U.S Department of State, September 13 2016:… But on Friday of last week, the last 280 members of the exiled Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK, as they’re known, were moved out of Camp Liberty in Iraq. And their departure concludes a significant American diplomatic initiative that has assured the safety of more than 3,000 MEK members whose lives have been under threat. And as everybody remembers, the camp they were in had on many occasions been shelled …
John Kerry: Moving Mojahedin Khalq from Iraq to Albania was an important accomplishment
Remarks Before the Daily Press Briefing
Secretary of State
September 12, 2016
SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday to all of you. Let me begin, if I can, just by – you can sort of see it with some of the banners and the large fish out in front of the State Department that this is a big week for the department, because on Thursday and Friday we’re going to be hosting our third Our Ocean conference, which we started two years ago with the meeting that took place in Chile interrupting this, and now this will be the final one for me as Secretary.
But happily, other countries have viewed this as an important enough initiative that for the next three years there are hosts who will be announced at the meeting on the weekend – on Thursday and Friday. We have almost 40, I think it’s about 40 ministers, foreign ministers; about 25 or so environment ministers. That is a large contingent of ministers who are coming here because of the global interest and commitment to this endeavor. And I think it’s going to be a very important set of substantive, impressive announcements that will be made in the course of those two days.
One of the reasons for this is that this is an issue that literally affects everybody on the planet. And it should be at the top of the global agenda, and that is where President Obama and the State Department are trying to put it in the course of these last three years.
Second, let me make a quick comment about good news, because obviously we know we live in a turbulent era and too often there are (coughs) one challenge or another about conflict that, unfortunately, doesn’t bring good news. But I believe it’s important to note a very important humanitarian accomplishment from late last week. I was going to mention it but it was so late – or early in the morning in Geneva – that I didn’t.
But on Friday of last week, the last 280 members of the exiled Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK, as they’re known, were moved out of Camp Liberty in Iraq. And their departure concludes a significant American diplomatic initiative that has assured the safety of more than 3,000 MEK members whose lives have been under threat. And as everybody remembers, the camp they were in had on many occasions been shelled. There were people killed and injured. And we have been trying to figure out the way forward.
Well, the last 10 years have been filled with reminders of this challenge. I first became involved in this effort when I was in the Senate, and that is why during my first year as Secretary I appointed Jonathan Winer, one of my longest-serving and most trusted advisers, as our emissary to find a way to help the MEK be able to leave Iraq.
After steady progress over a period of months, I visited Tirana earlier this year and I discussed with the Albanian Government how to assist in facilitating the transfer and the resettlement of the last group of MEK members from Camp Liberty. Albania has a proud tradition of protecting vulnerable communities, as it did during the Kosovo conflict and in sheltering large numbers of Jews during World War II. I am very grateful that in this case too Albania was willing to play an important humanitarian role. I also want to thank the governments of Germany, Norway, Italy, the U.K., Finland, and other EU countries for helping to save the lives of the MEK. And this is a major humanitarian achievement, and I’m very proud that the United States was able to play a pivotal role in helping to get this job done.
Finally, I’d like to take just a few moments to review with you the latest developments in Syria and the – I think you all are familiar with the agreement itself, but let me just quickly kind of summarize what Russia and the United States agreed on, which is a plan that we hope will reduce violence, ease suffering, and resume movement towards a negotiated peace and a political transition in Syria.
Now, the key elements of the plan, just so everybody is very clear about it, are, first, the resumption of a nationwide cessation of hostilities that excludes only al-Qaida affiliate al-Nusrah and Daesh. Now, this renewed cessation of hostilities went into effect today our time – not our time, but today about noon our time; at sundown in Syria a few hours ago. And the earliest reports are that there’s some reduction in violence as well as a few reports of fighting here and there, though it is far too early to draw any definitive conclusions, and I am not drawing any definitive conclusions.
I will say that there is a report that just crossed my desk from Reuters that the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that major conflict zones in Syria were calm after the ceasefire took effect at 7:00 p.m. on Monday. Their quote is, “Calm is prevailing,” the director said, giving an early assessment – I repeat, early assessment. And there will undoubtedly be reports of a violation here or there, I am confident, but that’s the nature of the beginning of a ceasefire almost always.
The second thing that we agreed on is that humanitarian assistance needs to begin to flow. Now, that can take a day or two or so. It depends. But the UN has indicated that they are prepared and preparing to take those deliveries in. And it is important – and a very important part of this equation – that access to humanitarian goods takes place. That includes all of the embattled neighborhoods of Aleppo over a period of time.
Now, we spent a lot of the last few weeks developing very specific arrangements to enable the passage of aid to Aleppo through the two main access points, Castello Road and the Ramouseh Gap. I don’t think I have to spell out for you how urgent this assistance is – in some cases, literally the difference between life and death for tens of thousands of people.
