Iran Review, August 22 2013: … The U.S. move to delist the MEK was a very hypocritical move—and even a very stupid move. It was based on a passionate but irrational dependence on Israel, large amounts of money changing hands, and an utterly unreasonable desire to punish Iran through any means possible. The MEK are bloodthirsty terrorists. But the U.S. harbors Luis Posada Carrilles in its very midst, the terrorist responsible for bringing down a Cuban airliner …
(Rajavi from Saddam to AIPAC)
(Rajavi cult or MKO aslo known as Saddam’s Private Army)
Link to the source
Iran Review Exclusive Interview with Lawrence Wilkerson
By: Kourosh Ziabari
The election of Dr. Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s 7th president renewed hopes around the world that a new era of interaction and cooperation between Iran and the international community will begin soon. The government of “prudence and hope” promised to improve Iran’s foreign relations and find a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear stalemate after almost one decade of confrontation and dispute.
Iran has had no official ties with the United States for nearly 3 decades, and relation with the U.S. has always been a controversial and contentious point in Iran’s foreign policy. President Rouhani has pledged to find a way for settling the disputes with the United States, if the officials in the White House and Congress recognize and admit that talks based on mutual respect and on equal footing should replace the language of sanctions and threats against Iran.
In order to investigate the future of Iran-U.S. relations, Washington’s approach toward Iran following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the White House’s reactions to the election of President Rouhani in Iran’s June 14 presidential elections and the missed opportunities of reconciliation between Iran and the United States, Iran Review conducted an interview with Lawerence Wilkerson, political scientist, former U.S. Army Colonel and chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Wilkerson has been a vocal critic of the U.S. foreign policy after stepping down and has written several articles and taken part in different interviews rebuking the Iraq War and the United States’ tacit and implicit sponsorship of global terrorism.
Prof. Wilkerson kindly accepted our request for an interview and responded to some of our important questions. What follows is the text of the interview.
Q: In his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, President George W. Bush talked of an Axis of Evil which stretches from North Korea to the Middle East and encompasses Iran and Iraq. He called Iran a threat to the international peace and security. This is while Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami who was a reformist figure with a reconciliatory foreign policy which was based on détente and easing the tensions with the West had cooperated with the United States and the EU on a number of issues and his promotion of the idea of the Dialogue of Civilization was embraced internationally. Don’t you think this branding Iran a member of the so-called Axis of Evil was a strategic mistake by President Bush?
A: This was a strategic mistake if the strategic objective one imagines the U.S. pursuing is advancing the fundamental interests of the U.S., its allies, and friends in the world and, importantly, if one’s overall objective is world peace. It was not a strategic mistake if the strategic objectives of the U.S. were turmoil in western Asia, support of Israel’s continued aggression, increased U.S. control over the region’s oil reserves, and a state of perpetual war. Two of the three members of the Axis harbor close to a quarter of world oil reserves; Israel’s aggression has not ceased—indeed, it has increased; and the region is in turmoil. The U.S. is in an interminable state of war. The Axis of Evil speech helped to achieve these results. Some people in the U.S.—and Israel—wanted these results.
Q: So you think certain extremist elements in Washington and Tel Aviv benefit from confrontation between Iran and the United States. What about the state of bilateral relations between the two nations under President Khatami? He had signaled his willingness to engage in bilateral negotiations with the United States when he was in power. He was one of the first world leaders who sent a message of condolences to the U.S. government following the 9/11 tragedy. However, it seems that President Bush was not willing to react positively as he turned down Khatami’s message. Can we consider President Bush guilty for the failure of the attempts to bring Iran and the United States to the negotiation table?
A: President George W. Bush was not sufficiently knowledgeable to have contrived to produce failed diplomatic circumstances with Iran. His Vice President, Richard Cheney, worked to produce this failure. Cheney maintained an adamant policy that there would be no negotiations with Iran. He sold this policy to the unwitting President. Later, in 2003, when there was again an opportunity to start meaningful negotiations with Tehran, Cheney had captured the entire government with his views. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell opposed the Iranian initiative in 2003. See my answer to your question number one: Cheney is one of those who wanted the results I have described in my answer.
Q: It’s widely believed that the CIA had close ties with the Afghan rebels in 1990s that later on formed and shaped the inner circles of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Some political scientists cite evidence showing that the United States had supported the Afghan Mujaheedin to fight the Soviet forces in 1990s. Do you deny the view that the U.S. intelligentsia furtively provided arms and dollars to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks?
A: I do not deny it at all. The U.S. is as much responsible for the Mujahidin who fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan as any other factor. The CIA term for this sort of activity is “blowback”. What it means, simply, is that secret actions taken by the CIA in one period, come back to haunt the U.S. in a later period.
Q: Prominent investigative journalists and political commentators Seymour Hersh and Glenn Greenwald have released reliable evidence that CIA, with the help of Israel and Saudi Arabia, has been providing arms, ammunitions and financial support to the exiled anti-Iranian terrorist cult Mujahedin-e-Khalq in the past 10 years in a bid to impose political pressure on Iran. Do you confirm these clandestine and underground ties?
