MultimediaIt's Time To Reduce Iranian Influence In The Middle...

It’s Time To Reduce Iranian Influence In The Middle East

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Forbes

GUEST POST WRITTEN BY
Tom Ridge
Mr. Ridge was the nation’s first Homeland Security Secretary and governor of Pennsylvania.

When in October 2013 then-Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki visited Washington for the last time, the administration was doing very little to confront his policies which eventually inflamed sectarian violence in Iraq. Washington was also reluctant to challenge Maliki’s close relationship with neighboring Iran.
Last week, Congress passed a resolution that gave it more oversight on a possible nuclear deal with Iran. Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ramped up the fiery rhetoric against what he described as “radicals in America,” Capitol Hill’s engagement on the issue will be essential. After all, Congressionally-mandated sanctions brought the mullahs to the negotiating table in the first place.

 

When in October 2013 then-Prime Minister of Iraq Nouri al-Maliki visited Washington for the last time, the administration was doing very little to confront his policies which eventually inflamed sectarian violence in Iraq. Washington was also reluctant to challenge Maliki’s close relationship with neighboring Iran.
Last week, Congress passed a resolution that gave it more oversight on a possible nuclear deal with Iran. Although Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ramped up the fiery rhetoric against what he described as “radicals in America,” Capitol Hill’s engagement on the issue will be essential. After all, Congressionally-mandated sanctions brought the mullahs to the negotiating table in the first place.

Still, even as the U.S. negotiates a nuclear treaty with Tehran, the radical mullahs continue to flex their military and terrorist muscle across the region. Last week, Maliki’s successor Haider al-Abadi appeared at the White House to visit the President. The theme of their discussion focused on a common response to the devastating consequences of Maliki’s sectarian policies.

Abadi seems to be more serious about addressing those issues than Maliki. However, the rising power of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Iraq and across the region is still a big part of the equation, along with other root causes of the crisis.

Extensive intelligence and media reports on the escalating conflicts continue to highlight the growing Iranian influence over Baghdad and the Iraqi military. And in Syria, Tehran continues to prop up the Assad regime, while carving out an enduring role for its Lebanese paramilitary, Hezbollah.

In Yemen, Iran-backed Shiite militias have forced the president to flee and have destabilized the country. Overall, Iranian meddling is threatening to give even broader and more ominous dimensions to the sectarian conflicts engulfing the Middle East.

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For several years now, Tehran has had more influence in Baghdad than Washington, even in light of American blood and treasure. It is time to redress this imbalance.

U.S. policymakers should have revisited America’s policy, particularly because the early warning signs were plenty in Iraq. Just a month before Maliki’s visit, 52 members of the main Iranian opposition were killed by Iraqi forces at Camp Ashraf. After the 2003 Iraq War, the residents had been guaranteed protection by US forces and later by the Iraqi government when the U.S. withdrew. But the Malaki government, acting with the encouragement and support of Iran, repeatedly violated their agreement.

Today, about 3,000 former residents of Ashraf have been moved to Camp Liberty near Baghdad. They have endured repeated violent attacks, signaling both Tehran’s influence over the Iraqi military and security apparatus, as well as the American abdication of important responsibilities to the people of that country.

Camp Liberty Letter

So far, 25 Camp Liberty residents have lost their lives after being deprived of timely access to needed medical care. About 1,300 are still coping with injuries from previous attacks. Last month, another resident, Safar Zakery, was taken hostage under the pretext of being involved in a minor traffic accident, for which he was not at fault. After being held for one month, he was only released after his colleagues posted a $30,000 bond.

Turning a blind eye to these grave human rights violations will encourage the Iranians to sustain physical and psychological pressure against Camp Liberty residents. At the same time, pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq are flaming the fans of sectarian strife. The administration has a responsibility to ensure that Prime Minister Abadi will take home the message that Washington will not collude or cooperate with Tehran, and neither should Baghdad.

Abadi’s visit has been a crucial opportunity for the President to reaffirm the obligation that the U.S., the UN and Iraq made to the residents.

It is not too late for the U.S. to join its Arab allies in simultaneously standing up against the Islamic State and its Shiite counterpart ruling in Tehran. The U.S. can forge a stronger relationship with the new Iraqi government and in doing so it can also restore our credibility in the region. It should direct our efforts to reduce Iranian influence throughout the region, and recommit both governments to the safety and security of the residents of Camp Liberty.

This is what is required by a prudent and realistic Middle East policy that truly promotes peace and stability.

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