Although this is a lengthy piece, it is a condensation of a three part series I wrote for the Booman Tribune. I am submitting it here for those DKos readers who might find not have seen it there.
I think it is quite well-known that the United States government is ratcheting up pressure against the Iranian government and is building up naval forces in the Persian Gulf. What is less well-known is the United States' activities in openly supporting terrorism inside Iran.
Part 1 - PJAK
The acronymn PJAK stands for Partiya Jiyana Azad a Kurdistanê, (which means "Party for Free Life in Kurdistan). Have you ever heard of the PKK or Kongra-GEL? The PKK/K-GEL is the terrorist (or freedom fighter) organization of Kurds fighting for a homeland in Turkey.
PJAK is the Iranian branch or equivalent of PKK/K-GEL.
First some basic facts about Iran. It is a country of approximately 70 million people. But only about HALF of those people are Persians or what we call "ethnic" Iranians.
Half of the country is ethnic Persian/Iranian but nearly the entire political and power system (theocratic rulers, military, politicans, etc) are ethnic Persian/Iranian (with a sprinkling of key figures who are ethnic Azeri).
One quarter of the country is Azerbaijani (or Azeri). About 8% or one in 12 citizens of Iran are ethnic Kurds. Ethnic Arabs come in around 3%.
What this means in short is that one ethnic group has a slim majority in terms of population but an absolute majority in political power. And while the Kurdish tongue and Kurdish ethnicity is SIMILAR to Iranian/Persian, the Kurds are not the same. And with Iraq being in the condition it is in today, with a completely safe zone for Kurds in the north, the independence/autonomy struggle for Kurds in Iran, Turkey and Syria has intensified.
I bet most people have never heard of PJAK. But here's an article from summer 2006:
In 2005, according to the Iranian government, PJAK killed at least 120 Iranian soldiers in Iran. In 2006, PJAK may exceed this total. Already, it has launched dozens of attacks both from its camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and from its underground cells in Iran itself.PJAK is quite literally conducting a war on the Iranian state and is launching attacks from bases in Iraq. These guys are fell funded. The governments of Turkey and Iran met last year to coordinate the fight against the PJJ/PJAK.
In one of its latest attacks, PJAK troops killed four Iranian soldiers on May 27 in a clash near the town of Mako in Iranian Kurdistan, the PKK's Roj TV reported. PJAK, however, regards its military operations as merely complementing its wider effort to build a new Kurdish national identity among the four million Kurds who make up seven percent of Iran's population. PJAK has around 3,000 troops based in northern Iraq, but claims tens of thousands of activists working inside Iran.
The AP just ran an informative article on PJAK by reporter Kathy Gannon, who spent 2 days with these guys (which she calls PEJAK):
The PKK and its affiliates are spread through a region of some 35 million Kurds that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. PEJAK, the newest group, claims to number thousands of recruits, and targets only Iran - a mission which has made PEJAK the subject of intense speculation that it is being used to undermine the radical Islamic regime of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.What is undisputed is that Turkey is going to hold both presidential and parliamentary elections this year. Turkish politicians and the Turkish people are pushing for some kind of action to curtail PKK/K-GEL attacks from Iraqi bases. See this article about what Turkish PM Erdogan had to say on the matter. The Turkish parliament has been meeting behind closed doors to decide what to do.
In the Nov. 27 issue of The New Yorker magazine, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh wrote that PEJAK was receiving support from the U.S. as well as from Israel, which fears Iran's nuclear ambitions and Ahmadinejad's call to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
PEJAK says it regularly launches raids into Iran, and Iran has fired back with artillery. In October, the English-language Iran Daily, published by Iran's official news agency, said Iran accused PEJAK of killing dozens of its armed forces in insurgent attacks.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, a longshot Democratic presidential hopeful who claims the White House is overplaying the Iranian threat, last year wrote to President George W. Bush expressing concern that the U.S. was using PEJAK to weaken Ahmadinejad.