Third, we provided a provision that as long as there is a sustained period of reduced violence – reduced violence – and increased humanitarian access, and by that we mean seven consecutive days – the United States and Russia will set up a Joint Implementation Center to facilitate coordinated military action in response to the threat posed by al-Nusrah and Daesh. Now, under that arrangement, as soon as U.S.-Russia strikes begin, then the Syrian regime will be prohibited from flying combat missions over areas in which the legitimate opposition is present or al-Nusrah present, as defined by the map that has been agreed upon between Russia and the United States with the regime’s consent according to Russia.
Now, these areas have been clearly and jointly defined by our experts. What this would mean is it would take Syrian warplanes and their barrel bombs out of those skies and prevent the regime from doing what it has done so often in the past, which is to bomb a civilian apartment or hospital and claim that in doing so they were really targeting al-Nusrah. And I would hope that everyone who has deplored these kinds of attacks – and that should be everyone, period – is going to support the effort to bring these assaults to an end by virtue of providing for the calm and allowing these seven days of reduced violence to take place.
Now, I want to be clear: As important as each of these measures is in their own right, they are designed not for the purpose of having a ceasefire for the purpose of having a ceasefire. They are designed in order to provide a period of calm that restores some sense of seriousness of purpose to the Russian effort and the willingness of Assad to go to the table and negotiate. This is designed to bring people to the table in Geneva in order to get under the auspices of the UN and begin to negotiate a political transition and the restoration of a peaceful and united Syria.
Now, this afternoon, I reiterate my call to all parties to observe the cessation of hostilities. This is an opportunity for Syria, an opportunity for all of the people who’ve been under siege, and it’s an opportunity for a political, diplomatic process under the auspices of the United Nations to take the plan that Staffan de Mistura has developed and begin to work and see if it is possible – if – to have a diplomatic and political solution.
I want to praise the opposition’s courage in embarking on this arrangement and call on them to separate themselves from al-Nusrah in those areas where intermingling has been a problem. And to everybody concerned, I emphasize that every element of this arrangement is based on the reciprocal actions that need to be taken, not simply the promises that have been made. Promises are one thing. It’s the actions that will define whether or not this will be able to come together. If there is no compliance with the cessation of hostilities and no fulfillment of the principle of humanitarian access, then this arrangement, including the joint implementation center, will not go forward.
Now, I want to be clear as well that for all of the doubts that exist – and we know there are many – there will be challenges in the days to come. We expect that. I expect that and I think everybody does. But despite that, this plan has a chance to work. We know that Russia has stood up in the person of the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and said that Assad has agreed to this plan, and they have obviously joined us in accepting responsibility for trying to put this into place. And we know that in Syria, as writ large, the desire for an end to the killing and the suffering is widespread, so there are a lot of people who will welcome an Eid gift of the moment of moving back from the day – daily destruction and inhumanity that has characterized Syria for the last five years.
We know that the international community, including leading Arab countries – Turkey, Iran, Russia, Europe, and the United States together – have all come together on a set of principles aimed at reducing the violence and making possible a Syrian-led political transition. And we know that the cessation of hostilities that went into effect last February did provide a glimpse of what a better future could look like. People returned to the streets for a while, went to cafes. They were able to even demonstrate on occasion. And they were able to go to work and attend school without fear until people resorted back to the habits that we’re trying to end.
Over the weekend, I read a story that referred to the U.S.-Russia plan as, quote, “flawed and full of caveats.” And I have to say to all of you, sure, this is less than perfect. This is perhaps one of the most complicated places in the world. But let me ask you: Flawed compared to what? Compared to nothing? Compared to daily violence that absolutely guarantees a future of even more violence and possible sectarian explosion in the region? What we have been seeing in Syria day after day, week after week, month after month is a lot worse than flawed, and it has been, it remains a profound human tragedy and a stain on the international community’s ability to be able to bring people to a table to try to negotiate outcome for something where everybody knows there is no military solution. There’s just escalation if kinetic is the route people choose to go.
Now, I’ve been in public life for more than four decades now, and I have never seen a more complicated or entangled political and military, sectarian, somewhat religiously-overtoned issue than what exists in Syria today. There are a bunch of wars going on, a bunch of different tensions between people, and you can cite them, whether it’s Kurd and Turkey or Kurd and Kurd or Sunni/Shia or Assad versus or others versus Assad or countries that don’t get along with each other in the region. This is a very toxic mix of interests and of agenda.