A: I cannot confirm these ties because I have not had an active security clearance since 2005. However, if I were a betting man, I would bet that what Hersh and Greenwald asserted is correct.
Q: Let’s get to the next question. The U.S. played its last card in 2012 by removing the name of MKO from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. What’s your viewpoint on this controversial decision? Isn’t it a dualistic and somewhat hypocritical approach toward terrorism and human rights?
A: The U.S. move to delist the MEK was a very hypocritical move—and even a very stupid move. It was based on a passionate but irrational dependence on Israel, large amounts of money changing hands, and an utterly unreasonable desire to punish Iran through any means possible. The MEK are bloodthirsty terrorists. But the U.S. harbors Luis Posada Carrilles in its very midst, the terrorist responsible for bringing down a Cuban airliner in 1976 and killing everyone on board, and for bombing Havana hotels in 1997. So supporting terrorists is not a new policy for the U.S.
Q: One question on the growing wave of Islamophobia in the United States. The Muslim minority in the United States has been under a lot of pressure in the past years, and it’s widely believed that the Bush administration, with his fierce anti-Islamic rhetoric, contributed a great deal to the promotion of Islamophobia and the portrayal of Muslims as a fanatic and extremist group of people. The Muslims have been denied their basic rights in the West following the 9/11 attacks, and were shown as terrorists who want to debilitate the Western democratic values. What’s your take on that?
A: I don’t believe President Bush was that unwise; in fact, he went out of his way to state publicly that the U.S. was not at war with Islam. However, other people in the U.S.—some of whom are quite wealthy—began a campaign to denigrate Islam and Muslims in general. They made movies, ran public advertising, and gave talks aimed at vilifying Islam and Muslims. They are still doing it. Many of these elements are connected directly with right-wing elements in Israel. I believe they are also connected to people such as Richard Cheney and Karl Rove.
Q: What’s your viewpoint regarding the United States’ reaction to Iran’s 2013 presidential elections? Have the U.S. statesmen and Congressmen received the message the Iranian people intended to impart by electing a reform-minded, moderate president?
A: The U.S. Congress has been sending mixed messages. More than one hundred members recently sent a letter to President Obama that asked him to take this opportunity of a new Iranian president to achieve a diplomatic solution to U.S.-Iran concerns. At the same time, more than two-thirds of the Congress voted to increase sanctions. The U.S. Congress, like Iran’s majlis, does not seem to know what it wants. But, that said, its collective actions have been more damaging than helpful over the past several years.
Q: As you correctly mentioned, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on July 31 that imposed new sanctions on Iran’s oil, mining and automobile sector. Wasn’t this hasty decision detrimental to the forthcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1, especially given that President Rouhani hasn’t even appointed his nuclear negotiation team and his foreign minister is yet to receive a confidence vote from the Parliament (Majlis)? Of course the new round of sanctions undermines President Rouhani’s efforts for resolving Iran’s nuclear standoff in a peaceful manner. What’s your viewpoint on that?
A: I agree. Most actions of the U.S. Congress have been decidedly unhelpful.
Q: And finally, what’s your prediction for the future of Iran-U.S. relations in President Rouhani’s administration? What steps should the U.S. take in order to defuse the tensions, and what confidence-building measures should Iran adopt for more transparency in its nuclear activities?
A: The U.S. should make substantive sanctions-relief [as] a major negotiating point. In return for such relief, Iran should allow the IAEA to examine thoroughly its past actions to create a nuclear weapon, stop enhancing uranium above 5%, send out of country or use itself in a short, IAEA-supervised period of time all on-hand uranium enhanced above 5%, agree to a rigorous inspection regime by the IAEA for at least 5 years, or until the international community is satisfied with the strictly civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program, and strive to live within the parameters of the NPT, safeguards agreement, and additional protocols. The U.S. should start off negotiations by recognizing Iran as a member of the community of nations with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto. The U. S. should also state that its overall objective vis-à-vis Iran is not regime change. Once these opening moves produce success, all issues should be on the table, from support of terrorism to the situations in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.
My prediction, however, for the upcoming talks is that because of Iranian intransigence and U.S. obduracy—and, with regard to President Obama, a decided lack of political and moral courage—no meaningful success will be achieved. There is simply too much mistrust and there are too many people—on both sides—who are heavily invested in the failure of negotiations. There are people in Iran and people in the U.S. who do not want a diplomatic solution. There are also such people in Tel Aviv.
Post Delisting, What Are the Mojahedin-e Khalq Up to Now?