PJAK was not created directly by the United States but it seems clear they are benefiting from American assistance, either covertly in the sense of funds/weapons or indirectly by the American's non-intereference with PJAK bases and training camps in northern Iraq.
I should also state that there are unverified reports that the pilot-less drone spy aircraft being used over Iranian airspace may be either controlled by PJAK or monitoring sites identified by PJAK operatives.
Here's another article by a western reporter who managed to "embed" with PJAK in their training camps. And here's an interesting quote indeed:
Most of the freedoms Turkish Kurds have been eager to spill blood over have been available in Iran for years; Iran constitutionally recognizes the Kurds' language and minority ethnic status, and there is no taboo against speaking Kurdish in public. The PJAK Kurds want more: They want secular democracy, they say, and they want the United States to go into Iran to deliver it to them...I also found a third western reporter who got to embed in with PJAK. How is it that three western reporters can embed in with an avowed militia whose public goal is overthrowing the government of a neighboring state? It's because PJAK has no need to hide its bases, goals or objectives. They're supported by the Kurds in northern Iraq and they are supported by the United States.
...The Iranian Kurds in Qandil are eager to do the same against Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs in Tehran—first by working with other Sunni [Arab] minorities to destabilize the central government's hold on Kurdish areas, then by waiting for Washington to come in and help it make Kurdish autonomy official.
Iran has officially declared PJAK a terrorist group (as has the United States and the EU) yet the United States is doing absolutely nothing to stop or hinder their operations. If that is not deliberate proof that the destabilization of the Iranian government is one of the options "on the table", I don't know what is.
The PJAK is just one terrorist group which is being funded, supported and/or trained by the United States to foment unrest inside of Iran, scout out potential military targets and perhaps sow the seeds for war or a coup.
The PJAK have a very modern and up-to-date website (not in English).
Part 2 - Jondollah and the BLA
On February 14, there was a terrorist attack inside of Iran that killed 18 people and injured 34 (click on link for photo). Oddly enough, it has received little attention in the western media (until now).
On Friday (Feb 15), there was a second bombing in Zahedan but no one was killed. Iranian security forces arrested a number of people and now they are making a startling revelation that there is proof that the United States was behind the attack:
Explosive devices and arsenals used in a terrorist attack in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on Wednesday came from the United States, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday.While we're waiting for that proof to be made public, let's look at the history of the Baloch people to get some context.
Relevant documents, photographs and film footage, which show that the explosives and arsenals used in the attack were American, would soon be made public, an "informed source" was quoted as saying.
The attack took place in the town of Zahedan which is in eastern Iran. If you're like me and you appreciate visuals, click here to see the Google Maps location. The town of Zahedan is right on Iran's eastern border with both Pakistan (the counter in the lower right-hand corner) and Afghanistan (upper right-hand corner).
Zahedan is the provincial capital of Iran's "Sistan va Baluchistan" Province. It's in some fairly rugged terrain and it's one of the lesser-populated regions of Iran. However it is home to nearly all of Iran's ethnic Baloch minority.
To understand the context, you have to know who the Baloch people are. Similar to the Kurds, they are a distinct people or ethnic group whose traditional homeland is now spread across three countries in a contiguous zone - Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan (map here). There are at least 8 million Baloch people (some say as many as 15 million). 70% of them live in Pakistan, 20% in Iran and 10% in Afghanistan.
The Balochs are ethnically related to "Persians" or Iranians and speak an Iranian-related language (as do Pashtuns). It should be noted however that both Balochs and Pashtun are generally followers of the Sunni branch of Islam and of course the majority of people in Iran are followers of the Shia branch. Therefore Balochs are not just an ethnic minority in Iran but also a religious minority.
Basically the key to understanding all of this begins with the infamous Durand Line. Back in 1893, when the British were the colonial "masters" of this region the British drew a line to separate the regions they had a firmer grip on (later to be India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) and those they didn't (Afghanistan). The Durand line divided two different ethnic groups (the Pashtun and Baloch) so that they would be less able to effectively oppose the British administration.