So this catastrophe developed step by step, folks. And it can only be reversed on a step-by-step basis. The U.S.-Russia plan is designed to advance the process of trying to reduce the violence so that we can get people to a table where they don’t just point to the bombs that are dropping on them which prevent from negotiating or the food that is being prevented – and medicine – from being delivered which prevents them from negotiating. This is the best thing we could think of, and President Obama has gone the extra mile here to try to find a way to see if we can bring people to the table, then end the violence while they go to the table to try to settle this.
We believe that this is the only realistic and possible solution to this conflict, is ultimately a political outcome. I urge all the parties to support it, because it may be the last chance that one has to save a united Syria.
So I thank you and I’d be pleased to respond to a couple questions.
MR KIRBY: We’ll start with Matt. We got time for two, folks. Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You probably saw or heard President Assad’s comments this morning – at least from earlier today – in which he said that he was going to continue to strike at terrorists wherever they were and drive them out of the country. Given that, and the fact that from what you just said it appears that his air forces are not grounded for the next seven days, that they will be able to continue operations, how exactly are you going to gauge this reduction in violence that you’re trying to achieve when they – and I think it’s a when rather than an if – when they continue attacks on Nusrah – that they say are on al-Nusrah but which you have said in the past are really against the opposition? How do you gauge that reduction of violence? And if you can’t do that, I’m not sure – can you explain how the next seven days are supposed to be different from the last seven months? And then —
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah —
QUESTION: — if you get – if you are able to gauge a reduction in violence, it’s okay and the JIC gets set up, what is the consequence for a violation after that period? Is it just that the JIC dissolves and there is no more U.S.-Russia cooperation? Thanks.
SECRETARY KERRY: If what?
QUESTION: If there is a – supposing you get the seven days of reduced violence and the JIC gets set up, and then there is violation after that, from the government or – government side, is the only consequence that the JIC gets dissolved?
SECRETARY KERRY: No. Well, let me go to – let me go through each of those. First of all, it is a fact that under this agreement, except in the area that we have agreed on with the map, which is where the opposition is – and if Nusrah happens to be there, then Nusrah is included – that Assad is not supposed to be bombing the opposition because there is a ceasefire. Now, he is allowed and will be able outside of that area after – if the JIC gets set up – to target Nusrah, but that will be on strikes that are agreed upon with Russia and the United States in order to go after them. So the issue is the seven days, which you’ve raised. And during these seven days, there is a demand that there be a reduced level of violence, and calm, and access. And that is to the satisfaction of each of the parties: satisfaction of Russia, satisfaction of the United States.
So yes, there’s some discretion in that. And if we deem that Assad is using these days in order to continue the practice that I just cited of pretending to go after Nusrah but bombing the opposition, we don’t have seven days of calm, folks. And so Russia here plays the critical role. Russia needs to make it absolutely clear to him that they want the seven days and that he needs to abide by that. And if we have serious questions about it, we’ll raise it with them, and we will not have seven days of consecutive calm and therefore we will not get to the joint implementation center.
Now, if we get to the joint – and again, I want to repeat: Russia said Assad has agreed to this ceasefire and he has agreed to the terms of this agreement. So we need to see that, and we will measure that over the course of the next days.
And finally, once the JIC, the joint implementation center is working and functional, then there is a method for resolving within the JIC these questions about a violation and what has happened. And it will not terminate it automatically immediately; that process can play out. But at any time – and there is a clear clause in the agreement – that either party believes this is being violated and the other side is not acting in good faith, either party has the ability to simply withdraw without – and terminate the arrangement.
So there has to be a display of earnest, good-faith effort to try to make this work, and we will judge that very quickly, I think. I mean, already our teams are continuing the efforts within the Geneva cell, which has already been established. I’m told the meetings today were very productive, very professional, very constructive, and they’re talking about how they proceed in the next days. And we will see what happens with respect to the next seven days. But Russia has a very clear responsibility; we also have a very clear responsibility with respect to the opposition, and we’ve been having those discussions with the opposition. This is a time for them to separate from Nusrah and to make it clear that they do believe in trying to put to test the political process. This is a test. Can you get to Geneva, can you put together a legitimate political negotiation, which can only happen in the context of a reduction in the level of violence? And we’ll see where it goes.
We’re going to measure it every single day and we’ll see where we are. It’s certainly too early to make that measurement today. It’s only a matter of a few hours.
MR KIRBY: Last question for the Secretary goes to Barbara.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just, I wanted to ask you a bit more about separating between al-Nusrah and the opposition. You said there would be zones that have been set up, but the fact is that there is a lot of intertwining between opposition groups and al-Nusrah and these are the most effective military alliances. So what steps will be taken to persuade the opposition to pull back from that?
