Working With the MEK is Bad Policy (aka; Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, Rajavi cult)
Working With the MEK is Bad Policy
(aka; Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, Rajavi cult)
... Iranians living under the regime’s yoke hate the MEK. That is not regime propaganda; it is fact, one to which any honest analyst who has ever visited Iran can testify. Ordinary Iranians deeply resent the MEK’s terrorism, which has targeted not only regime officials, but also led to the deaths of scores of civilians. During the Iran-Iraq War—a conflict that decimated cities and led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths—the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein. No Iranian will ever forgive that treason. Iranians see the MEK in the same manner that Americans view American Taliban John Walker Lindh ...
Alana Goodman is correct to highlight the current battle between Attorney-General Eric Holder and a bipartisan array of prominent former U.S. officials who have accepted hefty honoraria from Mujahedin al-Khalq (MEK) front groups, even though the State Department lists the MEK as a terrorist group. While cultivating prominent endorsers is one front in the group’s public relations battle, the largest war – and the reason the MEK has spent millions on former American officials – is for their support in its battle to be delisted as a terrorist entity.
There is no doubt that in the past, the MEK engaged in terrorism against Americans and that it has embraced a fiercely anti-Western ideology. Proponents of delisting the MEK, however, argue that the group has not engaged in terrorism against the United States or its interests for decades. The State Department may eventually be forced by the letter of the law to delist the MEK. That does not mean the group is entitled to any American support. The group’s culpability in recent terrorist attacks in Iran is murkier. Still, it would be a mistake to boil the MEK issue—and the question of U.S. support—down to the terrorism listing, however. Working with the MEK is simply bad policy.
Military action against Iran would delay the program only by a few years. True, the same estimate was made before Israel’s strike on the Iraqi nuclear reactor and Saddam Hussein never managed to rebuild his program, but it would be foolish to assume the same would occur. After all, the Iranians will not be stupid enough to invade Kuwait.
The problem in Iran today is not simply the regime’s nuclear ambitions, but rather the regime itself. To use the military to delay Iran’s nuclear program—effectively kicking the can down the road—would be an irresponsible use of the military unless there is a policy in place to take advantage of the time won in any strike.
The problem with those who would embrace the MEK is that it would undercut the chance for regime collapse. To ally the United States with the MEK would be as shameful as President Obama’s moral inaction during the 2009 protests.
Iranians living under the regime’s yoke hate the MEK. That is not regime propaganda; it is fact, one to which any honest analyst who has ever visited Iran can testify. Ordinary Iranians deeply resent the MEK’s terrorism, which has targeted not only regime officials, but also led to the deaths of scores of civilians. During the Iran-Iraq War—a conflict that decimated cities and led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths—the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein. No Iranian will ever forgive that treason. Iranians see the MEK in the same manner that Americans view American Taliban John Walker Lindh.
If the MEK is delisted, let the MEK celebrate. But whether listed as a terrorist group or not, it would be wrong and counterproductive to embrace the group unless, of course, the goal of those for officials on the group’s payroll is simply to aid the current regime in its efforts to rally its subjugated masses around the flag.
... the world is genuinely working toward a peaceful end to the camp and the release and resettlement of the hostages, it appears Secretary of State Clinton is somewhat ambiguous in her dealing with the situation. Based on a legal ruling, Clinton must make a decision by the end of March whether the State Department remove the MEK from its terrorism list or not. Presenting this as leverage she has introduced a unilateral condition to the MEK’s removal from Iraq; if the MEK cooperate with UNAMI and the Government of Iraq, she has indicated, we will remove them from the US terrorism list. But cooperation with UNAMI is a legal obligation rather than an optional choice for the MEK ...
In November 2011 a large group of interested people met in Baghdad to discuss the seemingly intractable problem of how to dismantle the Mohjahedin-e Khalq foreign terrorist group and remove the members from the country. At the behest of families of the individuals trapped inside Camp Ashraf, the GOI agreed to proceed in a way that would avoid violent confrontation. Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced later, “We will refuse them the satisfaction of becoming martyrs on our soil”. The Governor of Diyala, the military head of Diyala province and other authorities all went the extra mile to prevent the MEK from killing more hostages and blaming the Iraqis for it.
Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the UN which would allow more time and give oversight of the eviction process to the UN and to representatives of the EU and US.
The Iraqis have kept their side of bargain – the deadline for the MEK’s departure was extended and negotiations were facilitated to persuade the MEK to cooperate in a move from Camp Ashraf to Camp Liberty where the UNHCR would be able to assess each individual for refugee status. (Remember that no external body, including the GOI, has been able to freely access the inside of Camp Ashraf since the fall of Saddam Hussein.) The first 800 individuals have now moved and another 800 are lined up to move over the next few days in two groups of 400. The MEK leader has not been able to exploit the situation and kill any hostages. The GOI has control of the situation.
UNAMI has been rigorous in its supervision of the move and, by enforcing its own rules and regulations has not allowed propaganda to overshadow activities at either camp. Facilities at the new camp were approved by UN inspectors, the ICRC has been involved and behind the scene EU and US special advisors have been keeping a watchful eye on events. The MEK has ‘character assassinated’ UNAMI and its officials, and others, in the media but UNAMI has not been diverted by the efforts of the MEK and their backers.
But one pernicious factor which has actively impeded proper progress in this task has been the support given to the MEK by Israelis and US Neoconservatives whose clear intent is to politicise what is essentially a humanitarian situation. The MEK is a well-honed tool in the hands of these ideologues and is used to incite hatred against Iran and Iraq among ignorant and lazy political communities. The MEK is far too valuable for them to allow it to disappear. Most recently, the MEK has been used by Mossad to assassinate Iranian nuclear scientists.
This being so will make it even more difficult for UNAMI to transfer them to third countries. This ruthless use of the MEK as a mercenary terrorist force has a direct impact on the situation of the hostages trapped in the camp; their future becomes all the more uncertain.
But then, it has been all along, the clear intention of the MEK’s paymasters to keep the MEK intact as a terrorist entity in Iraq, in total disregard for the human beings involved.
