Mojahedin a bargaining chip in Iran - US negotiations
The transcribed version of BBC 2- News Night program on MKO
For two decades it was one of the oddest armies on the earth. Prevailed to overthrow the ayatollahs in Iran, The widow Maryam Rajavi stuck amongst fanatical devotion. She is accused by some of running a crew, a manipulative cult. The America which protects the now-disarmed fighters in Iraq can’t decide what to do about them, it runs the people Mujahedin, also known as MEK or MKO as terrorists but according to some politicians it is still a potential ally.
Bob Filner (Democrat):
I know the MEK supports a secular democratic, non nuclear Iran. What's there to oppose them? We should be a help to them in any way we can. The Mujahedin's position in Iraq now is a desperate uncomfortable one. Just north of Baqdad you find Ashraf in a vast desert. This land was given to them by Saddam Hussein but the new Iraqi government wants them out. And even though President Bush has so far rejected propose to talk to Iran. American policy makers believe the Mujahedin would actually have to be scarified for better relations with Iran.
Keneth Pollak: Iran and the US need to work together to stabilize Iraq which will be disastrous for both countries if it's led to civil war. We also have the nuclear negotiations which are very very delicate and we don’t want the MKO to make muddy those already troubled waters. The other matter is that the US does need to take charges against the MKO that is a terrorist organization.
We are in a house in the suburb of Leeds. Ann Singleton and her husband Masud also are ex-Mujahedin activists who now campaign against the movement that commanded them absolute loyalty for twenty years. She joined MKO when she was a student in Manchester University in the late 1970's when the students believed that they can change the world.
Ann Singleton : The only organization which I had access to directly and that would actually going out to doing something was the Mujahedin. They would ask for donations of course and that is how they recruited the crew I guess. The process started with me. They would ask for money and I would give them more than that they asked for to show them my commitment.
Mujahedin began as a guerrilla group fighting the shah of Iran. Along side the followers of Ayatollah Khomeini, they succeeded to overthrow the Pahlavies in 1979. But afterwards ayatollah Khomeini was not willing to share the power with them. Mujahedin rose to debate him but they were defeated. From then on the organization was bored with the Islamic Republic. Hundred of Iranian officials were killed or wounded by Mujahedin's bombs. In one attack the country's current supreme leader Ayatollah Khameneiee lost his right arm. In several times in the 1980's these fighters invaded Iran from Iraq. Meanwhile thousands of Mujahedin members were executed in Iranian jails. The leader of the organization and many supporters fled to the West. Ali Safavi who works for Muajhedin's umbrella organization, NCRI, he has convinced many politicians that this movement which has left violence is a democratic alternative to the Islamic Republic:" All accusations against them" he says " are organized by Iran".
"they view the people 's Mujahedin as an existential threat because they know that the Mujahedin has a large support among the Iranian people and that is why they have spent no effort in fight to illegalize the Mujahedin by engaging in a massive expensive propaganda Campaign to demonize the Muajhedin.
But there is no evidence that Abbas Sadeqinejad relates to Iranian intelligence. This former Mujahedin member who now lives in Germany with his family that he thought he had lost for ever when he fled Iran. The years when he stayed in Camp Ashraf he believed what the Mujahedin had told him that his wife and his new born daughter were dead.
"they told me that they set two people to find my wife and one of them was killed by the Regime but they said that they persued my case with a second and they found out that my wife had died when giving birth to my daughter . That’s how they cut my ties with my family. Same time, they told my wife that I was killed by the Regime as I was leaving the country. "Psychological manipulation" as described to Newsnight by many interviewed former members. This part of the system of control by Masud Rajavi and his new wife Maryam was established in Iraq in the 80's and 90's. They launched what they called "Ideological Revolution". The women got key jobs. The announcement of sexual feelings became forbidden and divorce became obligatory.
they decreed that every member should divorce. All your thought and feeling and energy, your whole being have to be devoted to the Rajavis. That was a forced system of reporting, any erotic fantasy they had for example they have aroused by sister so so or by what's his name brother. They were expected to tell everything totally open, any thing was in your mind or you feel with your heart.
Reporter: were all members forced to divorce? Safavi: No, every individual member of the Mojahedin decided on his own to forget family life, those who were married of course.
Reporter: all of them? Safavi: yes. Yes. All of them.
- So every single married member in Ashraf at that time made the voluntary decision to divorce or forget the family life? -yes
-How many people where there? -I don’t exactly know what the number was but hundreds people ,yes every member of the hundreds.
- Hundreds? -yes - Hundreds. Every single one voluntarily to divorce! - Yes.
- Isn't it implausible to see that hundreds of members, all voluntarily take a decision to divorce? -Not at all.
The level of devotion expended to the members' squirm of suicide feared European citizens in 2003. To protest the temporary arrest of Maryam Rajavi . The Newsnight has serious accounts that in the 1990's those who seemed less reliable were tortured in the confinement of the organization's Camp in Iraq.
Sadeqi: they hit my knees so hard…. He pulled my hair and said that he would teach me a lesson I would never get. He put handcuff on me and hung me from my right hand…. I shouted why you are hitting a member of the organization. But they hung me like that for twenty minutes. …
Mujahedin were the guests for Saddam Hussein in 1980's when he was the ally in war with Iran of the West. He offered them the most convenient bases. It was certain that their association with the Iraqi traitor would become their big terrible trouble. In the 1990's after the Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saddam became the West's enemy. Meanwhile in 1997,when the new reformist president Muhammad Khatami was elected in Tehran, in that year America listed the Mujahedin as terrorists, something that weakened their abilities to work on fund raising in West. Some believe that the move was a coquetry just to appease Iran.
