There has recently been a flurry of articles on the Iranian opposition group Mojahedin-E Khalq (MEK) and the support of over three dozen former US officials for the group in its attempts to remove itself from the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTO). For people unfamiliar with the MEK, the roots of its designation in the terrorist list, and the plight of its members holed up in Camps Ashraf and Liberty in Iraq, all of this activity may have an element of surprise. What is all this fuss about and why should this matter to anyone?
A little history could be enlightening.
The MEK was formed by a group of university students in Iran in 1965 with the goal of opposing the Shah’s dictatorship and establishment of democracy. Many of its members were arrested and killed by Shah’s notorious secret service. Shortly after the 1979 revolution, the group became target of the wrath of the Ayatollahs as it did not succumb to Khomeini and its reactionary and anti-democratic policies and extremist vision of Islam. Tens of thousands of its members and sympathizers were subsequently arrested, tortured, and executed in the Iranian regime’s dungeons. The group was forced to move its surviving members outside Iran and a large number of them subsequently settled in Iraq in the mid 1980s.
At the onset of 2003 Iraq war, MEK declared its neutrality, consolidated its forces in Camp Ashraf, about 60 miles northwest of Baghdad, and agreed to be disarmed by the US forces. All MEK members in Camp Ashraf were then screened by US intelligence agencies and were cleared of any terrorism links and were granted protected status under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The US forces assumed protection of Camp Ashraf until 2009 when they handed over the Camp’s “protection” to Iraq. The Government of Iraq, at behest of its masters in Tehran, has been trying to close the Camp and expel Ashraf residents. With the handover of the Camp to Iraq in 2009, the Iranian regime, which harbored Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki for many years in Iran, and has infiltrated the Iraqi Government at the highest levels, realized the opportunity to eliminate its main opposition.
Abandoned by the United States, who had promised Camp Ashraf residents protection until their final disposition, the Camp was attacked twice by Iraqi forces, once in August 2009 and second time in April 2010, and 47 unarmed residents were killed by Iraqi forces. These heinous attacks were condemned by Western Governments and the United Nations and described as a massacre by many, including prominent members of US Congress, but were never independently investigated. In addition, material and medical blockade of the Camp by the Iraqis has resulted in 12 deaths due to lack of medical attention.
So why don’t MEK members leave Iraq?
The MEK was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the Clinton administration in 1997 to curry favor with the then “moderate” Iranian president Mohammad Khatami. This designation has continued ever since, despite the fact that the MEK announced an end to its military operations in mid- 2001. The group was also blacklisted by the United Kingdom and the European Union but those designations were rescinded by court rulings in UK and EU that stipulated there has been no connection between MEK and terrorism.
In the US, the DC District Court of Appeals ordered the State Department to review the designation in July 2010 but State has so far refused to comply with the court order. The blacklisting of the MEK and the fate of Camp Ashraf residents are directly intertwined. Hence, the designation of the group has hindered the efforts to resettle Camp residents.
Over the past year, numerous former US officials from both parties, including former New York Mayor Rudi Giuliani, former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, first Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, three former chairmen of the Joints Chiefs of staff, two former CIA Directors, a former attorney General, and a former FBI director have called for the removal of MEK from the FTO list and for protection of Camp Ashraf residents. At the same time Camp Ashraf residents have agreed to move to Camp Liberty in Baghdad as a transitional point of relocation to other countries, even though the conditions at “Liberty” aren’t short of a prison as some have described.
Despite the above, and faced with another court challenge, "anonymous" officials, with the help of some in the media and lobbyists of the Iranian regime, have embarked on a mudslinging campaign to discredit the former officials who have been calling for justice in the MEK case. In addition, there has been a concerted effort to spread rumors about MEK, accusing it of involvement in assassinations and other far-fetched plots, such as the training of its members by US and Israel.
One thing these anonymous officials and their allies do not realize is that intimidation of prominent Americans and Iranian-Americans, and spreading rumors, will not silence the voices who are calling for an end to the policy of appeasement of the Iranian regime by the US state Department by keeping the main opposition of Iranian theocracy in shackles, which has in turn resulted in endangering the lives of 3400 defenseless Iranian exiles.
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