And just with regards to what you were saying about the test of the political process, and it’s related to this question of the opposition – I mean, does this arrangement – do you sort of accept the idea that Syrian regime will go into talks in a stronger position? Because if the U.S. and Russia join together to hit the Syrian regime’s most effective enemies – that’s ISIS and al-Nusrah – and at the same time the opposition holds its fire, that will in effect be the result of what – how this ceasefire ends up.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, it’s a good question, and let me be very clear in my answer to the second part of it when I come to it. But first, let me just say that in terms of the separation, you’re absolutely correct that in some places there has been what people have been referring to as marbleization of opposition with al-Nusrah, and yes, al-Nusrah has been, quote, “effective,” but al-Nusrah is al-Qaida. Al-Nusrah is a sworn enemy of the United States of America and of the Western world, of the allies, and of others in the region. And they have an external plotting entity that is plotting as I speak for attacks against some of our allies, friends, and ourselves.
So we cannot abide by – and President Obama has made it very clear – we can’t somehow adopt the moral hazard of just because they fight fiercely say, oh, we’re going to have – somehow allow al-Qaida to be the tip of our spear with respect to Assad. That would be crazy, and ultimately self-destructive because you’re going to have to turn around and deal with it. And it might even get out of control and produce something where you have a level of extremism and a level of terror and of the attraction of terrorists that you actually make matters worse in Europe, in the region, and elsewhere.
So we’re not going there. That is exactly why the President thought it was worthwhile making it clear to Nusrah, Jabhat al-Nusrah, and making it clear to Daesh, they’re outside of this and they are outside of this cessation.
Now, it is not advisable for the opposition, who have their support from some of the countries that are threatened by Nusrah, to be playing with Nusrah on an ongoing basis. That is a losing proposition. Because if we get the process moving forward adequately, it is clear that Russia and the United States are determined to take on terrorists because we both have – we have a mutual interest in doing that, and in terminating ISIL/ Daesh, as fast as possible.
So I believe that the opposition understands this and I don’t believe that Assad is sort of advantaged from that position. Why do I not believe that? Because if the talks fail, then it is going to go back to an increased effort against Assad, an increased amount of weapons, an increased amount of fighting, and Syria goes to an even darker place, and we can’t stop that. That’s what we’ve told the Russians. That’s what we’ve told people in the region – that the danger of where Syria is going is that it gets beyond the ability to create a united and hold together a united and nonsectarian and a secular Syria which can pull itself together and hold itself together.
And so Russia actually has an interest in not seeing this go there, and Assad has an interest in not seeing this go there. And if the talks fail – if there’s an inability to pull together over a period of time – by the way, it’s not going to happen overnight. That’s a long and difficult negotiation. But if there is a way to find a way forward to have a political resolution here, that is the best way for everybody to push back against the terrorists and to hold together a united Syria.
And if – and so the basic equation confronting Assad doesn’t change because he holds some new territory in the north of Aleppo or the south of Aleppo or somewhere else. It doesn’t change. So what? He holds it. The fundamental issue is still going to be: How do you make peace? How do you unite Syria? How do you bring these people together no matter where they are and stop the fighting, except against the hardcore terrorists who have been designated?
So I believe that there is no great advantage. As we’ve seen for three and a half years, everybody is always fighting for that last moment of advantage. And then you have a ceasefire. Does the fundamental equation change? No, not in the least. And I don’t believe it will now. So I don’t believe that they go in. The same fundamental challenge politically exists no matter where Assad is at this point. Now, it may be harder for Russia or Iran or somebody to persuade Assad to take steps; but if this war is going to end, he’s going to need to take steps. And I believe President Putin and others in the region understand that.
Now, with respect to Syria regime – oh, that answers the second part of the question. So —
QUESTION: Can you clarify something just super quick, Mr. Secretary? You said that it’s not advisable to the opposition to be playing with Nusrah; it’s a losing proposition because of their allies that are supporting them, but also because they know that you’re looking to take – the opposition understands that you’re looking to take on terror groups. Are you suggesting that if these marbleization doesn’t – if they don’t separate themselves, that they could get caught in the crossfire?
SECRETARY KERRY: We’ve made it very, very clear. And no, we’re going to be very careful in dealing with Nusrah in ways that the joint implementation group will allow us to do. But if they join with Nusrah in offensive action and attacks, then they’ve made a choice to be with Nusrah and then they clearly run the risk.
MR KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.
 The following information is attributable to Spokesperson John Kirby: “We have seen reports, based on the Secretary’s comments — and those of the spokesperson — this afternoon, that the U.S. and Russia could approve of strikes by the Syrian regime. This is incorrect. To clarify: the arrangement announced last week makes no provision whatsoever for the US and Russia to approve strikes by the Syrian regime, and this is not something we could ever envision doing. A primary purpose of this agreement, from our perspective, is to prevent the Syrian regime air force from flying or striking in any areas in which the opposition or Nusra are present. The purpose of the JIC, if and when it is established, would be to coordinate military action between the US and Russia, not for any other party.”