If it wasn’t because of the backing of Israel and the Neoconservatives, Rajavi would have had no choice but to open the doors of his closed totalitarian group and allow the individuals trapped inside to walk free. That is the aim of everyone on the ground working to resolve the situation in Iraq. In this respect it is no less the responsibility of the US Government to work with the international community to dismantle this terrorist group and rescue the hostages.
But while the rest of the world is genuinely working toward a peaceful end to the camp and the release and resettlement of the hostages, it appears Secretary of State Clinton is somewhat ambiguous in her dealing with the situation.
Based on a legal ruling, Clinton must make a decision by the end of March whether the State Department remove the MEK from its terrorism list or not. Presenting this as leverage she has introduced a unilateral condition to the MEK’s removal from Iraq; if the MEK cooperate with UNAMI and the Government of Iraq, she has indicated, we will remove them from the US terrorism list. But cooperation with UNAMI is a legal obligation rather than an optional choice for the MEK. So what is really behind this position?
On the surface this would appear as though the USG is prepared to do a political deal to get the MEK to leave Iraq (and in doing so gain credit with the Iraqi government). It is as though the MEK were a far distant uncontrollable threat to US security which needs careful handling to bring it under control before dismantling it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything that the MEK’s western owners can do is being done to help the MEK’s leader keep the doors to the camp closed, to keep the hostages inside and to deny them contact with their families – even though this is against all humanitarian, moral or indeed criminal law.
By talking about the terrorism list rather than talking about what is happening in Iraq Clinton is bowing to this pressure. Certainly if UNAMI is allowed to do its job properly – with the support of all the international community – there will not be an organisation left to be listed or not listed. By invoking the US terrorism list, the actual script appears to be whether the MEK can be more useful listed as terrorists or if they are not regarded as terrorists. This false choice disguises the real intent of its proponents which is to keep the group intact as a terrorist group so it can be rearmed and used.
Secretary Clinton, indeed the whole government of America, needs to unhitch the politically charged consideration of the MEK’s inclusion in the US terrorism list from the very real humanitarian situation in Iraq. If the USG’s intention is really to deal properly with this terrorist group, it should reassert the humanitarian focus of American policy toward the MEK and unequivocally support the dismantlement process in Iraq.
Diyala Governor: Human Rights, Deporting MEK, Imposing the Laws, non negotiable
... Massoud Khodabandeh heading the delegation thanked the Government of Iraq and asked the Governor of Diyala and the General to help inform the people trapped inside about their rights and to counter the lies given to them by the hostage takers and cult leaders. Ms Abdollahi on behalf of the families asked for help and for care to be taken when dismantling the camp to institute particular safeguards to protect the relatives of the picketing families. Ms Sanjabi, (formerly a member of the MEK Leadership Council), who managed to escape some months ago, explained ...
A meeting was held on Monday 21 November between officials of the Diyala province and family representatives of the people trapped in Camp Ashraf.
The Governor of Diyala, Dr Abdul–Nasser Al-Mahdwe stated clearly that:
1- There will be no compromise on the decision to deport the MEK.
2 - There will be no compromise on imposing national and international laws
3 - There will be no compromise on respect for human rights laws and agreements and therefore they will not be forcefully returned to Iran.
He said that the overall decisions will rest with central government but as far as Diyala is concerned there is no room for the MKO anywhere inside the province. This has been announced repeatedly by practically all the leaders of tribes and local officials. Dr Al-Mahdwe dismissed completely the MEK propaganda in which they claim they have some support and said that to claim, after what they have done, that the MEK have even a small percentage of support in the province is simply a lie and is purely fictitious.
General Abdol Amir Al-Zeidi, is the commander of the regional army and responsible for the protection of the camp. He said that he has met many escapees from the camp. The last one was a woman who had to drag herself out and crawl for about half a kilometer before reaching the Iraqis. He said the leaders are the problem not the trapped people and if given order we are prepared to transfer them out of the camp with the utmost dignity and care and respect for their wellbeing. He said this can be checked by reporters and human rights organisation who wish to observe the operation.
The General said that in the event they receive the order to evacuate the camp, they will try their utmost to stop the leaders killing the hostages and the disaffected members as they did before. According to the General most of the people who were killed in April 2011 were in opposition to the leadership and had been shot in the heart or in the head. But the leaders tried to cover up such facts even though the evidence is unequivocal. He said reports will be handed over to the authorities to deal with the cases of murder of these people at the hands of the hostage takers.
Massoud Khodabandeh heading the delegation thanked the Government of Iraq and asked the Governor of Diyala and the General to help inform the people trapped inside about their rights and to counter the lies given to them by the hostage takers and cult leaders.
Ms Abdollahi on behalf of the families asked for help and for care to be taken when dismantling the camp to institute particular safeguards to protect the relatives of the picketing families.
Ms Sanjabi, (formerly a member of the MEK Leadership Council), who managed to escape some months ago, explained the latest developments inside the camp and gave some ideas about how the leaders may try to plan and execute violent resistance.
Mr and Mrs Mohammady from Canada who have been trying since before 2003 to rescue their daughter from the camp, presented some documents including copies of the arrest warrants for some leading members of the MKO inside the camp which the General received and promised to follow up.
Other delegation members including Mr. Azizi a Human rights activist from Netherlands Mr Sadeghi, one of the few people who managed to escaped from the camp during the time of Saddam Hussein, Mr Ghashghavi who spent years in Abu Ghraib, where he was sent by Rajavi, Mr. Ferydouni who managed to escape a few weeks ago and Ms Mahdian whose husband, a registered POW, is trapped inside the camp also participated in the meeting.
Press and media were present and the Governor and the General gave a media briefing following the meeting which was broadcast live through official and national media.