(aka; MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult)
… Rajavi’s veteran translator Ghorban Ali Hossein Nejad escaped Camp Liberty two months ago. He is now in Baghdad and has exposed the relationship between Rajavi and the Saddam regime. He is also helping UN, EU, U.S. and Iraqi officials by exposing the lies which the MEK are telling them. He has two daughters, one in Iran and one still in Camp Liberty. Neither he nor anyone else has been able to contact his daughter in Liberty without the presence of MEK minders. (He reports that while he was inside the MEK, he had not seen his daughter anyway for twenty years due to the enforced separation of families and friends.) Instead, the MEK brought her …
(Massoud and Maryam Rajavi)
(Rajavi cult or MKO aslo known as Saddam’s Private Army)
Massoud Khodabandeh, Huffington Post (Blog), November 09 2012
Director, Middle East Strategy Consultants
Freed from the pretended constraints of being listed as a terrorist entity in the USA, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) has stepped up its financial and money laundering activities in Western countries. The MEK have launched a ‘basij’ (all-out campaign) in their financial section. Firstly, all members and supporters have been instructed to make supervised contact with their family inside or outside Iran to try to get money from them (a tactic exposed by Al Jazeera’s Cult of the Chameleon documentary in 2007).
In the ‘charity’ street collections in Western countries (called mali-ejtemai), the theme is Camp Liberty. The public is approached and the camp in Iraq is described as a refugee camp whose inhabitants have no access to food or medicine. The public are told that around 1000 women, mostly mothers, must be urgently transferred with their children to Europe. The money donated will be used to rescue the women and children first before then rescuing the men. (Of course, since enforced celibacy was imposed in 1989 there are no children in the MEK.) Sometimes the donor is told of cases in which refugees have been killed or maimed because of the lack of law and order in Iraq. Conveniently ignoring the fact that the MEK are confined to the camp by their own leaders.
It is no secret that the MEK have been funded for years via these bogus charities as large checks and even thousands in cash have been handed over to street collectors from mystery donors. An unusually high proportion of these donors are solicitors. MEK insiders have always known that this money is coming from other benefactors.
In addition to these activities, the MEK have also tasked as many of their supporters in the West who are able to do so to open a company or create spurious associations or societies claiming to support Iranian refugees or promote Iranian culture, etc. The aim of these groups is to target charities and local councils to get money under false pretenses. Again there is an element of money laundering as this is just one more way for MEK paymasters to dive under the radar to fund the terrorist group.
A more sinister activity is the expansion of information gathering and recruitment practices among the Iranian communities. Concerned Iranians in Europe who contacted me directly report that the MEK have opened two Persian language schools in London and Paris which they say is to target the children of Iranian refugees. Through such deceptive activities the MEK gathers lists of names and addresses to demonstrate support, and also to claim that these Iranians are making financial donations. The deeper purpose is to deceptively recruit new members and also — now that the campaign to be delisted has ended — to keep the supporters busy with new activities. It must not be forgotten that as a cult, the MEK thrives on the unpaid ‘slave’ labor of its followers.
Significantly, Massoud Rajavi, the beneficiary of all the MEK’s wealth, has for three decades kept his financial dealings in the hands of only a few trusted individuals. In the atmosphere of defections and disturbing questioning which currently govern internal relations in the MEK, the unexpected death of one of Rajavi’s key financial personnel in the West sparks deep suspicions among experts in the MEK. This is compounded when we discover that another accidental death has taken place in Paris of one of Maryam Rajavi’s inner circle. (After some high ranking defectors exposed the cult nature of the MEK, Massoud Rajavi declared that such defections would never be allowed to happen again.)
In Iraq, the situation has scarcely changed for the members except they have changed location to a UN temporary transit camp Liberty — a move which both the Government of Iraq and UNAMI had worked for to improve their conditions. Camp Ashraf itself is finished, closed, gone, although just under 100 MEK remain there, confined to Section 209 by the Iraqi army which is now in charge of the territory. Rajavi has declared they will not move until enough money is paid — basically the last bit of ransom he can extract from the camp.
There continue on a weekly basis to be a small number of individuals who escape Liberty, either during the UNHCR interview process or by other means, and renounce any further involvement with the MEK. Last week two men escaped, each had spent over 20 years with the MEK (one being a former POW from the Iran-Iraq war). They describe a desperate situation inside Liberty as it is being recreated in the image of Ashraf. All the cult aspects are there — isolation, indoctrination, manipulation, fear, punishments, etc — in addition, barriers are built to separate the bungalows (ironically, the stretchers originally demanded for medical use are being used to move earth to build dykes). ‘Visas’ are issued to people if they need to move between separated locations. The Iraqis are not allowed inside the camp and again have no jurisdiction there. The MEK use every opportunity to try to provoke hostility in the Iraqis by throwing stones and swearing at them, and now the UN and other neutral bodies are suffering provocation as the MEK swear at them and insult them, too.
Although the MEK’s advocates and lobbyists crassly claim that Liberty is no better than a “concentration camp” — a description which seriously riles the German born UNAMI chief Martin Kobler — the situation is not easy for the residents, but not for the reasons they state. There is no shortage of food or water or medicine — let us remind ourselves this is a camp created by and supervised by the UN. In a country where a 24 hour electricity and water supply are not guaranteed to normal citizens, the MEK enjoy both these facilities. What is not being said is that Massoud Rajavi has decreed that the residents must work for these ‘privileges.’ Inside Camp Liberty anyone who needs medicine or has other requirements must work for it, that is, they must submit and do as they are told or else they will be punished by having medicine, etc refused or withheld. Again, the MEK don’t let the Iraqis approach the people inside the camp to ascertain their welfare or needs.