Fast forward to 1947 and India and Pakistan's independence and the newly formed Pakistani government used force to try to unite the Muslim-majority areas under one administration. One region, Kashmir, refused to take part with either side (India or Pakistan) and has been an area of contest ever since. Another region, (Pakistani) Balochistan was more or less annexed by force.
The Baloch people have fought up to four major insurgencies against Pakistani rule since that time. The last major uprising was in the early 1970's when both Pakistan and Iran were run by pro-American military dictatorships and both nations combined forces to crush the rebellion.
During the 1980's, the United States and Pakistan (as well as the wealthy foreign Sunni financiers like Saudi Arabia) supported the Pashtun resistance in Afghanistan. India on the other hand has always played a role (that's less well known) in Afghanistan and has traditionally backed the Tajik/Uzbek warlords. After the Soviets were ejected, India held the upper hand briefly but then by 1994 the Pakistani-backed Pashtun Taliban took control.
Fast forward to 2001 and the United States launches a war in Afghanistan and push the Taliban (and therefore the Pashtun) out of power. The Tajik/Uzbek warlords from the Panjshir Valley, known as the "Northern Alliance", step into the power vacuum. Besides the titular head of Afghanistan (Hamid Karzai), most of the government of Afghanistan is run by those who are allied a lot more heavily with India than with Pakistan.
Therefore India has always sought to support anyone who could weaken Pakistan's influence in the region. One of Pakistan's sources of wealth are its natural gas deposits and a large segment of those lie in the southwestern region of Pakistan: Balochistan province.
In the last 10 years, but especially accelerated since 2001, the Pakistani government has been using foreign investment (mostly from China) to try and develop these gas deposits. The "problem" is that the Baloch people feel they are not getting much of the revenue from these resources and that their lands are being exploited by the (ethnic) Punjab administration.
The Pakistani government also has an ambitious project underway to develop the port at Gwadar in Balochistan into a major commercial center. This too has largely been financed by China. There are several reasons why this is of utmost strategic interest to Pakistan. In brief: Pakistan only has one major naval port (Karachi) and in the past India has been able to blockade this, roads under construction to link Gwadar to other major cities in Pakistan would make Gwadar a booming commercial hub, oil tankers can offload at Gwadar and the oil can be shipped overland to China much more quickly than current methods, and last but not least Gwadar is located just south of the Strait of Hormuz, meaning that if the Strait is ever blocked off or disabled (such as in a war), Gwadar would remain open for business.
Therefore India especially has all the motive it needs to destabilize Pakistan's plans for development of gas fields and the port of Gwadar in Balochistan. There is pretty substantial evidence that India has been financing or otherwise supporting the native (and authentic) Balochi resistance to the Pakistani central government.
Although it's difficult to realize just how strange a place Pakistan is, the Pak central government really only has limited control over its outlying provinces (Balochistan as well as NWFP). A lot of people don't even know that Pakistan has an outright ban on anyone traveling in Balochistan outside the one town of Quetta. Any outsider literally has to get a special permit to go to Balochistan.
Starting about two years ago but really increasing over the last year, the Baloch "resistance" has been waging a war against Pakistani central governmental facilities in the region. According to a recent report I saw, this has severely impacted the local tourism industry in Quetta. I know just about every other day I read a report where Baloch rebels have blown up a section of gas pipeline or attacked a Pakistani army base (Pak gov't soldiers serving in the provinces are known as the "Frontier Corps").
Quite simply put, the Pakistani government is in a desperate situation as it is caught between a number of seemingly irreconcilable dilemmas. Click on the link for an excellent rundown but the key here to understand is that many ethnic Pashtun strongly resent Pak President Pervez Musharraf's pro-American and pro-Western stance and since the "enemy of my enemy is my friend", a lot of Balochi-Pashtun cooperation has been going on. Quetta is now virtually the "home away from home" for a lot of exiled Taliban.
