Female members of the Muhahedin-e Khalq (MEK) gather at Camp Ashraf, Iraq.
— Is it possible that a terrorist organization that has killed
Americans and tortures its own members could organize a massive lobbying
campaign to manipulate U.S. national security decisions?
It’s happening before our very eyes.
of State Hillary Clinton is due to decide soon whether the Iranian
Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) should remain on the State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations or be delisted and free to raise taxpayer support for their operations.
State Department says that throughout the 1970s, the MEK staged
terrorist attacks inside Iran, and killed several U.S. military
personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran. It also
says MEK members participated in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy
But while the MEK remains designated as a terrorist
group, it has managed to leverage a caustic political environment in the
United States, a humanitarian crisis in Iraq for which it bears
significant responsibility and bundles of cash to pull off one of the
most insidious pressure campaigns Washington has seen.
Recently, it came to light that many of about 33 former U.S.
officials who have advocated delisting the MEK have been paid to speak
at events sponsored by Iranian groups that want it off the list. Some of
the officials have since quietly backed away, professing ignorance
about the group that had presented itself innocuously as an “Iranian
Others, like Michael Mukasey and Howard
Dean, have redoubled their efforts in the midst of criticism and
recalibrated their message to urge for delisting on humanitarian
grounds. But while there is certainly a humanitarian crisis for MEK
members, the organization’s leadership is directly culpable.
the MEK’s core leadership is based comfortably in Paris, some 3,400 of
its rank-and-file members are based in the organization’s Iraq compound,
Camp Ashraf, along the Iranian border. There, they are held hostage to
the MEK leadership’s efforts to gain international support.
advocates who claim support for the group on humanitarian grounds have
not answered key questions about the group’s inhumane practices,
outlined by Human Rights Watch, including MEK’s repeated threats of suicide as a negotiating tactic, according to a RAND Corp. study.
study, commissioned for the Pentagon, says that 70% of the people at
Camp Ashraf joined after the group moved to Iraq, and a “substantial
number of these MEK members were lured to Iraq under false pretenses or
did not have a clear understanding of the group’s goals and methods of
operation — particularly with respect to its cult behavior — and many
have been forced to remain against their will.”
Watch has documented torture by MEK of members who have tried to flee.
Those who have managed to escape report that the MEK prevents those in
Ashraf from accessing telephones, television, Internet or any form of outside communication .
the MEK leadership has cleverly leveraged its antagonism with the
Iranian regime to exploit U.S.-Iran enmity and convince policymakers
that the “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” In so doing, they have
largely managed to deflect attention away from the MEK’s shadowy
practices and human rights abuses in Ashraf.
The MEK leadership
in Paris has seized on deplorable actions by the Iraqi government, which
views the MEK warily because of its close ties it had with Saddam
Hussein, to argue for delisting.
Under pressure from Iran, Iraq
has waged incursions into Ashraf that have resulted in shameful losses
of life — up to 34 killed. But instead of pursuing a true humanitarian
solution, MEK leadership cynically used these events as public relations
tools while obstructing serious proposals, because they would likely
address MEK’s own abuses.
The MEK has argued against any proposal that would let its members to leave the group. The New York Times reports that U.S. efforts to facilitate a humanitarian solution
have been blocked by residents refusing to leave. The U.N High
Commissioner on Refugees has publicly offered to facilitate a refugee
resettlement process, but has stated that individuals at Ashraf have refused to renounce violence, a prerequisite to participating.
the driving force behind the MEK’s campaign in the U.S. has come from
the same circles that championed supposed dissidents such as Ahmad
Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress to build a groundswell of
support for the U.S. to invade Iraq. Like those Iraqi exiles, the MEK
enjoys no domestic legitimacy, yet claims to be Iran’s “main
opposition.” Most of the officials who repeat this have no idea that the
MEK is among the most reviled groups in Iran.
publication closely associated with Iran’s true “main opposition,” the
Green Movement, warned last week that delisting the MEK would be
devastating to Iran’s democracy and human rights movement. Such a move
would bring back “bitter memories of anti-Iran policies, such as the
1953 coup” that toppled Iran’s first democratically elected prime
minister. A U.S. delisting of the MEK would also send a signal that we
have turned our backs on the nonviolent democratic movement in order to
back a violent group.
Many fear that a delisted MEK would help
the regime taint the Green Movement while shifting competition with
Iran’s government from one of popular legitimacy — where the nonviolent
democracy movement is strong — into a competition of violence, where
the MEK prefers to operate but where the regime is strongest.
Any doubts about this violent agenda were dispelled last week at a pro-MEK conference that revealed in starkest terms yet how a delisted MEK would be used.
“We need a very active tit-for-tat policy,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas
McInerney. “So every time they kill Americans, they have an accident in
“I know that may sound too militaristic,” agreed former
CIA official John Sano, “but you have to go with what your enemy
Clearly, delisting the MEK has little to do with
humanitarian concern or support for a democratic Iran, but is instead a
push for another disastrous war of choice in the Middle East.
Editor’s note: Jamal Abdi
is the policy director of the National Iranian American Council, the
largest grassroots organization representing the Iranian-American
community in the United States. He previously worked in Congress as a
policy adviser on foreign affairs issues. He is based in Washington.