I Want Them Back, the Irbil Five

This is problematic:

Five Iranian officials held in Iraq for more than two years by U.S. forces returned home Sunday after the U.S. released them under pressure from the Iraqi government.

These men, known as the “Irbil Five,” were members of the elite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Their release was required by the U.S.-Iraq security agreement signed last December, whereby all detainees have to be handed over to the Iraqi government.

When the Irbil Five were captured in 2007, the event signaled a new seriousness about the Bush administration’s decision to crack down on Iranian saboteurs in Iraq. There was a fight between the U.S. military and the State Department about the utility of keeping the men detained. The Pentagon thought they were too dangerous to have at large, while State thought holding them would unnecessarily provoke Tehran into escalating attacks on American troops. Hindsight’s most important lesson here is that the latter view was proven wrong. The way to fight Iranian meddling was to fight it.

Here we are, sending these dangerous saboteurs out into the world at last. There should have been provisions in our security agreement with Iraq that dealt with special cases such as this one. Failing that, the Obama administration should have leaned on the Maliki government in order to prevent the Irbil Five from returning to Iran — especially in light of June 12, which dampened the urgency of engagement with Tehran. Let’s just hope the Pentagon and intelligence community keep an eagle eye on the Irbil Five and the administration doesn’t quibble about blow-back when faced with the inevitable once again.