American Special Advisor, Daniel Fried: Take a look at RAND and HRW reports on
Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult
... QUESTION: Well, I mean, like the North Koreans, are they running around kidnapping people and bringing them to Camp Ashraf? How do you get there involuntarily? How would one get there? AMBASSADOR FRIED: There – well, let me refer you to some of the outside studies that have been written – the Rand Corporation report, for one. Take a look at that, or Human Rights Watch. They’ve described what they think are some of the problems. The MEK denies it. Right now, our concern is humanitarian and getting the people out of Ashraf over to Liberty, and then we’ll deal with the next set of really tough problems, which is repatriation/resettlement of these folks ...
Special Briefing Ambassador Daniel Fried, Special Advisor for Camp Ashraf
Washington, DC, December 29, 2011
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. So we’ll go ahead and get started. Everybody, this is Ambassador Fried. This session is on the record, unless otherwise indicated. We do have the director of our Iraq office here to go into some further detail if necessary. But as we start, this is all on the record, unless otherwise indicated.
So Ambassador Fried, please go ahead.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I’ll start out with some prepared remarks and then take your questions if that’s all right. Oh, and forgive me if I speak a little slowly. This is the result of Novocain and the dentist this morning.
The U.S. seeks a safe, secure, humane resolution of the impasse at Camp Ashraf. Our interest is humanitarian and independent of our views of the MEK’s past record. Thanks to intense efforts by Ambassador Martin Kobler, the head of the UN Mission in Iraq, a reasonable path forward for a safe and secure relocation from Ashraf to Camp Liberty is at hand. On Christmas Day, Kobler signed with the Government of Iraq an MOU that provides details of the transfer and commitments from the Iraqi Government for the safety and security of the residents of Camp Ashraf.
The residents of Camp Ashraf will be moved from Camp Ashraf to former Camp Liberty, which used to be a U.S. military facility and is located near the Baghdad Airport. UNHCR is – will begin immediately to process these people for refugee status. At the same time, those wishing to return voluntarily to Iran as, by the way, several hundred from Ashraf have already done, will be able to do so.
The UN will conduct 24/7 monitoring at Camp Liberty – or former Camp Liberty. In addition, Embassy Baghdad will visit former Camp Liberty on a frequent basis to provide robust observation. The Government of Iraq has agreed in this MOU to the safety and security of Camp Liberty and those there and not to forcibly repatriate any resident of Camp Ashraf/former Camp Liberty to Iran. The Government of Iraq accepted many of Ambassador Kobler’s suggestions, and the plan agreed now reflects major progress since the discussions began. Secretary Clinton, the EU, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have all publicly welcomed the signing of the MOU and have urged that it be implemented in good faith by all sides.
This is Iraq we’re talking about, however. We must be realistic about the difficulties. We’re also acutely aware of the mistrust and even animosity between the MEK and many Iraqis, given the MEK’s history in Iraq. We’re concerned by the recent series of rocket attacks on Ashraf and we condemn them. While these have not caused injuries or damaged property, they heighten and underscore the risks in this situation. U.S. facilities in the area have also been under attack recently.
The UN has expressed its concerns about these attacks to the Iraqi Government. We are doing so as well. Nevertheless and for – perhaps especially because of these attacks, it’s important to move ahead with the MOU. We welcome the willingness expressed yesterday by the MEK to cooperate with implementation of the MOU, specifically their announcement that they are prepared to move the first 400 persons to Camp – to former Camp Liberty. That move is being prepared now.
The UN is putting its assets in place for monitoring and refugee processing. It’s up to the Iraqi Government to prepare Camp Liberty, to receive the first residents of Ashraf, and this is likely to take several more days at least. It’s important that this first move be followed by other moves from Ashraf to former Camp Liberty. Ashraf is relatively isolated and, frankly, less secure than Liberty will be with its UN monitoring and a frequent U.S. presence. We also hope the day-to-day issues of camp management can be worked out on the ground as, hopefully, confidence grows.
The good news is that we are finally entering a phase of implementing an agreement that’s been painfully negotiated and is understood by all sides. But implementation will take sustained cooperation and patience by all. The U.S. will remain closely engaged in all stages of this process.
So with that, let me take your questions.
QUESTION: So how many people in all are we talking about moving? You said a few hundred have gone back to Iran.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: The MEK says there are about 3,200 people at Camp Ashraf. Years ago, when the – in the early phases of the Iraq conflict, we identified about that number of people, but we don’t know how many people are there now. We don’t know how many have left.
QUESTION: Okay. But several hundred, you said, have gone back to Iran?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: We – yes. We believe several hundred have gone back to Iran voluntarily over the years, not recently. Recently, a number of people at Camp Ashraf have gone back to European countries where they have either citizenship or long-term residency. This has been relatively small in numbers, but it’s picked up in recent weeks.
QUESTION: And do you get the sense that some of these people that will be moving over to Liberty are going to want to move on further or that could be their --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, they all want to move out of Iraq. That seems to be – well, let me back up by saying we don’t know actually what the residents of Camp Ashraf want. We know what their leaders say they want. And what they say they want is for them to leave Iraq in safety and security. There is some number – and estimates vary very widely – of how many will actually want to go back to Iran.
Our view is that if residents of Camp Ashraf want to go back to Iran, this is their right, but it has to be really voluntary and not, quote, “voluntary.” That’s why I mention that some hundreds have gone back already. According to international organizations, there is no evidence that they have been mistreated by the Iranians, but we can’t verify that independently for ourselves.
QUESTION: Have they – have the Camp Ashraf group – have they given you any sort of timeline that – you said the first 400 are going to be ready to move. When do you expect them actually to move? When is the camp going to be able to accept them? And do you have a sense that there’s going to be a clear follow-on from that, that they’re going to keep on moving more and more people? Or is this first 400 sort of a test group?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: In the last 48 hours, we have been heartened by the increased willingness of the leaders of Camp Ashraf and the MEK leadership in Paris to participate in this process. We believe that the first 400 are ready to move soon. The – as I said, former Camp Liberty has to be set up, the infrastructure has to be put in place, and this will – it’ll take, we think, at least several days for this to be done. But under the circumstances, we think that the 400 should move as soon as possible, and this should be followed up by more moves.