Last remnants of Mojahedin Khalq Terror group relocated to Albania
AP and Press TV, September 10 2016:… The MKO, the most hated terrorist group among the Iranians, has carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Iranian civilians and government officials over the past three decades. Out of the nearly 17,000 Iranians killed in terrorist assaults since the victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, about 12,000, including many top officials, have fallen victim to MKO’s acts of terror. The terror group fled Iran for Iraq shortly after the Islamic Revolution and …
Last remnants of anti-Iran MKO terrorists relocated from Iraq to Albania
Press TV, September 10 2016
Link to the source
The last remaining members of the anti-Iran Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) have been relocated from a camp in Iraq to Albania.
According to a Friday statement released by the terror group, the last 280 MKO terrorists were all flown to Albania after leaving Camp Liberty (Hurriya), a former US military base in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
“This final round of departures marks the successful conclusion to the process of relocating members of Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO) outside of Iraq,” it said.
The UN refugee agency also confirmed that all the remnants of the group had left the Arab country.
“The international community has now successfully achieved the relocation of all Camp Hurriya residents from Iraq to third countries,” said William Spindler, the spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), on Friday.
Back on August 25, another 155 members of the group, including a number of its senior leaders, had fled Iraq for Albania.
Iraqi leaders had long urged MKO remnants to leave the Arab country, but a complete eviction of the terrorists had been hampered by the US and European support for the group.
The MKO, the most hated terrorist group among the Iranians, has carried out numerous terrorist attacks against Iranian civilians and government officials over the past three decades. Out of the nearly 17,000 Iranians killed in terrorist assaults since the victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, about 12,000, including many top officials, have fallen victim to MKO’s acts of terror.
The terror group fled Iran for Iraq shortly after the Islamic Revolution and began receiving support from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, while siding with him in his eight-year bloody war against Iran in the 1980s.
In December 2011, the UN and Baghdad agreed to relocate some 3,000 MKO members from Camp Ashraf in Iraq’s Diyala province to Camp Liberty. Another group of the MKO terrorists was evicted by the Iraqi government in September 2013 and relocated to the camp to await potential relocation to third countries.
On August 4, Iran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Hassan Danaeifar said that the Iraqi government with the cooperation of the UN had expelled 65 percent of the MKO terrorists and the rest would be deported in the next 45 days.
There has also been a deep-seated resentment toward the group in Iraq both for its criminal past and its full support for Saddam in the brutal crackdown on his opponents.
The terrorist group, which has built a cult-like following, is also known for the brutal elimination of its own members over dissent.
The MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community.
Iranian opposition group’s Camp Ashraf closes
AP, Baghdad, September 10 2016
Link to the source
Camp housing Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, based in Iraq since 1980s, closes after last 280 residents are flown to Albania
A camp housing members of an Iranian opposition group in Iraq has officially been closed after the last 280 residents were flown to Albania, the group said.
The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq has been based in Iraq since the 1980s, when they received arms and support from Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. US-led forces disarmed the group after the 2003 invasion and settled them at a base north of Baghdad.
The group was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department for years over its killing of Americans. The MEK was also accused of taking part in the brutal suppression of a 1991 Shia uprising against Saddam, allegations denied by the group.
The MEK says it renounced violence in 2001. The US military in Iraq signed an agreement with the group in 2004, promising that members would be treated as “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The State Department removed the group from its list of terrorist organisations in 2012.
Iraqi forces raided Camp Ashraf, the group’s longtime base north of Baghdad, in 2009, shortly after US-led forces handed over responsibility for the camp to the Iraqi government. The group was later relocated to a former military base in the capital.
Armed groups have repeatedly attacked the group since Saddam’s ousting, killing scores of its members, according to the MEK.
While the casualty figures could often not be independently verified, the UN repeatedly expressed concern about the safety and security of residents of the group’s camps.
The group said last year that more than 20 members were killed in a missile attack on their camp, but the figure could not be independently verified and the MEK has made exaggerated claims to the media in the past.
The death of Massoud Rajavi
Iran Interlink Fourth Report from Baghdad
Iran Interlink, October 26 2014: … Massoud Khodabandeh from Iran Interlink visited Baghdad over ten days during October 2014 to gather the latest information pertaining to the Mojahedin Khalq presence in Iraq. Events in Iraq have been changing rapidly with the Iraqi army and militia mounting an effective offensive campaign against Daesh*. This report …
Fourth Report from Baghdad
Camp Liberty and the Mojahedin Khalq
1. Situation of the MEK in Iraq
2. MEK activities in relation to ISIS
3. Methodology behind MEK terrorism
Aerial map of Camp Hurrieyh – Camp Liberty occupies a small section
in the north of this camp
Massoud Khodabandeh from Iran Interlink visited Baghdad over ten days during October 2014 to gather the latest information pertaining to the Mojahedin Khalq presence in Iraq. Events in Iraq have been changing rapidly with the Iraqi army and militia mounting an effective offensive campaign against Daesh*. This report is therefore something of a snapshot of conditions on the ground at that time. No doubt the situation will have changed as the report is published. However the intention of the report is to provide significant information about the situation of the MEK and any influence it has on these events regardless of how they unfold.
