TEHRAN, July 13 (UPI) -- Some U.S. lawmakers are urging the Obama administration to do more to support Iranian opposition groups seeking the downfall of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a leading Republican hawk, even called Sunday for the United States to "sabotage" Iran's oil and gas industry to trigger an economic crisis that would bring about regime change.
The United States "should use covert operations … to create a gasoline-led crisis to try and replace the regime," he declared.
The objective of all this agitation by hard-line Republicans is to intensify the pressure on the regime headed by firebrand President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as it grapples with unrest stirred by his disputed re-election in June and widespread allegations of poll fraud on a breathtaking scale.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, called on June 26 for greater backing for "resistance groups" in Iran.
He singled out the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or Peoples' Holy Warriors, the most prominent dissident group seeking to topple the Tehran regime.
It helped oust the shah in 1979, but then the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini started eliminating his erstwhile allies and the Mujahedeen eventually were given sanctuary by Saddam Hussein.
He armed the group and sent it against Iraq's historic enemies, the Persian Shiites of Iran. The Mujahedeen, or MeK, was disarmed during the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and some 3,400 of its members remain under U.S. protection in their former main base, Camp Ashraf northeast of Baghdad.
The Iranian regime demands they be sent back to Iran, where supporters say they face certain death. The Shiite-dominated Baghdad government wants to get rid of these former allies of Saddam but so far has not sought to force them out.
That may change as U.S. forces withdraw -- and if the prospects of U.S.-Iranian talks evaporate amid the political crisis in Iran as the regime cracks down heavily on its opponents.
For now, at least, the Obama administration is not expected to heed lawmakers' calls for cloak-and-dagger action against Tehran. Any such moves would be certain to intensify the political turbulence in the Gulf region and would torpedo President Obama's efforts to engage Tehran in a diplomatic dialogue to settle the issue of Iran's nuclear program.
That said, there have been repeated reports that the Americans, British and Israelis, supported to some extent by the Sunni monarchies of the Gulf who fear Shiite Iran's expansionist ambition, have been engaged for several years in relatively low-level clandestine operations inside Iran to make trouble for the regime.
Armed groups, which Tehran claims are financed by the United States and its allies, have been waging sabotage and hit-and-run attacks against Iranian forces in predominantly non-Shiite regions around the Islamic Republic's periphery since midway through George W. Bush's presidency.
The bloodletting has centered on the largely Arab-populated oil province of Khuzestan in Iran's southwest, the Kurdish region in the west along the Iraqi border and the turbulent southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan on the Pakistani border.
Hundreds of people have perished, but none of these insurrections has yet reached the point where they directly threaten the Shiite power elite in Tehran.
But some of these groups, including a Sunni organization known as Jundallah -- or Soldiers of God -- have carried out bombings in Iranian cities.
The May 28 suicide bombing of the second-largest Shiite mosque in Zahedan, capital of Sistan-Baluchistan, killed 25 people and underlined the sectarian divisions seething within Iran.
The blast incensed the Tehran regime. The attack was clearly intended as a message of defiance to Ahmadinejad, who has repeatedly vowed to eradicate Jundallah.
He swiftly accused U.S. and Israeli agents of being behind the slaughter -- accusations that have intensified amid the post-election upheaval that has badly shaken the regime.
The violence in the outer provinces is likely to escalate as the various rebel groups see the regime under attack from within.
Tehran recently ordered the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, its elite military force, to take over the security of the eastern regions from the national police, underlining the regime's concern about the bloodshed.
Tehran has also announced that it plans to hang 12 members of Jundallah, including Abdolhamid Rigi, brother of the group's shadowy leader, Abdolmalik Rigi, in the coming days. Retaliation should be expected.