There are issues of how the new facility will run. Some of these issues were addressed in the MOU. But in reality, they can be worked out on the ground. It’s important now that people start leaving Camp Ashraf, which is really not a secure place, and move to a place where they can be processed by the UNHCR. So we very much hope that as many people will move out as fast as can be accommodated. The first 400 is a good start; it needs to be followed up.
QUESTION: Well, just on the resettlement issue. I understand in the past there was some demands on the part of the Camp Ashraf or MEK that they be done in groups, that they want (inaudible) all go together. What can you – just walk us through what the current understanding is of how and where they might go?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: You are correct that the MEK in the past made many demands, and it wasn’t until recent weeks that it started working with Ambassador Kobler in a serious way. We are very glad that they decided to do so. Late is far better than never, and it’s never too late to do the right thing. So they have done the right thing by working with Ambassador Kobler.
Specific to your question, the UNHCR does not do group refugee designations. They’ve made it clear that they are prepared look at them as individuals and to begin immediately to process them. We’ve also encouraged the people at Camp Ashraf to send in this – in the early group, in the group of 400 and other early groups, those with the strongest ties to the outside world - that is citizens of European countries, citizens of the United States, if there are more still there. We know of only two left there, but we – there could be more. If they send out those with the strongest ties, those will be the easiest to move out of Iraq. And it’s important to show the Iraqi Government and Iraqis and the people of Camp Ashraf this process can work all the way, meaning from Ashraf to former Camp Liberty and out of Iraq safely.
QUESTION: But isn’t there some risk in that, that if you’re starting with the easiest cases then the hard cases are just going to sit there, right?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, the hard cases aren’t going to get any easier with – easier if you move them up front. Move – our view is move those who can most easily move. There are – in terms of numbers, there are a lot of unknowns. But if you start with a topline of 3,200 people, there is – you have to subtract the number of people who may have left. We don’t have it accounted for, so it’s 32 minus X. Then it is minus those will really want to go back to Iran, and there’ll be arrangements in place for them to do so. Then you take away the number of people with citizenship or strong compelling ties to foreign countries. Then you – what you have left is the group which will be interviewed individually for refugee status by the UNHCR. So hopefully those groups subtracted from the topline number will be as big as possible, but we just don’t know.
QUESTION: Is there a risk that you’re just moving – even if it’s Liberty as a more secure place, you’re just moving the problem a few miles?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, there is no way that Ashraf was going to be the venue for the UNHCR interviews. And for reasons having to do with history and the history of the MEK in Iraq, there was no way that the Government of Iraq was going to allow a Camp Ashraf to exist as it was. So for those reasons, this move is critical to start the process in earnest.
QUESTION: Why do you think the MEK has changed its tune? Have you offered them anything? Like, will it be easier for them to get off the terrorism list if they cooperate?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: We have not offered them anything, but it is, I think – and I can’t read their minds, but I think that it became very clear that the United States was (A) concerned with their welfare and willing to put substantial efforts into this process, and (B) quite serious that we could do nothing if they were going to stand pat with maximalist, unachievable positions.
So I think they realized that they had a reasonable offer made by one of the strongest UN officials I’ve ever worked with, Ambassador Kobler. They had the full engagement of the U.S. Embassy in Ambassador Jeffrey. They had the strong interest of Secretary Clinton and other senior people in the U.S. Government. And I think they realized that now was the time to deal seriously.
QUESTION: Does the designation affect their migration status at all, their eligibility to go to any other country, let alone the U.S.?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: One of the enduring urban legends of this process is that the MEK’s current status as a foreign terrorist organization, so listed by the American Government, is in itself a great impediment to resettlement and that removing them from that list would suddenly make many more eligible that are not now eligible. That apparently, as it has been explained to me by those very familiar with American immigration laws, is not true.
The FTO designation process is quite independent from my office and what we’re doing. I haven’t participated in this, in the paperwork. We will – the United States will look at people at Camp Ashraf or future Camp – those who will be at former Camp Liberty on a case-by-case basis. The status of the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization is not, by itself, disqualifying to any particular individual. And removal of the MEK from that list, if it were to happen in the future, would not necessarily make eligible someone who is now statutorily ineligible.
QUESTION: So you can be a member of a foreign terrorist organization and not an American citizen and be given political refugee status in the United States?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: That isn’t what I said.
QUESTION: Right. But I’m asking --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: What I said was it is not – we are going to look at these people on an individual basis. They may have arrived at Camp Ashraf under all sorts of circumstances.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: The reason I’m hesitating and being very careful is because interpretation of our immigration laws is not my business at all, and the Department of Homeland Security has, let’s say, a very great deal to say on this subject. But I’ve – in my conversations with them, it’s clear that they’re prepared to look at individuals, but against, obviously, our immigration laws.
QUESTION: They’re going to look at an individual and then say, “No,” right?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I’m not going to pre-judge how they look at individuals. I will say that people may have found themselves in Ashraf on a variety of circumstances.
QUESTION: Unwillingly, perhaps?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I don’t want to characterize it that way or any way, but just say what I said.
QUESTION: Okay. Now the UNHCR – I understand when they do their interviews, they have to be private. So they won’t have like a MEK superior watching over them and hearing what they say. But this determination of which ones want to return to Iran – is that done somehow through a private interview process? Because then otherwise you might get the groupthink and the “don’t say you want to go back to Iran” and the numbers would be far smaller than you’d expect maybe.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Without getting into the details of how individuals will be processed by international organizations, it’s not the U.S. doing it on the ground, I should point out. I would say that the UN and other international organizations are very well aware of the potential problem of, as you said, groupthink or group pressure, and they’re very well aware of the many reports about the atmosphere at Camp Ashraf and the character of that place. And I really shouldn’t say any more than that, but --
QUESTION: So they would be doing it, and – UN and international organizations would handle all of the --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, it’s --
QUESTION: Even the part related to the Iran question, not --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: It’s not the United States doing it.
QUESTION: No, I understand, but --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Everyone is aware of the problem you identified. I should say also that the MOU does contain an Iraqi commitment not to forcibly repatriate anyone to Iran.
