Continually frustrated in their attempts to launch any legitimate attack against Iran, Vice President Cheney and a group of die-hard neo-conservatives 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, neo-conservative 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 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.
IranIran 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 despized 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 neo-conservative 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.
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Albion Monitor July
8, 2008 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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