Since the beginning of 2012 a disturbingly disproportionate number of residents have died because Rajavi has year on year denied them proper or timely medical treatment.
Rajavi’s veteran translator Ghorban Ali Hossein Nejad escaped Camp Liberty two months ago. He is now in Baghdad and has exposed the relationship between Rajavi and the Saddam regime. He is also helping UN, EU, U.S. and Iraqi officials by exposing the lies which the MEK are telling them. He has two daughters, one in Iran and one still in Camp Liberty. Neither he nor anyone else has been able to contact his daughter in Liberty without the presence of MEK minders. (He reports that while he was inside the MEK, he had not seen his daughter anyway for twenty years due to the enforced separation of families and friends.) Instead, the MEK brought her on their television channel to swear at him and her sister, claiming they are agents of the Iranian regime. Given the sensitivity of the information being passed to the officials it is possible her life is in danger. (MEK experts have observed that ‘accidents’ happen to dissidents in Iraq and Europe on a fairly regular basis.)
In spite of rumors that Massoud Rajavi is dead, he is very much alive and keeping tight control over his cult on a daily basis. High ranking escapees say they have seen him in the leadership compound in Camp Ashraf until very recently. According to deserters, Rajavi frequently communicates his indoctrination and messages via audio — no visuals. But it is clear he has not been stationed in Iraq since the U.S. army handed over responsibility for the MEK in 2009. Instead, based on unconfirmed reports, I belief he moves between safe houses in Jordan associated with Saddam’s family and loyal Baathists, without the express permission of the Jordanian government. From his hideout, Rajavi issues his orders. He has told the people in Iraq they should only agree to talk to members of the UN or ICRC on condition that Camp Liberty is designated as a refugee camp (it is actually a UN temporary transit camp). Rajavi has said ‘if we work on it we can be accepted to move to Europe collectively, but if not we will never leave Iraq.’
Rajavi has told everyone that ‘the Americans will back us to the end because they need us’. However, Rajavi also said to every member that armed struggle is an unchangeable part of the MEK ideology and every Mojahed’s belief system and that this, and the logo, will never change. (In other words, don’t be worried or concerned by our external propaganda, inside we will never change).
As though to prove this point, the Iraqi authorities report that the MEK are desperate to have greater connections with al Qaeda and Saddamists in Iraq and beyond. The MEK especially want new connections, since their main backer was convicted of terrorism charges and escaped Iraq. The MEK leaders are demanding greater freedom of movement to come and go and to bring people into the camp. But then the Iraqis knew all about their former connections with these groups while they were protected by the U.S., and this was why they curtailed their activities after 2009. It remains to be seen whether the delisting of this known terrorist group in the USA will have the necessary reach to reverse for its backers what appears to be the rapid and inevitable demise of the group as its members are being rescued by humanitarian agencies.
Mojahedin Khalq and international blunders
(aka; MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult)
… Massoud Rajavi— the MEK leader who has been in hiding since 2003 — miscalculated in the early days of the revolution when he believed his movement could win an armed struggle against Ayatollah Khomeini’s minions. A pair of MEK bombings in 1981 killed more than 70 officials of the ruling party, including a president, a prime minister, and the top judiciary authority. The regime’s answer was to torture and execute thousands of MEK members. The distillate of that history is best understood as a blood feud. To this day, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has a partly immobilized right arm, the vestige of one of those 1981 bombings …
The Life of Camp Ashraf,
Mojahedin-e Khalq Victims of Many Masters
Alan Berger, Boston Globe, November 26 2012
Alan Berger is a former Globe editorial writer.
Iranian exiles and international blunders
Spend enough time kibitzing about international affairs and you are liable to develop an obsession with blunders — how they happen, the costs they incur, and the devilish difficulty of overcoming the big ones. In my case, I have long been intrigued by the three-cornered competition in blundering played out among successive US governments, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the anti-regime Iranian organization known as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK.
Viewed in this light, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent decision to remove the MEK from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations is interesting. It looks like an attempt to undo the decision of Bill Clinton’s administration to put the MEK on the terrorist list as a conciliatory gesture toward a newly elected “reformist’’ president of Iran, Mohammed Khatami, back in 1997. To be fair to Hillary Clinton, she was also responding to a federal appeals court order and seeking to resolve a looming humanitarian crisis confronting more than 3,000 MEK members trapped in Iraq. Third countries were reluctant to take in the stranded MEK members as long as the group remained on the US terrorist list.
Still, the MEK’s own past actions tied the knot that Hillary untied. The State Department’s delisting announcement noted that although the group had not committed terrorist acts over the past decade, the United States would not forget that six Americans were killed in the name of the MEK in the 1970s, during the revolt against the US-backed Shah.
Massoud Rajavi— the MEK leader who has been in hiding since 2003 — miscalculated in the early days of the revolution when he believed his movement could win an armed struggle against Ayatollah Khomeini’s minions. A pair of MEK bombings in 1981 killed more than 70 officials of the ruling party, including a president, a prime minister, and the top judiciary authority. The regime’s answer was to torture and execute thousands of MEK members. The distillate of that history is best understood as a blood feud. To this day, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, has a partly immobilized right arm, the vestige of one of those 1981 bombings.