QUESTION: Dan, have you seen these latest statements from the MEK in Paris? There was one this morning that says that they have information that the IRGC is going to launch some new rocket attacks tonight. Whether you’ve seen it or not, the other thing they say is that they’re asking for U.S. and UN monitors at the – at Camp Ashraf until it’s been emptied. Is that something from – at least from the U.S. side, is that something that you guys would be willing to consider, sending people to observe?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: The UN has said that it will monitor the former Camp Liberty. Not Ashraf; that’s not your question. But they’ll be at Camp Liberty on a 24/7 basis. The United States is prepared to mount a very robust monitoring – or I should say observation – a robust observation operation at the former Camp Liberty. It’s not practical, for a number of logistic and security arrangements, for us to be out with anything like that intensity at Camp Ashraf, which is one of the reasons people need to think seriously about moving fast.
QUESTION: Why? Why is it not practical?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, it’s a lot farther away, for one thing.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: And the move – it is harder to move people back and forth. I don’t want to say much more because that involves the logistics of these kinds of things, but we’re going to be at Camp Liberty a lot – at former Camp Liberty a lot more than we are at Ashraf.
QUESTION: Wait, who – I mean, so in other words, you’re not – that’s not in the cards, this latest request for --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: That’s not in the cards. That’s not – that’s right. That’s not in the cards.
QUESTION: And who runs Liberty now? Is it the Iraqi army or --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: It’s an Iraqi – that’s right. We turned over Camp Liberty to the Iraqi military. They’re there. There have been some – a lot of discussions about the security arrangements in future Camp Liberty, and Ambassador Kobler has had these in some detail with his – with his Iraqi counterparts. It will be an Iraqi facility. It’s not going to be a kind of independent, self-governed, autonomous, extraterritorial facility, which is what Camp Ashraf has been for many years.
And the – Ambassador Kobler has had extensive and detailed discussions with both the people at Camp Ashraf – well, the leaders at Camp Ashraf and with – and in Paris. So the MEK knows very well what he is – what the circumstances will be and what the arrangements are.
QUESTION: Are these two Americans who remain?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: We know of two American citizens that are still at Camp Ashraf.
QUESTION: Are they high-level or more of the --
QUESTION: Okay. If they were to return, would they face possible prosecution?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I can’t talk about any of that. Now there are some at Camp Ashraf – some of the leaders say there are more American citizens there, that there are more permanent residents. We know of just two that remain.
QUESTION: Have others come here?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Yes. Recently, two have come here from – American citizens have come here from Camp Ashraf. And the – I think I can say that the Iraqi Government facilitated that, and it was – when they finally left, it was very smooth.
QUESTION: Are these Iranian-Americans or Americans of Iranian descent?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I believe they are, but I’m not sure.
QUESTION: As far as you know, there isn’t anyone who’s a non-Iranian in Camp Ashraf, are – I’m just curious. You said there are – some people might have gotten there by very – in different ways.
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Different means, that’s right.
QUESTION: Can you --
AMBASSADOR FRIED: I just don’t know. I don’t think so. I have not heard reports. But I’m not trying to prove a negative. I don’t think so, but I don’t know.
QUESTION: And when you talk about it, can you just say, I mean, just for example, what kind of means would one have gotten there other than voluntarily going in?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Sorry?
QUESTION: Well, I mean, like the North Koreans, are they running around kidnapping people and bringing them to Camp Ashraf? How do you get there involuntarily? How would one get there?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: There – well, let me refer you to some of the outside studies that have been written – the Rand Corporation report, for one. Take a look at that, or Human Rights Watch. They’ve described what they think are some of the problems. The MEK denies it. Right now, our concern is humanitarian and getting the people out of Ashraf over to Liberty, and then we’ll deal with the next set of really tough problems, which is repatriation/resettlement of these folks.
QUESTION: Some of those other reports that you mentioned have also discussed potential threats to the residents of Camp Ashraf may be internal rather than external. Without going into what your assessment is of where the threats are, is it the U.S. Government sort of understanding or feeling now that the immediate threats that they may have been facing to life and limb in the camp have decreased significantly? Are they not as at-risk as they were prior to this MOU being signed?
AMBASSADOR FRIED: Well, certainly the developments of the – the good developments of the past several days – that is, the signing of the MOU and the MEK’s expressed willingness to work with Ambassador Kobler on the basis of the MOU and move 400 people out – have the effect of lowering the temperature and putting us on an implementation track rather than a negotiation and imminent disaster track.
Now that’s better, right? That’s a better place to be, but implementation is not easy. It’s fraught with the problems we can imagine and probably some we can’t. So no one who’s working on this issue is putting their feet up and saying, well, job is now done, we can just – it’s just on autopilot. Far from it. It will take a lot of work, a lot of work.
... According to the FBI. A recently disclosed FBI report from 2004 reveals Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult) continued to plan terrorist acts years after they claimed to renounce terrorism. The State Department has documented the MEK's disturbing record: killing Americans and Iranians in terrorist attacks; fighting for Saddam Hussein against Iran and assisting Saddam's brutal campaign against Iraq's Kurds and Shia; its "cult-like" behavior; the abuses and even torture it commits against its own members; and its support for the U.S. embassy takeover and calls for executing the hostages ...
US State Department claims no popular support for Mojahedin Khaq (MKO, MEK, Rajavi cult) among Iranains
... A U.S. State Department document released in May 2011 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act says the MEK has no popular support inside Iran and “to the extent Iranians know about this group they are far more likely to oppose it than support it.” It added, “Any U.S. support for MEK would extremely damage its reputation amongst Iranians and would increase anti-American sentiments in Iran.” The State Department cables quoted defectors as describing MEK as a cult that punishes former members. The cables said the MEK leadership ordered the execution of all attempted defectors ...
A U.S. State Department document released in May 2011 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act says the MEK has no popular support inside Iran and “to the extent Iranians know about this group they are far more likely to oppose it than support it.” It added, “Any U.S. support for MEK would extremely damage its reputation amongst Iranians and would increase anti-American sentiments in Iran.” The State Department cables quoted defectors as describing MEK as a cult that punishes former members. The cables said the MEK leadership ordered the execution of all attempted defectors.
