{mosimage}The Western Mail - The carnage in Iraq continues to rage with no end in sight, despite attempts by the United States to curb the violence by increasing troop levels and engaging in direct talks with Iran. Ex-MP Win Griffiths gives his view of the situation.

{mosimage}The Western Mail

by Our Correspondent, Western Mail
The carnage in Iraq continues to rage with no end in sight, despite attempts by the United States to curb the violence by increasing troop levels and engaging in direct talks with Iran. Ex-MP Win Griffiths gives his view of the situation

THE rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq will not only impact on Iraqis, it would also have dire and strategic consequences for the entire Middle East. Iraq's stability could not become a reality unless we explore the root causes of the current crisis, and act decisively and quickly to deal with them.

How did we end up in this situation in the first place? While our men and women in uniform sacrifice their lives, the Iranian regime, which is widely recognised as "the number one state sponsor of terrorism", has been reaping all the benefits.

It is all too easy to point to the Sunni-Shiite rivalry as the root cause of Iraq's troubles. But, that is only part of a much larger picture. An increasing number of Iraqis are now voicing concern about the "hidden occupation" of Iraq by Iran.

The dividing line in Iraq is between two rival political forces with diametrically opposed agendas for the future. On the one hand, there are independent, nationalist, and democratic parties. On the other hand, a pro-Iranian fundamentalist block has been mobilised against the nascent democratic process by perpetuating instability and violence.

The Iranian strategy of dominating Iraq is born out of the mullahs' need to export their hard-line Islamic fundamentalism to Iraq and elsewhere in order to preserve an increasingly tenuous hold on power at home. So, the anti-democratic forces in Iraq enjoy the unequivocal backing of the Iranian regime.

The democratic block, however, lacks any support from the outside. Against this backdrop, the Iranian regime's intrusions have had dramatic results. Iraq's government is subject to Iranian pressure behind the scenes, and most of its security organs are infiltrated by pro-Iranian militias. A great portion of the country's economic resources, including a significant part of its oil industry, are monopolised by Tehran's proxies. And, there is mounting evidence that even al-Qaeda is on the receiving end of Iranian funds and weapons.

So, what can be done to curb the Iranian influence in Iraq? Some have proffered a two-tracked strategy: A phased withdrawal of Coalition forces and engagement with Iran to induce its cooperation in dealing with a situation that is spiralling out of control. This would be a recipe for disaster.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, "No man can tame a tiger into a kitten by stroking it." Reaching out to Tehran as a partner in stabilising Iraq would have the opposite effect. Iran is the main problem, not part of the solution.

The Iranian regime's support for terrorist networks in Iraq, in conjunction with its nuclear defiance, has put it on a collision course with the international community. Dialogue with the Iranian regime has so far netted no tangible benefits on both accounts. Further talks would only embolden Tehran to persist in its rogue conduct.

Instead, we must move in and decisively deter Iranian aggressions in Iraq. As part of that strategy, we must seek to ensure that militias supported by the mullahs' regime are disbanded, forces loyal to Tehran are expelled from government agencies and sensitive posts, and the Iraqi Constitution is modified in order to respect the rights of the minorities and political refugees.

At the same time, the UN Security Council should impose meaningful sanctions to dry up the resources Tehran is using to develop nuclear weapons. Comprehensive sanctions must include an oil embargo if they are to have any real effect on the second-largest exporter in the Opec oil cartel.

Simultaneous with matching Iranian interference with firm action inside Iraq, the West should try to influence developments inside Iran.

Ironically, the recent spate of anti-government demonstrations and strikes nationwide, despite the harsh crackdown, not to mention some 5,000 similar protests last year, are a reflection of the ruling theocracy's vulnerability rather than its strength.

The most recent case was the nationwide uproar over the decision to ration petrol. It is ironic that the country believed to hold the second-most amount of oil reserves does not have the infrastructure to produce petrol, even while it spends billions in its nuclear proliferation projects.

The regime's state media reported that, within the span of a few days, more than 50 petrol stations and state banks were set on fire by Iranians angry with the new rationing scheme.

Of all the options, the most practical and cost-effective approach would be to reach out to the Iranian people and the democratic opposition that has been working to bring about regime change in that country.

So far, we have done exactly the opposite. In trying to mollify Tehran, governments on both sides of the Atlantic have blacklisted Iran's main opposition movement, the People's Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI).

Here in Britain, a former Home Secretary proscribed the PMOI, and confirmed later on that this was done at the behest of the Iranian regime.

This did not go down well with MPs, the majority of whom back the Iranian resistance. Thirty-five Parliamentarians have since launched a legal challenge to the proscription, the hearing for which was held in the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission (POAC) last week.

Last December, Europe's second highest court, the Court of the First Instance in Luxembourg, overturned the European Union's decision to brand PMOI as terrorist. In its 41-page ruling, the Court also affirmed that, 'the PMOI was founded in 1965 and set itself the objective of replacing the regime of the Shah of Iran, then the mullahs' regime, by a democracy".

The EU's decision to ignore the European Court ruling makes a mockery of the rule of law. This was the message of 50,000 Iranians who gathered in Paris on June 30 to denounce the EU's defiance of the Court and register their support for Iranian Resistance leader Maryam Rajavi.

You would think that, with such a clear ruling, the EU would move swiftly to undo an act politically motivated in the first place. Not so.

Some officials, especially in Britain, argued that the removal of the PMOI from the list would send the theocrats ruling Iran the message that European policy had shifted to regime change, since the PMOI is the most viable actor for change in Iran.

For years, Iran's rulers made it clear that marginalising the resistance was a strong sign of willingness to placate them.

Western diplomats, in a search for illusory moderates within the clerical establishment, disgracefully acquiesced in the mullahs' demands to blacklist the Iranian resistance in return for lucrative commerce and support (ironically) in the campaign against international terrorism.

But the "moderate" fantasy completely ran aground when the regime's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, managed to manipulate the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a diehard Revolutionary Guards commander and a Holocaust-denier, as president.

So what are the options? As the President-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Maryam Rajavi told the European Parliament in July 2006 that appeasement has proven futile and a foreign war would be a recipe for disaster. The viable option, as she put it, was democratic change by the Iranian people.

Ironically, the Court ruling offers the West a face-saving way out of its policy statement.

The EU must comply with the CFI ruling and remove the terrorist labelling of the PMOI, thereby freeing up the focal point of the organised opposition to the regime in Tehran.

This would encourage the Iranian people to step up their struggle, and strengthen the international community's position in dealing with Tehran's nuclear defiance and efforts to destabilise Iraq. Now is the time to grab the opportunity for dealing with Tehran's tyrants.

Win Griffiths is a former Labour MP from Bridgend, and has followed Iranian affairs for nearly two decades.