Last summer, I interviewed the MEK’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, at the group’s compound in the tranquil French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. More telling perhaps than the expected answers Rajavi gave to my questions was the remark an MEK spokesman made to me as we entered the compound. “She lost one sister to the Shah’s regime,’’ he said, “and one sister to the mullahs.’’
Scorn and hatred suffused every mention she made of the theocratic regime in Iran. She attributed nearly all criticisms of the MEK — as a former tool of Saddam Hussein, a partner of Israel in sabotaging Iran’s nuclear program, or a totalitarian cult demanding leader-worship — as calumnies spread by Tehran’s intelligence apparatus. There was no mistaking her passionate intensity when she said, “The regime is based on misogyny; the regime humiliates women.’’ She pledged that after the mullahs’ regime is toppled, the MEK will help establish a polity “based on human values, on equality between men and women.’’
MEK members I talked to at lunch in the group’s canteen spoke with sadness of family members who were tortured and killed by the regime. People caught up in a blood feud are not inclined to dwell on their past errors.
Unaffiliated Iranians and Iran scholars, however, commonly revile the MEK for having killed Iranian conscripts while fighting alongside Saddam Hussein’s forces during the Iran-Iraq war. Many Iraqis cannot forgive the MEK for helping Hussein put down the Kurdish uprising of 1991.
The Iranian regime has, of course, committed its own fatal mistakes. The holding of US hostages in 1979-80, the bellicose rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the lies told about its nuclear program, and the regime’s complicity in Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s massacres of his own people — these blunders are bringing hardship to the Iranian people and may bring an end of days to the regime.
But the mother of all blunders remains the CIA’s collusion with Britain’s MI6 in overthrowing Iran’s elected parliamentary government in 1953 and installing the Shah — so that the corporate predecessor of BP could retrieve ownership of Iran’s nationalized oil reserves. Neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney wanted to harken back to that original sin. But it is sure to haunt Obama’s second term. As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’’
(Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult and the Washington Lobby)
… Rajavi had to come up with an explanation for the defeat. His unorthodox solution was to tell his fighters they had lost because they had been distracted by love and sex. He commanded members to divorce, become celibate and live in communal, single-sex accommodation, just like soldiers in a regular army. Filled with ideas of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, they did as they were told. (The celibacy rule is to this day so tightly enforced that there are separate times for men and women to use Camp Ashraf’s petrol station.) Members were urged to transfer their passions from their former spouses to their leaders …
The Life of Camp Ashraf,
Mojahedin-e Khalq Victims of Many Masters
Owen Bennett-Jones, London Review of Books, June 01 2012
Terror Tagging of an Iranian Dissident Organisation by Raymond Tanter
Iran Policy Committee, 217 pp, £10.00, December 2011, ISBN 978 0 9797051 2 0
The story of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the Mujahedin e Khalq (MEK), is all about the way image management can enable a diehard enemy to become a cherished ally. The MEK is currently campaigning to be officially delisted in the US as a terrorist organisation. Once off the list it will be free to make use of its support on Capitol Hill in order to become America’s most favoured, and no doubt best funded, Iranian opposition group.
The last outfit to achieve something similar was the Iraqi National Congress, the lobby group led by Ahmed Chalabi that talked of democracy and paved the way for the US invasion of Iraq by presenting Washington with highly questionable ‘evidence’ of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s links with al-Qaida. Then, as George Bush took the US to war, all that remained for the INC and its leaders was to sit back and prepare for government. Many in Washington believe that, for better or worse, the US will go to war with Iran and that the MEK will have a role to play. But first they will have to persuade Hillary Clinton to take the group off the US’s official terrorist list. Some of Clinton’s officials are urging her to keep the MEK on it but some of the big beasts in Washington are angrily demanding that she delist. After an exhaustive inter-agency process the MEK file is now in her in-tray. Recent State Department statements indicate that she is likely to delist the group.
Formed in the 1960s as an anti-imperialist, Islamist organisation with socialist leanings, dedicated to the overthrow of the shah, the MEK originally stood not only for Islamic revolution but also for such causes as women’s rights – an appealing combination on Iran’s university campuses. It went on to build a genuine popular base and played a significant role in overthrowing the shah in 1979. It was popular enough for Ayatollah Khomeini to feel he had to destroy it; throughout the 1980s he instigated show trials and public executions of its members. The MEK retaliated with attacks on senior clerical leaders inside Iran.
Fearing for their lives, MEK members fled first to Paris and later to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein, desperate for allies in the war with Iran, provided them with millions of dollars of funding as well as tanks, artillery pieces and other weapons. He also made land available to them. Camp Ashraf became their home, a citadel in the desert, 80 kilometres north of Baghdad and an hour’s drive from the Iranian border. Since the 1970s, the MEK’s rhetoric has changed from Islamist to secular, from socialist to capitalist, from pro-revolution to anti-revolution. And since Saddam’s fall it has portrayed itself as pro-American, peaceful and dedicated to democracy and human rights. Continual reinvention can be dangerous, however, and the new, pro-Iranian Iraqi government is under pressure from Tehran to close down Camp Ashraf, which has grown over three decades to the size of a small town. And it’s not just Iran. Many Iraqis too bear grudges against the MEK, not only for having worked alongside Saddam Hussein but also for having taken part in his violent suppression of the Kurds and Shias.