It is hoped that an understanding of the role of the Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) and its relation with Saddamists* and Daesh will inform efforts to confront the violence.
Although some observers may think the MEK is irrelevant, finished, or too small to make a difference, the fact it still features in the narrative of those who seek to influence American foreign policy and the fact it has had enough Western support to remain in Iraq, are strong signs that this group is far from irrelevant. This report seeks to explain why.
My thanks to Othman H. al-Bustan, Ebrahim Khodabandeh, Maryam Sanjabi and others in Baghdad. Without their help the investigations, meetings and the reporting of them could not have taken place.
The report was compiled, edited and published by myself and Anne Khodabandeh (Singleton) in the UK.
* Daesh is al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham, also known as ISIS, ISIL and IS. For the purposes of this report I will refer to them by the Arabic Daesh.
* Saddamists are people associated with and loyal to the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein and who are actively opposed to the current government and constitution of Iraq.
1. Situation of the MEK in Iraq
Rajavi’s combatants are nearing retirement age.
Who will pay for their healthcare and pensions?
Inside Camp Liberty
Residents of Camp Liberty who have chosen to escape the camp rather than wait for relocation by the UNHCR have been able to report on conditions inside Camp Liberty. Since early 2012 when most Camp Ashraf residents were relocated to the Temporary Transit Facility also known as Camp Hurriyeh, tens of individuals have managed to get themselves out of the camp and take refuge with the UN and Iraqi authorities. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has independent oversight of this. Reports by these individuals indicate that conditions inside Camp Liberty are worsening month on month, and that suppressive measures are increasing to try to keep a lid on the rising discontent. MEK commanders are instructed by Massoud Rajavi how to control the residents and how to behave toward them. This means an almost total gender separation, with only commanders able to meet with members of the other sex. Under the same conditions of gender separation, members of the same family, siblings and parents for example, are not given access to visit one another, and are obliged to treat one another as comrades rather than relatives if they do meet. Other, local curfews exist to separate and control people. Residents are accommodated in dormitories and are confined to their quarters for most of the day when they are not actively engaged in work or meetings. Association between residents is strictly controlled, and monitors are posted to listen to conversations between residents.
In addition to work, daily schedules include both confessional and indoctrination meetings. Residents are obliged to report their activities and thoughts and feelings in public, with ‘sins’ against Rajavi’s edicts being punished through humiliation and sometimes beatings by other attendees, who are also subjected to this treatment. According to the reports of escapees, most residents no longer accept such sessions willingly as part of their conditions for membership in the Mojahedin Khalq. This has resulted in widespread disaffection. Arguments and physical fights are now commonplace. This can be between residents and between the various ranks.
This is by far the most volatile aspect of the situation inside the camp. Residents who challenge orders and/or ask questions are automatically singled out and taken for questioning by commanders. However, spontaneous arguments often escalate and residents will now challenge the commanders directly. Questions include: where is Massoud Rajavi (who has not been seen since March 2003 and is only heard in audio messages broadcast in the indoctrination meetings); why is just about anyone who leaves the MEK labelled an agent of the Iranian regime, why were they not identified as agents while they were in the camp; what are we doing to overthrow the Iranian regime.
Residents who have left in the past few months are now reporting that even the commanders are beginning to accept that they have no answers to these questions, and as a result some of them are beginning to ask questions of their own.
Two actions have taken on highly controversial aspects for the residents.
One is the conduct of visitors who are brought inside the camp by the MEK. These are, for example, American or European advocates of the MEK who are paid to speak at various rallies and lobby in parliament. Visits are arranged to stage manage a demonstration of conditions in the camp. So, to back up MEK claims of mistreatment, food, water and medicine shortages are manufactured as are hygiene issues. However, residents are never allowed to even approach the visitors without prior arrangement, and any permitted conversations are monitored by both the commanders and the MEK’s Western facilitator, handler and English language translator, Ali Safavi. (UK resident Safavi escorts the visitors from North America and Europe via the MEK’s bases in Jordan.)
There is a great deal of grumbling among residents that they are not allowed to speak to such visitors who are among only a handful of people from outside the camp that many residents have actually seen for over a decade. Other visitors from outside are officials from agencies of the UN or various embassy staff. Again resident contact with these officials is almost non-existent and is always subject to MEK control. (The families of camp residents have, of course, been denied contact with their loved ones since 2003 opened the possibility of their travelling to Iraq to find them. The MEK describe families as ‘poison’.)