IRANIAN POPULAR ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE MEK
Summary Showing a unanimity rare among Iranians, anecdotal information gleaned from both ordinary Iranians living inside Iran and abroad and from Iran analysts strongly indicates that the ‘Mujahedin-e Khalq’ (MEK) opposition group has not significant popular support inside Iran. To the extent that Iranian respondents are familiar with the MEK they express severe dislike for this group, primarily due to its alliance with Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. All Iranians queried tended to disbelieve the MEK’s expressed allegiance to the ideals of human rights and democracy, with even hardened Iranian oppositionists and persecuted religious minorities such as the Iranian Baha’i saying they would prefer the current Iranian government to an MEK-affiliated one. Many Iranian respondents believe that any indication of USG support for the MEK would seriously harm USG popularity among ordinary Iranians, even among those Iranians who oppose the current Iranian government, would fuel anti-American sentiment, and would likely empower Iranian hardliners. END SUMMARY
******* THIS IS A COMBINED MESSAGE ****** SUBJECT: IRANIAN POPULAR ATTITUDES TOWARDS THE MEK
1. (SBU) NOTE: The following cable is based on input from State Department Iran-watchers and consular interviewing officers in the main posts that interact with Iranians on a regular basis, i.e. ANKARA, BAKU, BERLIN, DUBAI AND ISTANBUL. END NOTE.
2. (SBU) SUMMARY: Showing a unanimity rare among Iranians, anecdotal information gleaned from both ordinary Iranians living inside Iran and abroad and from Iran analysts strongly indicates that the ‘Mujahedin-e Khalq’ (MEK) opposition group has no significant popular support inside Iran. To the extent that Iranian respondents are familiar with the MEK they express severe dislike for the group, primarily due to its alliance with Saddam Hussein during the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. All Iranians queried tended to disbelieve the MEK’s expressed allegiance to the ideals of human rights and democracy, with even hardened Iranian oppositionists and persecuted religious minorities such as the Iranian Baha’i saying they would prefer the current Iranian government to an MEK-affiliated one. Many Iranian respondents believe that any indication of USG support for the MEK would seriously harm USG popularity among ordinary Iranians, even among those Iranians who oppose the current Iranian government, would fuel anti-American sentiment, and would likely empower Iranian hardliners. END SUMMARY.
3. (SBU) MEK – BACKGROUND (see Appendix): Originally a 1960s Islamic-Marxist group dedicated to violent overthrow of the Pahlavi regime, the ‘Mujahedin-e Khalq’ (MEK- a.k.a. ‘The People’s Warriors’) was one of the main popular organizations to emerge in the early days of the 1979 Revolution. The increasing ascendancy by clerical elements supporting Ayatollah Khomeini after the revolution let to this group’s gradual elimination from the ruling coalition and its eventual flight from Iran in the early 1980s. Using Iraq as its base, the MEK mounted attacks against Iranian military during the latter stages of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, then after the 1988 Iran-Iraq cease-fire it continued attacks against Iranian leadership until it was forced to stand down its Iraq-based operations as a result of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ in 2003. Currently, MEK supporters claim the group has renounced violence as a tool and seeks a secular, democratic Iran, while its detractors claim it is more a cult of personality centred on a leadership unchanged since 1979 than a popular-based political movement. Its membership in its ‘Camp Ashraf’ base in Iraq consists of a few thousand rank-and-file members, mostly either older original ‘first generation’ members from the 1970s or younger Iranians from poorer ethnic minorities such as Iranian Baluch. Since deprived of Iraq government funding since 2003 the MEK has increasingly relied on fundraising in Europe under various front organizations that use popular antipathy towards the Islamic Republic to solicit money. END BACKGROUND.
4. (SBU) In January and February 2011 State Department Iran-watchers and consular offices in the main posts that interact with Iranians on a regular basis (Ankara, Baku, Berlin, Dubai and Istanbul) asked Iranian contacts and visa applicants their opinions on the MEK.
5. (SBU) In speaking to hundreds of Iranians both in the preceding two months and before, ordinary Iranians were almost uniformly dismissive of the MEK, reacting with either disdain or apathy, their responses strongly indicating a lack of any significant popular support for the MEK among Iranians living in Iran. Among older Iranians this lack of support was largely due to MEK support of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. Among younger Iranians (i.e. most of the population) this lack of support was derived from both the MEK’s ‘treasonous acts’ in supporting Iraq during the war and also from a near–total lack of information due to the absence of any MEK influence inside Iran.
6. (SBU) The following direct quotes reflect what was heard from ordinary Iranians both inside Iran and abroad:
--- “The MEK are detested among the young and old in Iran, although many young Iranians don’t know much about them, and to the extent they do it is in relation to their pro-Iraqi activities during the Iran-Iraq war. Many young Iranians familiar with the MEK’s lack of any support inside Iran wonder why this group is so well-supported abroad and in international organizations.”
--- “They are hated among Iranians, since their hands are stained with the blood of their fellow countrymen.”
--- “I’m an Iranian Bahai (i.e. the most persecuted religious minority in Iran) and I can tell you that even Bahais in Iran would much prefer the current Iranian government to any MEK government.”
--- “We are scared of them because we think they want power. They are like Fidel Castro in Cuba. They will turn Iran into a North Korea or Cuba. It’s not correct to call them a terrorist group THOUGH: THEY JUST WANT POWER. THEY DO NOT HAve the support of the majority of people. They are not democratic just because they appointed a lady as ‘President of Iran’.”
---“They were supported and loved during the Revolution, especially among young people. We loved them. They were beautiful people. But their Marxist-Islamic ideology has passed away. The group’s ideology is far away from the people now.”
---“Aside from their cooperation with Saddam against Iran, their leadership is immoral – Massoud Rajavi has forced himself on many women, with Maryam’s awareness, and in their camp in Iraq they separate children from their parents. I had a distant relative who joined the MEK and once he did so the rest of the family disowned him.”
---“Nobody likes them.”