Iraqi security personnel have twice attacked Camp Ashraf, in 2009 and 2011, killing more than forty people. Pictures of armoured vehicles running over unarmed Ashraf residents can be seen on YouTube. Iraq has now insisted that Camp Ashraf be closed, and its residents have very reluctantly started moving to Camp Liberty, a former US army base by Baghdad airport which is under UN supervision and guarded by Iraqi security personnel. The UNHCR is now processing the residents with a view to sending them to other countries as refugees, but few countries are willing to take in people the US officially designates as terrorists and who are described by many as members of a cult.
The MEK started to use cultlike methods – isolating members from friends and relatives and managing the flow of information that reached them – after 1989, the year its charismatic husband and wife leadership team, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, launched Operation Eternal Light. After Saddam’s failure to topple the regime in Iran, this was intended to be the big push that would finally win control of the country. Success, Rajavi told his fighters, was inevitable because the Iranian people, both civilians and military, would switch sides and join them on the march to Tehran. It would, he said, be a walkover. In the event the Iranian counter attack was ferocious. More than a thousand MEK fighters were killed and many others wounded. It lost around a third of its personnel.
Rajavi had to come up with an explanation for the defeat. His unorthodox solution was to tell his fighters they had lost because they had been distracted by love and sex. He commanded members to divorce, become celibate and live in communal, single-sex accommodation, just like soldiers in a regular army. Filled with ideas of self-sacrifice and martyrdom, they did as they were told. (The celibacy rule is to this day so tightly enforced that there are separate times for men and women to use Camp Ashraf’s petrol station.) Members were urged to transfer their passions from their former spouses to their leaders, the Rajavis. Aware that people were becoming sexually frustrated, meetings were organised where members were obliged to confess their sexual fantasies in public. If you did confess to something, other members spat at you. Friendships were also discouraged at Camp Ashraf, and so were children. From the mid-1980s, citing safety concerns, the leadership ordered that several hundred children living in the camp be moved to pro-MEK foster families in Europe and Canada. Some parents have not seen their children for more than twenty years.
These practices, along with frequent indoctrination sessions and the banning of news of the outside world (members were not allowed phones), helped the leadership to assert control. But MEK members outside Iraq also displayed remarkable devotion to the cause. When in 2003 the French authorities detained Maryam Rajavi on terrorism charges (she was later released) ten MEK members around the world set themselves on fire in protest; two of them died. The MEK of course denies being a cult, though many outsiders – senior US military officers, FBI agents, journalists and analysts for the largely Pentagon-funded Rand Corporation – have been to Camp Ashraf and come away believing that it is. One senior State Department official (now retired), sent to Iraq to interview thousands of MEK members after the invasion, concluded that the organisation was a cult; that the weirdly child-free Camp Ashraf was ‘a human tragedy’; that members were ‘misused and misled’ by the leadership; and that many had been tricked into joining.
The MEK has used various recruitment methods. The organisation’s elite joined in Iran before the revolution. Others are former Iranian conscripts captured during the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam’s regime offered them a bargain: if they joined the MEK they could move from POW camps to the more comfortable confines of Camp Ashraf. Some members were recruited on US university campuses and promised jobs, money, new passports and the chance to fight the mullahs. Others were simply deceived. One Iran-based MEK activist was told on a visit to Camp Ashraf that his wife and child had died so he might as well stay. It was ten years before he got hold of a phone; the first thing he did was call home: his family were still alive. Some former MEK members say that on arrival in Iraq they were whisked past immigration control and their passports deliberately left unstamped. If later on they said they wanted to leave Camp Ashraf they were told they would be arrested for entering the country illegally. I have heard hours of such testimony from former members. The MEK insists that all the people who tell such stories are Iranian agents. It also denies misleading families. The tears of parents, spouses and children seemed real enough to me.
Despite all this, some US military officers who worked in Camp Ashraf after the invasion came away convinced that the group could be a useful ally. General David Phillips, a military policeman who spent time there in 2004, argues that the MEK is no more a cult than the US marines: in both organisations you have to wear a uniform, obey orders and follow rituals that seem bizarre to the uninitiated. Positive feelings towards the MEK in the US military are easily explained. In 2003 they had been briefed that it was a heavily armed terrorist outfit expected to fight loyally for Saddam against US forces. In the event the MEK leadership realised quite quickly that Saddam was doomed and executed a political pirouette. When US forces arrived at Camp Ashraf, they were welcomed by courteous English speakers who professed their support. Many American soldiers came to see the camp as a safe haven in a hostile country.
