Will the U.S. Support Terrorists to Destabilize Iran?
New America Media, News analysis, William O. Beeman, Posted: Jul 07, 2008
Editor’s note: All attempts to justify a military attack on Iran have failed and the US is now looking at supporting fringe and terrorist groups to destabilize the country. It won’t work, says NAM contributing writer, William O. Beeman, but it will destabilize the region for years to come. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota. He is President of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. The second edition of his book, The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other, has just been published by the University of Chicago Press.
Elements of the Bush administration have begun to resemble semi-insane Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny" with regard to Iran. Reckless and obsessive to destroy Iran’s regime, they fondle their ball bearings, and pursue any scheme that they believe will get rid of the mullahs before the inauguration of the new American president in January 2009.
In desperation, they have turned to supporting fringe-level ethnic separatists—all of whom are terrorists and enemies of the United States who are also hostile to Iran. This strategy is truly the last gasp of a failed Middle East policy. It is ill-conceived, and if continued, will foment continued violence in the region for years without affecting the Iranian regime in any significant way.
All attempts to justify a military attack on Iran have failed. Iran’s continuing nuclear program remains the Bush administration’s prime bulwark against Iran, but it is a very weak bulwark. There is still no evidence whatever for an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Last December’s National Intelligence Estimate stated clearly that no current nuclear military program exists. Iran remains unwilling to halt uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes that is guaranteed to them under the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, but responded positively on July 4 to European calls for negotiations on the nuclear issue, undercutting the Bush hard line (and effecting a drop in oil prices).
Other accusations against Iran are equally feeble. Claims of its support for attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq have failed for lack of any evidence. Iran’s supposed “proxy” attacks on Israel through Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas strain credulity, since these two groups are acknowledged by all credible experts to formulate their political agendas independently from Iran.
Continually frustrated in their attempts to launch any legitimate attack against Iran, Vice President Cheney and a group of die-hard neoconservatives hovering in and around his office, particularly his former Middle East adviser David Wurmser, have long been rumored to be engineering active support for dissident opposition groups who share their goal to overthrow the current Iranian regime. Many of these groups are aligned with non-Persian ethnic factions in Iran, notably Arabs, Kurds, Azerbaijanis and Baluchis. Serious analysts in the region have tended to dismiss these efforts as silly and ineffective. Nevertheless, neoconservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Near East Policy and the Hudson Institute have quietly championed the idea that Iran could be successfully dismembered along ethnic lines.
The American Enterprise Institute has long been a hotbed for debate over these plans. In October 2005, it hosted a conference entitled “The Unknown Iran: Another Case for Federalism?” in which the specter of an ethnic dismemberment of Iran was raised. The AEI has subsequently been host to several conclaves where this idea of fomenting ethnic violence has been discussed, in which representatives from dissident groups are regularly invited to hold forth.
The host of the 2005 conference Michael Ledeen and his cronies Michael Rubin, Danielle Pletka and Myrav Wurmser, the wife of Cheney’s former adviser, David Wurmser, have a curious rhetorical stance regarding Iran’s ethnic dissidents. They write long pieces pointing out that Persians are a minority in Iran, that ethnic groups are restive, that the central government lacks support from the fringe elements in the population. Then in the last paragraph they suddenly deny recommending that ethnic dissident groups be supported. Likewise Ledeen calls incessantly for the overthrow of the Iranian government, then denies that he is calling for military action.
The military continues to entertain the dismemberment of Iran and retired military officer and novelist Ralph Peters proposed the idea in the June 2006 issue of the Armed Forces Journal. His article, ”Blood Borders” champions national independence for every ethnic group in the Middle East, redrawing the borders of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Turkey.
The problem would not be so acute, except for the fact that these groups, now somewhat ineffective, would be truly bad news if provided with significant U.S. aid and weapons. They would never be effective at eliminating the Iranian government, but they could become a source of instability and violence throughout the region for years to come. Because they are basically all anti-American in their orientation, the United States will also be harmed if they are strengthened.
Iran specialists have been aware of these groups for years, and largely discounted them. However, assertions of active United States support for them, awakened by journalist Seymour Hersh in the July 7 issue of the New Yorker, have become real cause for concern. The groups include:
*The M.E.K—Mujaheddin-e Khalq—officially a terrorist group in the United States for having killed Americans before the Revolution. They are Marxist in orientation, and are despised in Iran, since they were protected by Saddam Hussein all during the Iran-Iraq war, and are directly supported by the United States today.
*The PJAK—the “Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan,” a trans-national Kurdish militant organization dedicated to an independent Kurdistan. They are supported by the United States when they launch attacks against Iranian forces, but faulted when they launch attacks against Turkish forces in Turkey.
*The Jundallah—based in Sunni Muslim Balochistan. They are supported by extreme conservative Salafi groups in Saudi Arabia. The Salafi movement also forms the religious philosophy of the Taliban of Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda. Claims of U.S. support for Jundallah are now several years old. In April 2007 Brian Ross and Christopher Isham of ABC News reported that the United States had been aiding Jundallah to attack Iranian targets. Jundallah’s leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, appeared on the Iranian service of the Voice of America, where he was identified as "the leader of popular Iranian resistance movement." More disturbing are Jundallah’s wider connections. As Seymour Hersh points out: “Ramzi Yousef, who was convicted for his role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is considered one of the leading planners of the September 11th attacks, are Baluchi Sunni fundamentalists.”
Sunni Arab separatists in the Southeast Iranian province of Khuzistan, especially in its capital, Ahwaz, have been active since the time of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. There is no identifiable organization as with the other groups above, but Iranian security forces claim that the current round of violence, which includes the assassination of an Iranian Shi’ite cleric, Hojjat ol-Eslam Hesham Seymari on June 26, 2007, were “trained under the umbrella of the Americans in Iraq." The militants have also been linked with the London-based Ahvaz Arab People's Democratic-Popular Front.
The Southern Azerbaijan National Awakening Movement, SANAM or GAMOH, led by Mahmudali Chehregani was founded in 1995, and is perhaps the weakest of the ethnic separatist movements today. Nevertheless, Chehregani was hosted in Washington by the U.S. Department of Defense in June 2003, according to the Washington Times, and addressed a number of neoconservative venues. One difficulty with this movement is Chehregani’s antipathy to Kurds, whom he calls “guests” in the Azerbaijan region of Iran.
These separatist movements continue to have support in some legislative circles. Two of the most avid supporters are Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, both Republicans. Both favor removing the MEK from the list of terrorist organizations, and Brownback served as host to Mahmud Ali Chehregani in Washington.
No serious analyst of Iranian affairs believes that a strategy of ethnic division would bring down the central government of the Islamic Republic. Iran expert Vali Nasr, who teaches at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University was quoted by Hersh as saying, “Iran is an old country—like France and Germany—and its citizens are just as nationalistic. . . . working with the minorities will backfire, and alienate the majority of the population.” Not to mention serious consequences for the United States.