---“They have no support in Iran.”
---“The group is not popular. People hate them, and they are terrorists. They killed many people.”
---“Once they fought for what they believed in and they had some support but now we don’t really know who they are and what they do.”
---“They are a terrorist organization.”
---“The MEK is a joke.”
---“They are a bunch of #@$*!” [From a young Iranian male]
---“They MEK under the leadership of Massoud Rajavi and President Maryam Rajavi are meaningless in the domestic Iranian political spectrum and totally marginalized. They try however, with great effort, to create the impression that they are the most significant Iranian exiled opposition group.”
ANALYSTS ON MEK
7. (SBU) The above-cited characterization of the MEK by ordinary Iranians was replicated in feedback from political analysts focused on contemporary Iran, all of whom were Iranian by birth. Without exception these analysts said that the MEK lacked any significant popular support inside Iran, with Iranian popular reactions to the MEK varying from rank ignorance (mostly among the young) to extreme aversion (to those more familiar with their history).
8. (SBU) The following direct quotes from prominent analysts of contemporary Iran, all of whom are Iranian by birth, reflect the feedback received:
---“Right after the 1979 revolution the MEK had considerable support in Iran, especially among the youth. Even after the MEK began its campaign of assassination of official figures in June 1981 and the regime responded by executing several thousand of MEK supporters, there was still sympathy. But then MEK leadership left Iran and went first to France and then Iraq, began collaborating with Saddam Hussein’s regime, and acting as its spies. This turned the tide against the MEK, and the Iranian people began despising MEK for its support of Saddam, for its revealing information about Iran, and for still continuing its campaign of assassination while the nation was involved in a long war.
That has not changed, and in fact it has become stronger, since all sorts of horror stories have been told to the public by former MEK members who had become disillusioned with the leadership and wanted to leave Iraq and Camp Ashraf but were tortured and then delivered to Saddams intelligence as Iranian spies. It was also revealed that the MEK had a direct role in putting down the Shiites uprising in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq right after the first Persian Gulf War. The fact that MEK revealed some information about Iran’s nuclear program also angered a lot of people, because they consider it treason. The net result is that, with losing thousands of its members to executions and consistent opposition to the IRIG, the MEK has no significant base of support in Iran. Given that 70 percent of the population is under 35, they do not even know who the MEK are.
Iranians who know about the MEK consider it nothing but a religio-political cult. MEK has the same power structure as does the IRIG; It has a “Supreme Leader”, Massoud Rajavi; a “President”, Maryam Rajavi, and it demands absolute obedience of the leadership. So, as we say in Persian, “as chaale dar biyaam to chaah biyoftim?” (We are getting ourselves out a small ditch in order to fall down in a deep well?)”.
---“The trick used by MEK is to approach the “simple man on the street” or politicians with little expertise on Iran and convince them that they are collecting signatures or money to protest human rights violations in Iran. These signatures are then used by the organization as proof of support for the organization’s broader political agenda. The organization works under a number of PSEUDONYMS. THE RECENT PROTEST MOVEMent in Iran that followed the 2009 elections showed quite clearly that the MEK has no noticeable support inside Iran and is isolated amongst exiled Iranians as well.”
---“Generally speaking I encountered two things concerning the MEK from living in Iran. The older generations’ has a disdain for the MEK because of their belief that MEK contributed mightily to the radicalism and violence of the early years of the revolution and for its siding with Saddam in the Iran-Iraq war. This disdain was not merely based on the fact that the government held MEK responsible for the bombings of the early revolutionary years. In addition, many liberal and/or secular people whom I know still hold MEK responsible for the radical Islamist turn of the revolution that was then manipulated by more established clerics. The younger generation’s views on the MEK are characterized by apathy and lack of basic knowledge about the group, its leadership, and its political positions. I have not found any evidence that MEK has been able to fire the imagination of a single university or high school student in Iran. Believe it or not, the few students who express interest in radical politics, instead of reform, were much more interested in Marxism than MEK”.
---“Outside Iran, a handful of groups and individuals have sought to emerge as centers of opposition. Among these groups is the MEK. It has no political base inside Iran and no genuine support on the Iranian street. The MEK, an organization based in Iraq that enjoyed the Baathist regime’s support, lost any following it may have had in Iran when it fought on Iraq’s behalf during the 1980-1988 war. Widespread Iranian distaste for the MEK has been cemented by its numerous terrorist attacks against innocent Iranian civilians and Iranian government officials. Since Saddam Hussein’s fall, the MEK now depend almost entirely on the goodwill of the United States, which placed it on its list of foreign terrorist organizations and, at most, seems prepared to use it as a source of intelligence and leverage in its dealings with Iran.
The most prominent international human rights organizations-- including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International -- have determined the MEK to be undemocratic, with a cult-like organizational structure and modus operandi that belies its claim to be a vehicle for democratic change.
During my time living and working in Iran, it became quite clear that the MEK is not at all popular among the Iranian people. Of the literally hundreds of people I interviewed and/or spoke with in Iran about the MEK, not one had anything positive to say about it. When Iran’s (2009) post-election turbulence commenced, the MEK quickly sought to join the frenzy of brewing opposition to the current government inside Iran. But by claiming links to this indigenous opposition, the MEK connected their name to genuinely disenfranchised voters, thereby providing the Iranian government with yet another excuse to “discredit” and crackdown on peaceful protesters.
Increased U.S. government support for the MEK will empower Ahmadinejad and other hardliners in Iran, thereby increasing their (Ahmadinejad and the other hardliners) overall domestic support exponentially. Never has the level of cohesion among regime “insiders” been so low (but) supporting the MEK will provide Iranian government insiders with a foreign-based treat that can be exploited to heal fractures within the regime, increase the number of Iranians that rally around the flag, and eliminate indigenous political opposition -- thereby hurting the very people that America seeks to help. Ironically, if the U.S. wants to help Ahmadinejad and the hardliners cement a long-term dictatorship in Iran, support for the Mojahedin is the way to do it. It will significantly reduce any chance of real rapprochement with the Iranian government, and severely curtail indigenous democratic progress in Iran. The Iranian people won’t forgive or forget this -- particularly given the history surrounding U.S. policies toward Mossadegh and the Shah. And this is one of the cardinal sins poisoning U.S. – Iran relations to this day. It is worth noting that increasing American support for the MEK is a step that the Bush administration—even at the height of its openly hostile Iran policy -- wasn’t willing to take. Even they understood that increased support for the MEK will exacerbate all of the challenges and problems that Iran policy currently poses to the USG.”
