Sunday, June 22, 2014

Responsibility To Protect Doctrine And Iranian Dissidents In Iraq

The responsibility to protect (R2P) is an emerging norm in international relations.  It modifies the inviolability of state sovereignty and allows the international community to intervene in a state's internal affairs to prevent genocide.  The UN system has two special advisers developing this norm within the Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide.  Determining how well states are enforcing this norm is now a worthy US foreign policy objective.  Let's pick a test case from the Middle East.

The People's Mojahedin of Iran (aka Mojahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK) are a longstanding Iranian dissident group that first opposed the Shah and later opposed the Islamic revolutionary government.  MEK had a history of causing trouble in several countries but cleaned up its act in recent years.  It convinced a critical mass of prominent Americans to lobby for its removal from the US State Department's list of designated terrorist organizations.  Its exile within Iraq left the Shiite-led government with both a bargaining chip and a humanitarian responsibility.

Iraq could have used MEK's status as a showpiece for its commitment to human rights.  Keeping the group disarmed and safeguarded was a no-brainer opportunity to show the Middle East that Iraq was serious about not interfering in its neighbors' affairs.  The Al-Maliki government instead squandered this opportunity by allowing armed elements, with the alleged collusion of its armed forces, to raid MEK's enclaves in 2013.  The influence Tehran now possesses in Baghdad may have been an enabling factor in the attacks against MEK.  The mechanisms of anti-MEK action are less important than the precedent they set.  Baghdad's inability or unwillingness to ensure fair treatment of a dissident group was a clear signal to Sunnis that they could expect no better treatment from a Shiite-dominated regime in Baghdad.

The international community can easily assemble pretexts for renewed intervention in Iraq under R2P doctrine.  The anti-MEK violence was the beginning.  ISIS has begun imposing sharia law in Mosul and other cities it has taken hostage in the last few weeks.  The Sunni tribes who acquiesced to ISIS's advance will soon regret their "inshallah" nonchalance toward that group's power grab.  The Al-Maliki government in Baghdad has proven itself unable to protect expatriate dissidents and its own minority populations.  That is a clear breach of R2P.  The human cost of nonintervention under R2P grows progressively worse with delay.  Ron Capps' Seriously Not All Right describes the horror of genocide in the face of the international community's delayed intervention in several conflicts.  UN invocation of R2P would signal to Iraq's Sunnis and stranded MEK activists that help is justified.