Kenneth Polack: There was definitely a debate within the US government. As to whether or not the MKO should be added to the list but the ultimate decision that was made was that the US needs to be consistent at the application of its standards. That no country would take the US seriously if the only groups that are put on the list of terrorists were the groups who are at war with the US and its allies.
In 2001, the US attacked Afghanistan. Both America and Iran after the remove of Taliban had a reason to talk. One of the deals the officials looked around was that the US and Iran talk about the existence of Mujahedin.
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson: We had some intelligence, indicated that some key senior officials of AlQaida might have gone to Iran. Just casual conversations suggested that Iran should be willing to turn over those AlQaida figures and we had to give them a probe and whenever speaking of the pre-proposed proba MEK was there. It happened around discussions almost all the time because it was clear that Iran is very concerned about the MEK.
Laurence Wilkerson and his boss Collin Powell weren’t sure how high in the Iranian government the approach came from. They didn’t listen to the offer but a year and a half later there was a better chance to deal.
After the US-led invasion of Iraq, Iran sent Washington a secret letter proposing talks. Here, we have a copy of the letter; it's not signed but the State Department understood that it came with the approval of the highest authorities in Tehran and that offers exactly what many in Washington, believe America should have been seeking from Iran. Tehran offered to use its influence to support stabilization in Iraq and to have full transparency on its nuclear programme and remarkably end the military support to the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah and aid to the Palestinian Hamas. In return it wanted t US to halt hostile behavior, abolition of all sanctions and specifically pursuit of the Mujahedin and repatriation of their members.
Wilkerson: and we thought, it was precious moment to do that. I think the Secretary of State and Deputy of the Secretary of State just thought at the same time but when it got to the White House and to the Vice-President's Office, the old mantra that we don’t talk to the evils which includes the guy of Pyongyang, North Korea and includes the guy of Tehran, Iran. Reasserted itself and to our embarrassment, State as far as I'm concerned the cable that I saw go back to the Swiss, ashly upbraided the Swiss to being so bold and audacious to present such a proposal to us on behalf of Iran. It was the Zenith of American strength in the region, a natural time for republicans of the White House to wonder if the regime change in Iraq could be followed by the regime change in Iran Mujahedin obvious allies in a research campaign have been bombed by the US during the invasion in Iraq and afterwards the State Department ordered Them to be disarmed but the especial Pentagon forces sent to perform that task found out so instantly how useful the exiled fighters could be. Military Lawyer (Vivian Gembara): they were a formidable fighting force there, I mean but it was not the best equipped force that we have ever seen. A Force which is led by women. It's such a unique: I mean it sounds like almost fiction. And the US army's instant infatuation with Muajhedin fully were recruited a very pragmatic force that was so loyal to Saddam, now apparently wanted to serve America in any way it could.
Military lawyer: we wanted to disband them essentially and that was what we had a problem with because they still wanted to work with us.
Back in Washington the state of Department wasn’t interested…
Wilkerson: everyday from Monday to Friday we had meetings at the State Department from 8:30 and one of the questions that came up almost everyday was what we have to do with the MEK, the MEK were still wondering around Iraq, still they had their arms .they are still a cohesive body of people saying what's happening? They're a terrorist organization we declare them ourselves. The President, himself does agree that we should do something about the MEK but nothing is happening. The Defense Department doesn’t do any thing. By their actions, I must say that Secretary of Defense and his underlings and the Vice President's Office must have thought that the MEK might prove the fruitful instrument in the future and therefore they don’t want to take any drastic action against the MEK.
President Bush has now relinquished the services of the former Defense Secretary Donald Ramsfeld but Newsnight understands that still the strong pro-Mujahedin lobby within the administration, one of the possibilities ,apparently have been concerning is to use the group as a go-between to help American forces reach outs to Sunni insurgence.
Meanwhile in Europe the charismatic leader of the Iranian resistance Maryam Rajavi has been rallying among her supporters with talking of victory. The Mujahedin have just wanted the Judgment of European court of justice on freezing their assets that they believe it’s the first step to removing the terrorist tag, that still haunts them. Though their last attack was in 1999 and they have since renounced any military role.
Ali Safavi: Instead of tying engaged with Mullahs in Tehran the international community has to reach out to the democratic opposition and the very opposition which by the key reveal allegations on the Iran's nuclear weapons program. In some sense really the international community and the Western countries owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Mujahedin. In fact there's no more much sign of support for the Mujahedin in Iran. Since they moved to Iraq they've been widely regarded as traitors. The disbanding of the group plays as the key goal for Tehran. In the short term chances of the US-Iranian relations is very little. President Ahmadinejad and President Bush both talk with the language of confrontation but many in Washington regret that.
Wilkerson: I think the failure of the US to make some sort of meaningful overtures to Tehran has been a terrible mistake that has put Iran in a strategic position in the Middle East that she couldn’t have gained by her own magi. We have through our inaptitude and our refusal of the talk, it is certainly giving Iran the cat-bird seat in the region.
Published by the Mujahedin's latest promotional material, the 3500 remaining residents of Ashraf deprived of their military role enjoy a cultural life in the middle of the Iraqi desert. They even revived their own form of dance. The organization believe that they can survive here under the protection of Geneva and again one day play a big role in the Iranian political scene but as Tehran strengthens its influence in Iraq and the US runs an eventual plan the Mujahedin's time must have been running out.