This doesn’t explain the MEK’s popularity among politicians in London, Brussels and Washington. Some of it is paid for. Three dozen former high-ranking American officials regularly speak at MEK-friendly events. They include Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Obama’s former national security adviser General James Jones and the former congressman Lee Hamilton. The rate for a speech is between $20,000 and $40,000 for ten minutes. Subject matter is not a concern: some speakers deliver speeches that barely mention the MEK. In recent months the Obama administration has indicated it may put a halt to these events. The Treasury is investigating whether speakers have been receiving funds from a designated terrorist organisation. What they want to know, in other words, is whether the Iranian exiles who paid the speakers’ fees are an MEK front; those who campaign for the group without being paid will not be affected. Most of those who back the group do so because they will back anything that seeks to upset the regime in Tehran. They seem unaware that the organisation has been called a cult and have not heard the complaints of former members. A number of the most prominent MEK lobbyists say they agreed to speak because they were reassured by the respectability of those who were already doing so.
The MEK also hires Washington lobbyists, who issue lengthy ripostes to criticism. The Rand Corporation’s 105-page report on the MEK was written by a team of four who worked for 15 months in the US and Iraq to produce the most thorough analysis to date of the group’s cultish aspects. The response was a 131-page report from a body called Executive Action, which describes itself as ‘a private CIA and Defense Department available to address your most intractable problems and difficult challenges’. The Executive Action report was entitled ‘Courting Disaster: How a Biased, Inaccurate Rand Corporation Report Imperils Lives, Flouts International Law and Betrays Its Own Standards.’ Neil Livingstone, who is now a Republican candidate for the governorship of Montana, said he was retained by an ‘American citizen’ to assess the objectivity of the Rand report. He concluded that, among other shortcomings, its authors were too inexperienced to write about a subject as complex as the MEK. Its supporters still dismiss the Rand paper, published three years ago, as the work of ‘sophomore students’. Rand says these criticisms are references to the lead author’s assistants, who had relatively minor roles and were given a credit on the title page so they had something to put on their CVs. All this lobbying costs a lot of money. Some of it is collected by the organisation’s very determined door to door fundraisers in the UK and elsewhere. US officials also believe that the MEK has at its disposal the return on the large and well-invested stipend it received from Saddam Hussein.
Most pro-MEK campaigning doesn’t directly address the allegations of cultish behaviour: the lobbyists focus instead on delisting. In 1996, a UN General Assembly resolution established a committee to draft a convention on international terrorism. Officials have met annually ever since to discuss the issue. But they can’t agree on what terrorism is. There are two main sticking points. First, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference insists that movements resisting occupying forces and seeking national liberation – for example in Kashmir – should not be considered terrorists. Second, governments fear that they may themselves fall within any definition the committee reaches. So while some have come up with definitions that suit their own situation, at an international level no consensus has been achieved. Whether or not to label a group as terroristic is of course always a political act: the IRA never made it onto the US list; Nelson Mandela remained a terrorist in US eyes until 2008.
The MEK’s record of mounting attacks goes back to the 1970s, when it opposed the shah and railed against America for backing him. The State Department believes that in 1973 the MEK killed a US Army comptroller stationed in Tehran and that in 1975 it assassinated two members of the US Military Assistance Advisory Group. Three executives from Rockwell International and one from Texaco were also murdered. MEK hostility to the US continued after the revolution. On 4 November 1979 Iranian students occupied the US Embassy in Tehran and kidnapped 52 American diplomats, who were held captive for 444 days. One of the diplomats later said he would not have been in the embassy that day had he not been lured there by MEK contacts. Another said he had no doubt the MEK backed his kidnapping and in fact opposed a diplomatic resolution to the affair. Long after Khomeini decided it was time to settle the issue, the MEK was still pushing for the captive diplomats to be put on trial. The group used to claim that its support for the kidnappings was an elaborate pretence; now it denies it altogether. As for the killings, it says that at the time of the murders, its main leadership had been imprisoned by the shah, which allowed a Marxist faction to hijack the organisation. This faction, effectively a splinter group, carried out the killings, and the attacks ceased when the original leadership was freed and reasserted itself. But perhaps these disputes are moot. The 1970s were a long time ago. Organisations change.
The MEK may have stopped killing Americans, but it maintained its commitment to violent struggle in Iraq and Iran. Its efforts on behalf of Saddam Hussein against the Kurds and the Shias were a sideshow compared to the bombs, assassinations and broader offensives it mounted inside Iran throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. Its violent history is well documented but the organisation insists it’s a thing of the past. This view has received substantial support from the European courts. In 2007, the Proscribed Organisations Appeal Commission, a specialised UK legal body, declared that the MEK had renounced the use of force and upheld the group’s appeal against a Foreign Office decision to keep it on the official list of terrorist organisations. In 2009, the EU delisted the MEK on the more limited, procedural grounds that it should have been told why it was put on the list in the first place.