The other event which has caused controversy concerns the 42 survivors of the Camp Ashraf massacre of September 1, 2013. The survivors were transferred by the UN to Camp Liberty in November 2013 and handed over to MEK commanders at the camp. According to escapees, they were immediately taken to separate accommodation and were essentially held incommunicado, not only from the outside world, but from the rest of the camp’s residents also, including most commanders.
Under pressure from Iran-Interlink for the MEK to allow investigators into the massacre to have access to these survivors, the MEK finally brought them out to have lunch in the refectory with other residents. The 42 had visibly been instructed not to talk to anyone at all, not even one another. Photographs were taken of the survivors having their lunch in this public place. Not one single resident was fooled that this was anything except a PR exercise to demonstrate to the outside world and MEK advocates that they are free and accessible. However, no outside visitors such as UN or Red Cross officials were present during this stunt.
These actions have caused dissent to escalate almost to crisis point. Only the severity of existing controls has kept a lid on the atmosphere of discontent and rage. Loyal commanders are now extending their control to their peers. Massoud Rajavi’s latest instruction to the residents relayed via the commanders is encapsulated in the slogan that ‘from 1 to 100 percent of everybody’s time must be spent in saving the organisation’. Rajavi has said that although the situation in Iraq is tense because of the presence of Daesh, ‘the regime’ is attacking from the other side and making people want to run away. The task of every resident is to watch every other resident to prevent anyone from escaping. Rajavi says, and believes, that there is a psychological war being waged on the camp by the Iranian regime. He cannot, or will not, acknowledge that both the insupportable conditions of absolute control and the unanswered questions of the residents are fuelling internal dissent.
Iranian supporters of the MEK in the West, known as internal critics because they are loyal to the MEK but have many criticisms of the group’s aims and tactics and other behaviours, are filling the Farsi language blogosphere and social media with open letters and articles addressed to Rajavi simply asking him to acknowledge the validity of their questions and provide even the simplest or even impenetrable answers, rather than attacking all and any questioners as ‘agents of the Iranian regime.’ Thus the Camp Liberty residents’ questions are reportedly (by internal sources willing to speak) being echoed in MEK bases throughout the West, even at the highest levels in Auvers-sur-Oise.
(Interestingly, several MEK members have made internet contact with Ebrahim Khodabandeh – a former member – in Tehran, and divulge their misgivings and discontent openly to him as an old friend and colleague. Some of the MEK’s closest supporters regularly visit Iran, an act which is deemed a sin inside the organisation.)
Iraqi officials continue to work with UNAMI to facilitate the process of removing all MEK from Iraq which began in 2011 when the American army formally handed over responsibility for the MEK to the government of Iraq.
After the formation of the new government of Iraq, the MEK claimed that they had been instrumental in the ouster of al-Maliki. During the time of my visit, officials from the ministry of Human Rights, Defence and Interior Affairs that I spoke with said that contrary to MEK and Saddamist propaganda, and in spite of differences in other areas of policy, the new Prime Minister al-Abadi is totally on the same page as al-Maliki about the MEK and Saddamists. They emphasised that the officials dealing with this issue have not changed and the policy has not changed either.
A source from inside the al-Abadi faction related that during his meetings with Western government representatives in Paris and in Baghdad, al-Abadi made it clear for the Americans that Iraq will not curtail her relations with Iran, and that it is in Iraq’s interests to work even more closely with Iran. If Iraq is pushed to choose between Iran and America, it will be unfortunate but Iraq will choose Iran. This message was conveyed to American officials, who reportedly acknowledged it. The official said this shows where the MEK’s place is in Iraq; they have no hope of remaining.
Some MPs I spoke with have related that parliament has resumed passing laws which had been delayed due to the crisis caused by Daesh. This will mean that anyone involved in supporting the MEK and/or Saddamists can be impeached. A law has been drafted to ban parliamentarians from taking money for lobbying for the MEK or Saddamists. Parliament has evidence against several individuals who fit this category.
Dr Adnan al-Saraj, from al-Maliki’s Islamic Dawa Party coalition and head of the Centre for Media Development, went into detail with us about how the policy of both al-Maliki and al-Abadi toward the MEK is the same. He identified the main problem for the government in expelling them humanely as the lack of cooperation from Western countries. He said, “They tell us one thing, but in reality they don’t cooperate and do what is needed”.
