeting with Iran to discuss the situation in Iraq.

Turning to Tehran to help stabilize Iraq would be like asking an arsonist to help put out the fire.

So the road to stabilizing Baghdad does not run through Tehran.

The road to Baghdad runs through a coalition of moderates in the region and in Iraq.

Second, the road to Baghdad passes through Damascus via moderate Arab rebels.

The White House has debated whether to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria long enough. Now is the time to do so. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has an important presence is in eastern Syria. It is critical to threaten it there: The regime in Damascus seems to have a quiet understanding to refrain from attacking ISIS so long as it is fighting moderate rebel forces.

As Washington reaches out to moderate Syrian rebels with arms, the United States also needs to send a signal to Tehran that Washington is paying attention to Iranian dissidents. In this respect, the road to Tehran may go through an alignment of moderate Arab rebels and Iranian dissidents.

Third, make U.S. arms and airstrikes conditional on an inclusive political coalition.

Build an alliance with Kurds and Sunnis opposed to ISIS. The goal would be to recreate the coalition of moderates that defeated al Qaeda in Iraq in 2007. Because Prime Minister Maliki is unlikely to concur, quietly work with other politicians to create a majority able to select a new prime minister that reaches to minorities.

Condition expedited delivery of U.S. arms on whether there is a cross-sectarian strategy of inclusion of Sunnis and Kurds.

Continue refraining from launching American airstrikes until a political coalition of moderates is in place in Baghdad, preferably without Maliki.

MeK, Iran, and the War for Washington

CLICK HERE FOR ORIGINAL POST

by Raymond Tanter
The National Interest
September 16, 2011

Note: The author has not received any compensation whatsoever from the MeK or related groups.

There is an escalating war for influence over U.S. policy toward Iran: It is a dispute among university scholars, think-tank analysts and former American officials. Reverberations of this war are not confined to the Washington beltway but have profound significance for the Middle East. As Arab republics like Egypt and Tunisia fall from popular protests, internally inspired regime-change scenarios abound. While largely peaceful protests brought down regimes in Cairo and Tunis, state suppression resulted in violent pushback in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

Although Arab republics are the immediate targets of their populations, Arab kingdoms like Bahrain, and to a much lesser degree Jordan and Saudi Arabia, are feeling the heat of popular unrest. Because there is generally a lack of consensus on how to transfer power in Arab republics, they are less stable than kingdoms. “The king is dead; long live the (new) king,” does not easily translate into “The president of the republic is dead; long live his son.”

Just as conflicts over succession occur among the Arab republics, so a succession crisis is likely to arise in the Islamic Republic of Iran. We should use the lens of such a conflict in Iran when viewing the war in Washington about an Iranian dissident organization—the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MeK). Saddam Hussein’s takedown by foreign militaries highlights the need for a homegrown antidote to Iranian rulers because external regime change is off the table in the aftermath of the Iraq War.

Secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton is poised to announce the MeK designation in fall 2011, a decision long overdue. Nothing is likely to be more decisive in reducing the strategic threat from Tehran than having a vigorous democratic opposition in Iran; it is critical to have a coalition of prodemocracy dissidents working together to weaken the regime from within and replace it; the MeK can play an enhanced role in the prodemocracy movement if it is removed from the State Department terrorist list. But above and beyond the potential international benefit of facilitating internal regime change for Iran, the MeK simply deserves to be delisted on the basis of facts and law alone.

A search of U.S. government and private electronic and media sources by scholars in the Iran Policy Committee reveals an absence of evidence to support the inference that the MeK engages in terrorist activities or terrorism or has the capability and intent to do so. The databases are: the U.S. Worldwide Incident Tracking System, which the National Counterterrorism Center no longer publishes; Department of Homeland Security-sponsored Global Terrorism Database; and U.S. government-supported RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents. In these major databases, there are no confirmed associations of the MeK with any military action after 2001.

Given the absence of unclassified evidence of MeK involvement in terrorist activities during the course of nine years (2001-2010), any countervailing evidence in the classified record should be viewed with skepticism and subject to scrutiny for credibility. An assumption here is that terrorist incidents are too public not to appear in databases or in newspapers of record.

On 4 December 2008, the Court of First Instance of the European Communities issued a judgment annulling the MeK designation, and the European Union cleared the MeK of terrorist conduct in January 2009. The United Kingdom removed the group from its list of proscribed organizations in June 2008. In addition, the French judiciary dismissed all terrorism and terrorism-financing charges against the group in May 2011.