To keep the group on the US list Hillary Clinton will have to find that the MEK still has the capacity or intent to commit terrorist acts. Its supporters point out that, as well as convincing a British court they are now peaceful, in July 2004 every member at Camp Ashraf signed a document rejecting violence and terrorism. Critics have their doubts. Given what happens at Guantánamo and Bagram air base, they point out, it would have been surprising if members had not signed a renunciation of terrorism. In November 2004, the FBI reported on the group’s activities in Los Angeles, stating that it had recorded phone calls in which the MEK leadership in France discussed ‘specific acts of terrorism to include bombings’. The FBI claimed that French intelligence, as well as police in Cologne, had gathered similar information with wiretaps. The 2004 FBI report has been public for a year, but most of the material on which Clinton will base her decision is classified. In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled on an MEK lawsuit, and one of the three judges, Karen LeCraft Henderson, remarked that classified material provided ‘substantial support’ for the view that the MEK continues to engage in terrorism or at least retains the capability and intent to do so. A report in February on NBC News cited unnamed US officials as claiming that the MEK had been responsible for the recent assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists. While some of its US supporters hint that such actions would be to its credit, the organisation itself has denied involvement.
Raymond Tanter’s book is part of the MEK’s image management campaign, a briefing document for advocates of delisting. Tanter, a long-time supporter of the group, has produced a compact guide, complete with colour pictures and transcripts of speeches by paid MEK advocates. He doesn’t deal with the 1970s attacks or the help the organisation gave Saddam. He also glides over attacks in Iran in the 1990s. Tanter believes that under US law only recent years are relevant to the question of whether or not to delist, and he focuses on the period since 2001. He argues that the MEK offers the best hope of a so-called third option: a way for the US to achieve regime change without relying on sanctions or war. But this exposes a flaw in the argument of the pro-MEK lobbyists. On the one hand, they argue that the MEK has renounced force and should be delisted. But if it really has given up violence, would it not make more sense for the US to back the peaceful protesters who have a proven capability to mobilise huge numbers in contemporary Iran – the Green Movement? In reality the MEK’s US backers believe the organisation has potential precisely because of its history of using force. That’s what they think will shift the mullahs from power.
Since there are no reliable opinion polls in Iran, it’s unclear how much support the MEK has there. Supporters insist it has a strong network inside the country and has maintained its popular base. They argue that the regime would not heap so much abuse on it if it did not fear it. The group’s critics maintain that the regime merely despises it and uses it to advance conspiracy theories about foreign plots. The MEK’s decision to fight alongside Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war, they say, cost it considerable support.
Clinton will not be able to ignore political considerations. The MEK lobby is predicting that MEK activists in Iraq will be massacred. Should Iraq mount another attack on MEK members at Camp Ashraf or should the group provoke one, or stage one, the response from the MEK lobby will be fierce. The State Department’s current priority is to ensure that Camp Ashraf residents are safely moved to Liberty. In February, Clinton said a successful transfer ‘will be a key factor in any decision regarding the MEK’s Foreign Terrorist Organisation status’. Legally, this makes no sense. What does their agreement to leave Camp Ashraf say about the group’s desire or ability to carry out terrorist attacks? Nothing. But it reveals the State Department’s real fear: that out of malice or because of some MEK provocation the Iraqis will attack the MEK for a third time and the State Department will be denounced for ignoring all the warnings. In May, the State Department went so far as to say that it was looking favourably at delisting as long as MEK continues to evacuate its members from Ashraf.
What the statements suggest is that Clinton has all but made up her mind to delist the group – the MEK’s hard work has not been in vain. There’s something else to bear in mind. As one world-weary observer in Washington put it recently, ‘Hillary Clinton is a politico. Right now a lot of her colleagues and associates are making good money from the MEK. They won’t appreciate it if she removes the trough.’ Were the MEK to be delisted, the group could, like Chalabi’s INC before it, receive Congressional funding, and the Rajavis would be seen as likely candidates for office in any government formed after the mullahs’ fall.
A decade ago Donald Rumsfeld and the neocons were so in thrall to the INC’s Ahmed Chalabi that they provided helicopters to bring him and a band of diehard supporters to Nasiriya so he could be seen personally liberating Iraq. But when they landed, it was plain that none of the locals had ever heard of him. Chalabi was beaten to the top job by another former exile, Nouri al-Maliki, and had to satisfy himself with the Oil Ministry. Al-Maliki is now establishing himself as an authoritarian pro-Iranian leader: an outcome far removed from US objectives. But the never-say-die MEK lobbyists in Washington like to look on the bright side. Chalabi, they concede, was not what they thought. But this time it’s different. One retired US colonel who campaigns for the MEK likes to compare Maryam Rajavi with George Washington. The US may be about to demonstrate that once again it has failed to learn its lesson.
(Rajavi cult or MKO aslo known as Saddam’s Private Army)
MEK Pays US Officials, But Where Do The Iranian Exiles Get Their Money?
(aka; Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, Rajavi cult)
… Currently, there are rumors that the Israeli secret service is paying MEK to carry out assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Three unnamed U.S. government officials told NBC news last month that Mossad had trained and paid MEK militants to conduct a spate of car bombings against targets like Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a university chemistry professor who doubled as a director of Iran’s Natanz uranium-enrichment facility, who was killed in Tehran in January after two assailants on a motorcycle attached a magnetic bomb to his Peugeot 405 …
Daniel Tovrov, IB Times, March 31 2012