In August 2006, Pakistani government forces were battling the most powerful Baloch tribe (known as the Bugti clan) and killed their leader, Akbar Khan Bugti. A lot of Baloch people refer to this as their "9/11" incident and it has radicalized a lot of Balochs who may have been less zealous in the past.
If you want to know how Baloch people feel, then read this essay on a pro-Baloch website. Essentially other Baloch leaders have been "rendered" and tortured, some 86,000 Baloch people are refugees inside their own country (Pakistan) and the government is using the travel ban to keep journalists from reporting on the situation.
On February 4, 2007, a number of Balochs living in Britain marched outside the American embassy in London. They also published an open letter to George Bush. A brief snippet:
The speakers mentioned the grave crimes against humanity being committed Baloch and Sindhi people by Pakistan army. The speakers demanded from the international community to press upon the Pakistan military to stop the atrocities and human rights violations. The speakers in their speeches demanded from US Government. to immediately stop military, economic and moral support to the brutal and terrorist regime in Pakistan.Now my point here is that pro-Musharraf policies combined with anti-Pashtun policies by the American government (as well as the perception there is an overall war on Islam being fought by the Bush administration) are seriously inciting the Baloch people, who have already fought four "hot" wars for independence and are now conducting a full-scale insurgency against the Pakistani government (as to why the American government would support the Balochi insurgency in Pakistan, see here).
But what about Balochs and Iran? Well I had to first explain where these people are coming from before I could get to that.
The Balochi people already feel oppressed and under attack from Pakistan's government. Their growing alliance with the Pashtun/Taliban also mean they are increasingly making ties with the worldwide Sunni "insurgency". And the "tip of the spear" of the Balochi resistance/insurgency and its ties to the worldwide Sunni insurgency is a group known as Jundallah (sometimes spelled Jondollah). Its name means "Soldiers of God".
Jondollah is listed as first appearing in 2003 and seems to be part of that gift that keeps on giving, blowback from the war in Iraq. You can find more out about Jondollah here. A website that supports Jondollah but is not officially linked to them is here (and is in English).
Since that time, Jondollah has been waging outright war against Iranian security forces. Especially in 2005, Jondollah has either kidnapped or killed several members of Iran's "Revolutionary Guards" (who are more or less the Interior Ministry troops). Iran has responded by further crackdowns and according to some reports has "stepped up executions" against reported Baloch rebels.
On December 14, 2006 two bombs blew up in Zahedan which apparently were targeted at the provincial governor although no one was killed. From the report at the time:
One source which is close to the Jondollah of Baluchistan said that the objective of these explosions was to disrupt the process of fraudulent ongoing elections and deter the government from further oppressing Baluch people. Some reports indicate that 240 Baluch people have been hanged in public or shot dead in the streets in the last six months. Not even one single official has been arrested for these killing. Consequently the Jondollah organization of Iran decided to take some preventative measures to stop further killing of the Baloch people.It looks like those "measures" were put into effect this week when Jondollah (which claimed responsibility for the attack) blew up a bus full of Revolutionary Guards, killing 11 (and 7 other people). Jondollah has also stated it has several "huge military operations" that they are planning in the province.
Part 3 - MEK
The focus of part 3 is the Mujaheedin-e-Khalq (MEK).
The MEK is part of a cluster of anti-Iranian government groups that are compromised or supported primarily by people of Iranian origin. The MEK is the "armed wing" of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO). They in turn are members of the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) which is in turn a subset of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
The NCRI is the box in which all the other organizations are a subset. The NCRI also has included (and may continue to include) Kurdish anti-Iranian government organizations. The MEK however is composed of non-Kurd Iranian peoples.
During the 1970's, when the MEK was formed, the Iranian government was run by the dictator Shah and was completely allied with the United States. The MEK began by targeting American military advisers and American citizens, killing several of them in Tehran.
In 1979, Iran underwent a revolution which the MEK originally supported. However by 1981, the MEK were opposed to the new Tehran government. In 1981, the MEK killed 70 Iranian officials including the chief justice and the President of Iran.