Two issues before the American court have been whether the State Department provided due process of law to the MeK and credibility of evidence in support of allegations against it. In a July 2010 ruling regarding a MeK appeal of its continued designation in January 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC circuit faulted the decisionmaking process of the secretary of state.

The court questioned the credibility, sources and legal relevance of evidence in the Secretary’s January 2009 decision to maintain the designation and ordered the State Department to give the MeK an occasion to rebut some of the declassified material used in the re-designation. On 20 May 2011, the department released ten documents. Five were unclassified, mostly wire service reports from the Associated Press, Radio Farda and Azeri Press Agency. They concern allegations, such as MeK’s “cult-like” behavior and supposed lack of popular support within Iran. Such false, nonlegal allegations are no grounds on which to base a terrorist tag.

For the MeK to be re-designated absent any terrorist activity or terrorism, the State Department has to demonstrate that the group has both the capability and the intent to engage in terrorist activity or terrorism and that it either threatens U.S. national security or the security of American citizens.

In the Department of State Country Reports on Terrorism (CRT) 2007, 2008, 20092010, and 2011, a CRT 2006 accusation that the MeK “maintain[s] the capacity and will to commit terrorist acts” does not recur. And there are no terrorist activities or terrorist events cited during the legally relevant period of two years prior to the last re-designation decision of January 2009. In fact, no such actions are alleged in Country Reports since 2001.

In view of the convergence of historical circumstances and the law in favor of delisting, consider the political origins of the MeK designation. The roots are in the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s: In exchange for release of American hostages held in Lebanon by one of Tehran’s proxies, Hezbollah, the State Department alleged without evidence that MeK members used terrorism and violence as “standard instruments of their politics.” Thus began the use of that designation primarily as a tool to achieve foreign-policy aims rather than antiterrorism goals.

Martin Indyk, who served as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs in 1997, said one of the reasons the MeK was put on the terrorism list was part of a “two-pronged” diplomatic strategy. It included increasing pressure on Saddam Hussein by linking him to a “terrorist group,” the MeK. The other “prong” was the Clinton administration’s interest in opening a dialogue with Tehran. On 8 June 1997, Mohammad Khatami was elected president of Iran, and the administration viewed him as a moderate. Clinton officials saw cracking down on the MeK as a way to strengthen Khatami at the expense of so-called hardliners. But this political use of the terrorist designation failed; Tehran pocketed the concession without reciprocity.

Because law and facts converge for removing the designation of the MeK, those who oppose delisting fall back on political grounds buttressed by vague factual allegations for a continuation of the terrorist tag. There is an unfounded claim that the MeK is unpopular within Iran because of “numerous terrorist attacks against innocent Iranian civilians.” Then there is an invalid policy conclusion: “Removing the MeK from the Foreign Terrorist Organization [sic] list and misconstruing its lack of democratic bona fides and support inside Iran will have harmful consequences on the legitimate, indigenous Iranian opposition.” The allegation of MeK unpopularity is false. Support within the expatriate Iranian community suggests popularity in Iran; no other dissident organization can mobilize similar numbers of expat supporters.

Some who believe delisting would limit Washington’s ability to reach out to the Iranian street are wrong; the disproportionate number of protestors arrested and hanged because of association with the MeK indicates the organization’s significant presence on the Iranian street. Those who oppose delisting the MeK and hold a dim view of the effectiveness of Iranian dissidents to bring about regime change weaken their opposition to removal of the tag on the MeK. An argument in support of delisting on foreign-policy grounds is that it would reinforce the democratic opposition in Iran.

In most of the arguments opposed to delisting the MEK, no statutory fact is presented. So opponents of removing the terrorist tag resort to irrelevant non-legal arguments to overshadow lack of evidence of its engagement in terrorist activities or terrorism. In effect, those in favor of maintaining the MeK listing want Secretary Clinton to disregard the facts and the law entirely. With a simple signature delisting the group, Secretary Clinton would not only bring her Department in line with law and facts; she also would help empower the Iranian people to change the regime and open a political option between failed engagement and ineffective sanctions, on one hand, and problematic military action on the other.

Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council and as personal representative of the Secretary of Defense to arms control talks in Europe in the Reagan-Bush administration. He is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

Image by Harald Dettenborn