- By Raymond TanterRaymond Tanter served as a senior member on the National Security Council staff in the Reagan-Bush administration and is now professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.
It is almost impossible to toss away a win through foolish mistakes; nevertheless, President Obama has lost Iraq. Recall the saying, "The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer." But losing Iraq took half a decade, beginning with the 2008 presidential campaign.
Milestones included Barack Obama’s opposition to the military surge of his predecessor and inexplicably turning his back on the political surge he once favored; abandoning Iranian dissidents in Iraq, although we pledged to protect them if they disarmed during the 2003-2004 takedown of Saddam and who induced Sunni tribes to support American forces; and failure to bargain to leave a residual military presence in Iraq during Status of Forces talks between Baghdad and Washington in 2011.
During 2008, a debate raged about whether the surge reduced American casualties and produced relative stability in Iraq. John McCain credited the surge in American troops; Obama opposed the surge, but falsely assumed it was contrary to a political surge:
"Sunni Awakening changed the dynamic in Iraq fundamentally. It could not have occurred unless there were some contacts and intermediaries to peel off those who are tribal leaders, regional leaders, [and] Sunni nationalists from a more radical, messianic brand of insurgency."
During my secret, dangerous research in Iraq during October 2008, I found scores of Iraqi Arabs attributing the reduction in violence to the surge and Sunni Awakening: By taking over 100,000 Sunnis away from the insurgency against the American military, the Awakening was the political surge that could continue if there were a responsible U.S. troop reduction and transition of Awakening tribes to the government of Iraq.
Tribal leaders formerly affiliated with the insurgency against U.S. forces explained their longstanding relationship with Iranian dissidents, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), based at Camp Ashraf, Iraq. Sheikhs said without such a mediator, negotiations with the U.S. military would have been unthinkable. Indeed, I discovered that the safest place in Iraq to interview Arab tribal leaders was in Ashraf.
My research in Iraq during October 2008 marked the official assumption of responsibility for payment, treatment, training, and deployment of the 100,000 strong "Sons of Iraq," as coalition forces relinquished control of them. And the rest is history: Baghdad saw these Awakening tribes as a political threat to Shiite and Iranian control over Iraq and presided over their demise.
One reason the MEK has close relations with the U.S. military is because its members were classified as "protected persons" by Washington under the Fourth Geneva Convention since July 2004. With the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, Washington turned over protection of the Iranian dissidents to Iraqi Security Forces, which unfortunately were penetrated by local enemies of the United States sponsored by Tehran. Instead of protecting the MEK, Baghdad facilitated a series of attacks against them in 2009, 2011, and 2013.
Prior to his precipitous withdrawal of American forces as 2011 closed, Obama was fond of saying the United States "must be as careful getting out of Iraq as it was reckless going in." In hastily drawing down the U.S. military, he failed to follow his own dictum, creating a security vacuum ably filled by al Qaeda in Iraq.
Now let us fast-forward to the present.
First, there are reports that American intelligence believes Iranian commandos participated in the September 2013 attack on Camp Ashraf, Iraq, and then "spirited seven members of the group back to Iran, highlighting Tehran’s increasingly free hand inside Iraq in the wake of the U.S withdrawal from the country." But it is nonsensical to believe Ashraf was attacked without the active participation of Iraqi forces. It is guarded by fences, checkpoints, and more than 1,200 Iraqi troops, which makes it very difficult for Iranian commandos to reach the camp without close cooperation with Iraqi forces.
Second, a Spanish court extended its investigation into the three raids on Ashraf during 2009, 2011, and 2013. U.N. rights experts demanded in December for Baghdad to determine what happened to the seven hostages. Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, of which the MEK is the largest unit, reiterated her call for hunger strikers to end their actions.
Third, it is not too late to avoid losing Iran, which would require Obama to toughen terms of the November Geneva accord and stand with the dissidents against their tormentors. President Obama, now is the time to support the Iranian people against the tyrannical regime in Tehran; if not you, then who? Now is your time.