As Saddam's war against Iran (1980-1988) began to become a losing proposition, Saddam welcomed the MEK into Iraq and allowed them to set up training camps and bases in order to launch terrorist raids in Iran. After the war was over, the Saddam-financed MEK attacked 13 Iranian embassies and government facilities overseas in the year 1992 alone. By 1999, the MEK was still conducting terrorist activities in Iran and killed the deputy chief of Iran's armed forces. These attacks continued right up until the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States.
Originally, the United States put a halt to the MEK's activity in Iraq during and subsequent to the invasion. Approximately 4,000 MEK fighters were locked up in a concentration camp (Camp Ashraf) and had all their weapons confiscated (although there is some disagreement about whether this happened). This was supposed to be the "end" of the MEK.
What actually happened was that Rumsfeld and Cheney came up with a plan. Since the MEK was fiercely anti-Iranian but members of a banned terrorist organization, the "solution" was have the MEK members "swear an oath" they renounced their membership in the MEK and then were allowed to keep their weapons and resume activity in Iran against the government. For all of the known evidence of this American-supported MEK terrorist activity in Iran after 2003, see here.
The MEK has had a number of supporters in the American Congress and government precisely because of the concept that the "enemy of my enemy is my friend". One of their biggest supporters was John Ashcroft:
Only two years ago [in the year 2000], these arguments won sympathy from Ashcroft--and more than 200 other members of Congress. When the National Council of Resistance staged a September 2000 rally outside the United Nations to protest a speech by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Missouri's two Republican senators--Ashcroft and Chris Bond--issued a joint statement of solidarity that was read aloud to a cheering crowd.Other people including Tom Tancredo and the anti-Castro nut Ileana Ros-Lehtinen have been equally supportive of the MEK.
The PMOI, of which the MEK is but a subset, have been granted the right (by the American government) to operate prison camps inside Iraq. And of course you can guess these camps featured regular human rights abuses, including torture.
Despite all of this, in 2005 the Bush administration continued to rely on the MEK to prop up his propaganda against the Iranian government:
Despite the group's notoriety, Bush himself cited purported intelligence gathered by MEK as evidence of the Iranian regime's rapidly accelerating nuclear ambitions. At a March 16 press conference, Bush said Iran's hidden nuclear program had been discovered not because of international inspections but "because a dissident group pointed it out to the world." White House aides acknowledged later that the dissident group cited by the president is the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), one of the MEK front groups added to the State Department list two years ago.The MEK's political group (NCRI) is one of the leading trumpeters of the story that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. The NCRI has also claimed that they "discovered" two Iranian nuclear (energy) facilities at Natanz and Arak. The claim that NCRI discovered this has been proven false. What happened is that the NCRI was the first to make this information known to the public and the American government more or less let them take the credit for it. Bush flat out lied when he gave credit to the NCRI for this discovery.
Now why would the U.S. government do that if not in order to bolster the NCRI's credibility? There were actually two facilities there and it is true they have been used in nuclear (energy) research and enrichment. What is not true is that anyone needed the NCRI to point it out (neither the US intel community or the IAEA).
Here is more NCRI material from a 2002 press conference about Iranian weapons in general. Here is the NCRI's timeline of all the times they've been warning the world about Iran's capabilities. I note with much trepidation this:
August 2003: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and an Israeli general brief President Bush on Iran's nuclear program, arguing that U.S. intelligence services are underestimating how quickly Iran could develop a nuclear weapon.The term "U.S. intelligence services" is code for the CIA, which provided accurate but unpleasant information on Iraq's total lack of WMD and is now providing accurate but unpleasant information that Iran is at least 10 years away from manufacturing a single bomb.
On April 21, 2006, Representative Dennis Kucinich wrote an open letter to Bush asking of his administration was supporting the MEK and PJAK and whether or not American troops were clandestinely operating inside of Iran. So far he has received no answer. And sadly, he is the only member of Congress that I am aware of that is even asking and of course the media sure isn't doing it.
The NCRI operates its own website in several languages, including English.