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A U.S. Deal With Terrorists

May 01, 2003

The Bush administration is looking for a quick fix, but this is one that could easily turn into a long-term problem. No, this isn't the tax cuts that threaten to create huge deficits; it's the cease-fire agreement that American officials have reached with Iranian terrorists based in Iraq who have murdered Americans and are on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. By cutting a deal with the 15,000-member Moujahedeen Khalq, or People's Holy Warriors, the administration is undermining its ability to fight terrorism.

The U.S. sometimes has little choice but to do business with thugs. The administration's reasoning in this instance is clear, if unpersuasive. Reaching an agreement with the Iranian militants has two advantages for the U.S. First, the group can help distract the Tehran government, which is trying to stir up anti-American Islamic fundamentalism in southern Iraq. Second, Moujahedeen Khalq, whose members were bombed by the U.S. during the recent Iraq war, has agreed not to fight American troops. In return, under the agreement terms, Moujahedeen Khalq gets to keep the weaponry it received from Saddam Hussein, which it wants to preserve in case of attack from Iran.

Blowback -- the professional intelligence term for operations that backfire -- has haunted the U.S. Nowhere has blowback been more apparent than in the Middle East. None other than Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Baghdad in 1983 and 1984 as emissary for President Reagan to create new ties with Hussein, who was battling Iran. The short-term thinking then was that Hussein would be a good ally against the notorious Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It's beyond understatement to suggest that the alliance with Hussein came back to bite the United States.

In the same decade, the CIA helped fund, train and arm the Afghan resistance to Soviet rule. Once the Soviets retreated, Osama bin Laden took over the Islamic militants and transformed them into a global terror network. Enter again the law of unintended consequences: When they helped engineer 9/11, members of this U.S.-trained resistance movement became the United States' worst nightmare.

Today, the Iranian fanatics could easily turn on U.S. forces; they killed American soldiers and civilians in Iran before the overthrow of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. What's more, allowing a paramilitary group to remain largely intact is no recipe for long-term Iraqi stability.

It's important to prevent Iran from increasing its influence in southern Iraq, but relying on terrorists is not the way to accomplish this. Iraq requires a stable and democratic central government that does not have to deal with fanatical foreign forces operating on its soil. Short-term arrangements with thugs, as U.S. experience shows, rarely make for wise long-term political gain.

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