MEK Secretary General Zohreh Akhyani.

MEK Secretary General Zohreh Akhyani.

The United States has long had a schizophrenic relationship with the Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK), the Iranian dissident group that some credit with revealing to the West the experimentation that Iran did with nuclear weapons until 2003. In March of this year, at Salon, Mohsen Kadivar and Ahmed Sadri wrote about the infamous Iranian group that the U.S. government designated a foreign terrorist organization.

The MEK has no political base inside Iran and no genuine support on the Iranian street because it was long based in Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s patronage. It lost any semblance of credibility it might have had inside Iran due to its opposition to the Shah’s regime when its troops fought on behalf of Iraq toward the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. Hence, it would behoove U.S. policymakers to be skeptical of the boasts of MEK lobbyists regarding the extent of this group’s popularity inside Iran.

On Nov. 26, at the New York Times, Scott Shane shed some light on those lobbyists:

At a time of partisan gridlock in the capital, one obscure cause has drawn a stellar list of supporters from both parties. … The extraordinary lobbying effort to reverse the terrorist designation of the [MEK] has won the support of two former C.I.A. directors, R. James Woolsey and Porter J. Goss; a former F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh; a former attorney general, Michael B. Mukasey; President George W. Bush’s first homeland security chief, Tom Ridge; President Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; big-name Republicans like the former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Democrats like the former Vermont governor Howard Dean; and even the former top counterterrorism official of the State Department, Dell L. Dailey, who argued unsuccessfully for ending the terrorist label while in office. … They say the terrorist label, which dates to 1997 and then reflected decades of violence that included the killing of some Americans in the 1970s, is now outdated, unjustified and dangerous.

The lobbyists, writes Shane

… have been well paid. … But they insist that their motive is humanitarian — to protect and resettle about 3,400 members of the … M.E.K., now confined in a camp in Iraq. … The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq has said it plans to close the camp, Camp Ashraf, by Dec. 31 and move the people elsewhere in Iraq in order to reassert Iraqi sovereignty over the land where it is located. … Two earlier incursions by Iraqi troops into Camp Ashraf led to bloody confrontations, with 11 residents killed in July 2009 and at least 34 in April of this year. The M.E.K. and its American supporters say that they believe the Maliki government, with close ties to Iran, may soon carry out a mass slaughter on the pretext of regaining control of the camp.

Geoffrey Robertson at the Daily Beast expands on the camp.

Its residents were protected under the Geneva Conventions and were in any event refugees unable to return to Iran because of a well-founded fear—indeed, a certainty—that they would be executed both as traitors and as mohareb, or enemies of God. … Their weapons were decommissioned by the U.S. forces, and every Ashraf resident signed a written agreement denouncing terrorism and rejecting violence. In return, the U.S. promised to protect them until their final disposition.


The U.S. has abandoned them and UNAMI, the remaining U.N. mission, has been pathetic—its “ambassador,” a German diplomat, has refused to meet the residents and has allowed himself to be fobbed off for months by the government. He is not even objecting to Camp Ashraf’s closure, but only asking for its residents to be relocated inside Iraq, which would make it easier for more of them to be killed.

Mohsen Kadivar and Ahmed Sadri remind us that:

Countless first-rate analysts, scholars and human rights organizations — including Human Rights Watch — have determined that the MEK is an undemocratic, cultlike organization whose modus operandi vitiates its claim to be a vehicle for democratic change.

Most importantly, MEK activities in Washington could be causing irreparable damage to Iran’s home-grown opposition. When post-election turbulence commenced inside Iran, the MEK quickly sought to join the frenzy of brewing opposition to the current government. The Ahmadinejad government promptly connected the Green Movement to the MEK in an effort to discredit the pro-democracy movement.

Nevertheless, although the MEK is an enemy to everyone but neocons and paid lobbyists, they don’t deserve to be butchered any more than anyone else does. Shane reminds us:

If that happens, [its] supporters say, the United States — which disarmed the M.E.K. and guaranteed the security of the camp after the invasion of Iraq — will bear responsibility.

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