Can Iranian opposition group do what Obama refused to do?


Earlier this month, nearly three decades late, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Iran for a 1988 act most revealing about its leadership's mindset.

Understanding this mindset is important to determine whether U.S. interests are best served terminating the nuclear agreement President Barack Obama concluded with Iran in 2015. That agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was described as presidential candidate Donald Trump as the "worst deal ever."

Obama assured us JCPOA would "ensure that Iran's nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful" and would mark an improved relationship with the U.S. It has done neither - and Iran will have a nuclear arsenal in the foreseeable future.

Accepting this reality, one must recognize what the mullahs will do once so armed. Most telling in this regard is examining how they have treated their own people. After all, how a government deals with its own citizens is relevant to whether it has a soul - a point of concern for non-citizens it threatens.

Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini came to power in Iran in 1979, courtesy of Jimmy Carter, another U.S. president who, like Obama, foolishly failed to understand Islamic extremism. Carter embraced Khomeini as a Mahatma Ghandi. Khomeini proved to be anything but, launching a campaign killing thousands, reminiscent of the French Revolution almost two centuries earlier - imprisoning, torturing and executing men, women and children. Today, Iran is the world's leading executioner of children.

In 1988, Khomeini established a four-member "Death Committee" to execute all Iran's political prisoners. One member, Ebrahim Raisi, was a candidate in Iran's most recent presidential election. The process was like shooting fish in a barrel with prisoners taken directly from prison cells to killing fields. Most were members of an opposition group known as MEK. Thousands of prisoners were murdered - many of whom had already served their sentences.

But the massacre did not end there. Khomeini's death decree resulted, within weeks, in a total of 30,000 deaths of regime opponents and alleged apostates.

During the bloody onslaught, Khomeini's hand-picked successor, an outraged Hossein-Ali Montazeri, attempted to stop the killing. He told the committee its actions were a crime against humanity.

Montazeri's warning fell on deaf ears and resulted in his removal as the Supreme Leader-in-waiting. He was replaced by Ali Khamenei who assumed power in 1989 when Khomeini died. Montazeri proved unwilling to sell his soul to stay in power; Khamenei had no problem doing so.

As a result of former-Death Committee member Raisi's participation in the 2017 presidential election, Montazeri's son, Ahmed, posted a 1988 audiotape of his father's warning to the committee. Ahmed sought acknowledgment of and accountability for the massacre with the posting, but Khamenei ordered it removed. Subsequently, only one accountability prosecution occurred - Ahmed's.

During the 1980s, many MEK members were forced to flee Iran, only to be relentlessly persecuted by the mullahs. This effort culminated with the group's relocation late last year, beyond the mullahs' long-arm reach into Iraq where members last resided.

While the MEK initially began relocating to France in 1981 to avoid persecution, Iran worked the French government to manipulate MEK's removal. Recognizing the enemy of my enemy is my friend, Iraq's Saddam Hussein then invited MEK to relocate to Iraq's Camp Ashraf, located near the border with Iran. MEK did so, building a magnificent city there from which it occasionally conducted attacks against Iranian military forces.

The mullahs became even more determined to eliminate MEK, especially after it was disarmed by U.S. forces invading Iraq in 2003. Under the Geneva Conventions, the Ashraf residents became "protected persons" for whom the U.S. had legal responsibility. But when U.S. forces withdrew in December 2011, responsibility, inappropriately, was transferred to an Iraqi government in bed with Iran's mullahs.

The result was several attacks undertaken by Iraqi security forces, sometimes assisted by their Iranian government handlers, against the defenseless Ashraf residents. Approximately 140 MEK members were killed over the years, before international outrage finally resulted in their piecemeal relocation. But, up until the unannounced early relocation of the last group of residents to Albania in September 2016, the Iranian government did all in its power to get the dissidents returned to Tehran. Had they succeeded, the fate undoubtedly awaiting them was that which befell their fellow MEK members in 1988.

There is another reason MEK earned the mullahs' hatred. The group has long been providing highly credible intelligence about the mullahs' nuclear arms and missile development program. Just this month it revealed intelligence about Tehran's accelerated missile development program.

With the last MEK members now safely out of Iran's cross-hairs, a July 1 strategy conference is scheduled in Paris. It will be attended by thousands of concerned citizens from around the world eager to discuss how best to counter Iranian Islamic fundamentalism and standing up to Tehran's threats and nefarious behavior. Many high-profile former U.S. government officials, recognizing the true danger a nuclear-armed Tehran poses, will participate in these discussions.

To conference attendees, the mullahs' intentions are clear. Having conducted mass executions of their own people - some pulled out of prison cells, others simply rounded up, and both summarily killed - reveals the theocracy to be a leadership lacking a soul and thus willing to force its ideology upon others. It will stop at nothing to do so. JCPOA, unfortunately, has become a vehicle by which Iran will look to accelerate this process with nuclear arms.

Attendees will also be mindful about a mullah mindset once voiced by Khomeini. It is most revealing about the lack of concern over Iran's first use of nuclear weapons triggering nuclear retaliation. Khomeini proffered, "I say let this land (Iran) go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world."

All these factors should leave little doubt Iran's mullahs are marching down the road to nuclear confrontation. In the wake of Obama's failure to stop them, hopefully MEK's Paris conference will offer up roadblocks. Absent terminating JCPOA, it may be our last hope for doing so.

A version of this piece also appeared on     

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.

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