--- “The MEK is a dead political group in Iran, even if its specter is not anymore haunting the Iranian people. The MEK has no considerable support in the country, either among the elites or among the ordinary people, whether in the capital Tehran or in the PROVINCES. WHILE IRANIANS FOLLOW ON A DAILY BASIS different opposition websites, the MEK website is one of the poorest regarding the amount of its viewers (this fact is easily provable by checking the traffic the website has comparing to others). The truth is the MEK is one of the most hated political groups in Iran. If Iranians would be asked to choose between MEK and IRGC – Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – they would definitely go for the latter. The MEK is mostly known as a terrorist group in Iran; people are afraid of the group’s obsolete ideology, its aggressive and vengeful rhetoric and its authoritarian leadership.
The Iranian regime is aware how notorious the MEK is and takes advantage of this in certain political situations. During the 2009 unrests, the MEK’s support of the Iranian protestors was a gift for the regime, as it led many people hesitate to come anymore to the streets evidently afraid of their paving the path for MEK to take advantage of the situation. Regardless, the government accused the MEK of initiating terrorist attacks and gunning down people in the streets.
Any U.S. support for MEK would extremely damage its reputation amongst Iranians and would increase anti-American sentiments in Iran. People would regard such an act not as animosity towards the regime but towards the nation. They would assume that the U.S. intentions are not to promote freedom and democracy in Iran, but simply to spoil the country. The Iranian regime would definitely take advantage of such a situation, showing it as a proof of its claims of calling Americans as the enemy of the nation.”
---“The MEK are an Islamist-Socialist cult whose membership numbers in the thousands. Their popular support in Iran is negligible. Over a four year period living in and travelling to Iran I never met anyone who expressed any affinity for them. On the contrary they are widely perceived as brainwashed traitors who fought alongside Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. The U.S. government should stay as far away from them as possible. Even (former NSC head) general Jones recent interactions with them have spurred concerned rumors among Iranian democracy activists that Washington may be flirting with the MEK.”
9. (SBU) COMMENT: The results of this admittedly unscientific polling of contacts and ordinary Iranians concerning the MEK confirms what those familiar with Iran already assumed to be the case: regardless of whether the USG deems it a terrorist organization, the MEK lacks any significant popular support in Iran, and to the extent Iranians know about this group they are far more likely to oppose it than support it. The pro-human rights and democratic ideals which the MEK now claims to espouse are ones which the USG also emphasizes in our own Iran policy. But one does not need to support the MEK to promote these goals, and indeed it seems to be the case that any increased show of USG support for this group will not help the cause of freedom and democracy in Iran, but will only adversely impact popular perceptions of the USG among ordinary Iranians, and could also strengthen support for Ahmadinejad and other hardliners. END COMMENT
APPENDIX: MEK HISTORY
1965: MEK Founded on Islamic-Marxist ideology by former members of Iran’s nationalist “Freedom Movement of Iran”.
1970s: MEK engaged in ideological work combined with armed struggle against the Pahlavi regime, to include terrorist killings of US military and civilian personnel in Iran.
1975: MEK splits in to two groups, Marxist and Islamist, with the Marxist group changing its name to “Paykar”.
1979: Massoud Rajavi assumes MEK leadership, and MEK becomes one of the main political groups active during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. MEK supports US Embassy takeover in November 1979.
1979-81: Like Iranian nationalists and leftists elements, MEK influence in government slowly eliminated by the clerical elements supporting Ayatollah Khomeini.
Early 1980: As IRIG moves against MEK, MEK elements inside Iran mount massive assassination campaigns against the IRIG leadership, killing approximately 70 high-ranking IRIG officials in one June 1981 bombing, with another MEK bombing two months later killing the IRIG President and Prime Minister. Hundreds of MEK supporters and members either arrested or killed. Massoud Rajavi forced to flee Iran in 1981, and majority of MEK relocates in France.
1981-1986: Using France as base of operations, MEK continues campaign of violence against Iranian government figures.
1986-1988: In 1986 due to improved Iran-France relations MEK relocates headquarters to Iraq, relaying on Iraq for basing, financial support, and training. During Iran-Iraq war its “NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY” UNDER CONTROL OF THE IRAQI MILITary mounts attacks against the Iranian military, causing it to lose massive support among the Iranian people.
1988: Mass execution of MEK prisoners inside Iran by IRIG.
1989-2003: MEK continues assassination attacks against IRIG officials, receiving major financial support from Saddam Hussein, to include:
--1992 (April): MEK conducts near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in 13 countries.
-- 1999 (April): MEK assassinates key Iranian military officers, to include deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff, Brigadier General Ali Sayyaad Shirazi.
-- 2000 (February): MEK launches series of attacks against Iran, to include a mortar attack against a major Iranian leadership complex in Tehran.
--2000-01: MEK conducts regular mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids against Iranian military and law enforcement personnel, as well as government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border.
1991: MEK assists Iraqi Republican Guards in crackdown on anti-Saddam Iraqi Shia and Kurds.
2001: FBI arrested seven Iranians in the United States who funneled $400,000 to an MEK-affiliated organization in the UAE which used the funds to purchase weapons.
2003: At start of Operation Iraqi Freedom MEK leadership negotiated a cease-fire with Coalition Forces and voluntarily surrenders their heavy-arms to Coalition control.
2003: French authorities arrest 160 MEK members at operational bases they believed the MEK was using to coordinate financing and planning for terrorist attacks.
Post -2003: High level MEK leave MEK’s “Camp Ashraf” in Iraq, relocating in various European capitals.