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The opposition on the eve of Iranian elections

By IVAN SASCHA SHEEHAN and RAYMOND TANTER, UPI Outside View Commentators   |   June 13, 2013 at 12:08 AM   |   Comments

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BALTIMORE, June 13 (UPI) -- This week's tightly controlled presidential election in Iran marks an opportunity for U.S. officials to make an evidence-based assessment of the Tehran regime and its most worrisome opposition.

Data presented in the 2011 book "Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organization" provided impetus for U.S. policymakers to revise their dossier on the primary Iranian opposition movement to reject clerical rule, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, and remove their politically motivated terror status.

But misconceptions and misinformation -- some of it explicitly repeated by the regime's loyalists -- remains and limits the opposition's full potential.

Contrary to the regime's unsubstantiated claims that the PMOI is responsible for recent violence in Iran, the evidence suggests otherwise.

A study titled "Assessing and Comparing Data Sources for Terrorism Research" involved a comparative analysis of existing terrorism incident databases used in Terror Tagging. The peer-reviewed paper validated the data sources used in the book and determined them to be credible and among the most widely referenced sources of terrorism events data.

To the regime's dismay, PMOI's profile in terrorism incident databases was -- and remains -- thin. The group simply hasn't been involved in political violence in more than a decade.

Neither the Global Terrorism Database nor the Rand Database of Worldwide Terrorist Incidents chronicles a single terrorist incident involving PMOI after February 2001. The World Incident Tracking System database, available through 2011 at the National Counter-terrorism Center, also provides no confirmation of responsibility for attacks by the group since 2001.

By contrast, the U.S. State Department issued "Patterns of Global Terrorism" and its replacement, the "Country Reports on Terrorism," lists the Islamic Republic of Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism every year.

As world leaders revisit Iran policy in the aftermath of this week's elections in Tehran, they would be wise to consider the facts on PMOI and the implications for policymakers looking for fresh ideas on Iran.

During a period January-February 2001, eight months before the United States was awakened to the problem of terrorism, PMOI -- whose long campaign of opposition has been directed squarely at dislodging Iran's clerical rulers -- was credited with four attacks on Iranian government and military installations. Three incidents are captured by GTD and one additional incident is captured by RDWTI.

Following a February 2001 incident, GTD doesn't chronicle a single act of terrorism that is attributed to PMOI through 2011, the last year for which terrorist incident data are available. Neither does RDWTI document a single act of political violence through the end of their data in 2010. GTD doesn't even chronicle a single incident for which PMOI is alleged to be a perpetrator or for which there is credible evidence but some doubt.

Out of an abundance of caution, the author of "Terror Tagging" included even unsubstantiated claims of terrorist violence documented in open-source terrorism incident data compiled by the Worldwide Incident Tracking System when it was still available in 2011. Allegations of incidents in 2009 and 2010 -- despite being marked as unsubstantiated -- were presented in order to allow readers to make decisions for themselves as to the credibility of the charges presented.

But in every instance the allegations against the PMOI in the WITS database were made by Iranian government authorities (including affiliates of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps), state-run entities or Iraqi officials with questionable ties to the Iranian regime. In no instance did WITS confirm PMOI as the perpetrator and in many cases WITS researchers indicated that there was in fact a "lack of evidence of (PMOI) involvement."

Simply put: There isn't a shred of evidence that individuals associated with the PMOI have been involved in violent activity since February 2001 -- eight months before the 9-11 attacks and the onset of U.S.-led Global War on Terrorism and more than 12 years ago.

Since 2001, the PMOI's appeals to freedom, democracy, the rule of law and equal protections for all of Iran's citizens have been grounded in fierce but peaceful calls for resistance to the regime's tyranny.

The U.S. State Department, which removed the PMOI's terror tag in September 2012, also found no evidence of terrorist activity that would justify a continuation of the terror label. Neither did the judiciary. In fact, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's formal delisting of the group was necessitated by a decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington that found no legal basis for maintaining the group's terror status.

False charges have long been a favored tactic of the Iranian regime. But, as the saying goes: One has a right to their own opinions, not their own facts.

Later this week, U.S. officials will have additional evidence with which to make informed decisions on future relations with the Iranian regime. The presidential elections will be over and, if predictions hold, the credibility of the regime's clerical rulers will be badly damaged by government interference designed to subvert the will of the Iranian people. Internal rifts will have also weakened whoever emerges.

Meanwhile, the Iranian opposition will be laying plans for a massive democratic gathering June 22 in Paris that will call for a non-nuclear, 21st-century republic that respects human rights and embraces a plurality of voices -- including women's.

To prepare for this reality, U.S. officials should act swiftly to reject Tehran's sham elections and strengthen the hand of the opposition to promote regime change from within. An Iranian Spring is possible but not if the world repeats their shameful silence of 2009 when massive election year protests were crushed as Western powers stood by.

Policymakers should also act to protect the vulnerable Iranian dissidents detained in Iraq at Camp Liberty by insisting on their designation as refugees and expediting their transfer back to Camp Ashraf, their home for decades, while they await safe resettlement to third countries.

Challenging the regime by acknowledging the facts is the first step toward providing ordinary Iranians what they will be denied at the ballot box Friday: An opportunity to exercise self determination armed with credible information.

On the eve of the elections, U.S. officials should consider the evidence and act accordingly.

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(Ivan Sascha Sheehan is director of the graduates programs in Negotiation and Conflict Management and Global Affairs and Human Security in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore. Raymond Tanter served on the senior staff of the National Security Council in the Reagan White House, is professor emeritus at the University of Michigan and is president of the Iran Policy Committee.)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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