Adnan al-Shahmani, the MP in charge of the Parliamentary Committee overseeing the situation of the MEK, talked in detail about what the government is doing to resolve this situation in a positive way. He said three aspects are being pushed together and are slowly getting results. One is the humanitarian aspect, especially toward those who have been tricked into the group, and pushing for family access – upholding the human rights of the residents and their families. The second part is pursuit of the legal aspect of the situation; some MEK members have been accused of torture and murder and they need to be taken to court and tried. Iran has also asked for the extradition of around 100 individuals so that it too can pursue legal cases against them. The third aspect is that of security. This is an ongoing issue because the MEK are actively working with the Saddamists and Daesh. This trio represents a security threat to the whole country. However, al-Shahmani reported that Iraq’s security forces are now on top of this issue and are determined to resolve it.
In his visit to Iran, Prime Minister al-Abadi met with Iran’s top leaders. During his visit with the head of the Judiciary he described the MEK as a problem imposed [by America] on Iraq. Iran pledged to do everything possible to help resolve the situation, and in turn asked for the extradition of around 100 leading members accused of murder and terrorist acts.
UN Relocation Process
In March 2013, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha had announced that Tirana was ready to host 210 members of the MEK “for humanitarian reasons.” Since then, over 200 residents have already been transferred to Albania. In early October this year, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Albania was able to announce it has provided the necessary measures for the transfer of a further 210 Camp Liberty residents to Albania. Local reports indicate that several apartments are ready to accommodate the newly arrived individuals.
Although it is now been made possible to transfer another 210 residents to a place of safety, the MEK initially refused to allow anyone to leave Camp Liberty. (This may be linked to news that over half of the MEK members who now reside in Tirana have renounced the group and have begun to speak out about human rights abuses inside Camp Liberty. The MEK leader Massoud Rajavi cannot afford to allow more of the camp’s residents the freedom to decide their own futures, and would prefer to keep them locked up in Iraq under his direct control.)
The MEK leadership has not permitted the UNHCR to select suitable individuals for transfer and has insisted on submitting its own list of people it is willing to let go. Half the list comprises residents who are either disabled or chronically ill – some even dying. The rest are commanders and suppressive agents of the MEK which it wishes to transfer in order to replicate the cult conditions in Tirana. Word from inside Camp Liberty is that this will not work because the commanders themselves will defect once they are free of the controls of Camp Liberty.
During my visit, UN and Red Cross (ICRC) personnel left Baghdad and went to Arbil and Jordan because of the security threat posed by Daesh. However, a few of these staff have now returned to Baghdad as the situation has become less volatile. UNHCR personnel have begun the interview process for 210 Camp Liberty residents prior to their transfer to Tirana, Albania.
As well as these transfers, American personnel are interviewing for up to 80 people in both Iraq and Albania who will be accepted by the US. According to participants, these interviews are aimed at finding the most harmless individuals, those willing to sign bunches of papers renouncing their past and agreeing to have no further involvement with the MEK. If they are not prepared to sign these documents they are not called for interview.
A third interview process takes place in the Mohajer Hotel in Baghdad which is provided by the UN for Camp Liberty residents who have escaped and who have asked the Iraqi authorities to give them refuge. The UNHCR does conduct interviews with these individuals with a view to transferring them out of Iraq. In these conditions they are able to contact their families and start the process of rehabilitation.
Escapees from Liberty
Over the fortnight leading up to my visit, six residents of Camp Liberty individually took the brave and extraordinarily difficult step of escaping from the camp. The lockdown imposed by Mojahedin-e Khalq commanders is so intense that residents are unable to leave their accommodation blocks without permission, are not allowed freedom of association, not even among relatives, and of course a strict gender applies which separates men and women. Every moment of their lives is scheduled and observed. Residents are obliged to attend daily confessional meetings in which ‘sinners’ are humiliated and sometimes beaten.
After two decades of these conditions (eleven of them spent unable to even pretend to be a military group after being disarmed by the US army), residents are finding it harder and harder to submit to the bizarre strictures of cult culture. But submit they must if they are to avoid severe punishments for transgressing these rules. The first rule being total, unquestioning obedience to every dictate under the totalitarian rule of Rajavi.
Since 2011, over two hundred and fifty residents have escaped from the MEK. Around twenty percent of these have returned home to their families in Iran. The others have found ways to travel to Europe or are still in Baghdad awaiting UNHCR transfers.
During my visit I met with several escaped Camp Liberty residents living in Hotel Mohajer. Six of these had requested repatriation to Iran and were eventually able to go. (Jane Holl Lute thanked Iran for accepting them.) Seven more had undergone UNHCR interviews and were waiting for places to go to. Three had already been accepted by Western countries because of prior connections there.
Of the six most recent escapees, one asked to be allowed immediately to join his family in Iran. The rest are being kept safe in accommodation.
Since announcing an amnesty for “repentant” MEK members in 2003, Iran has allowed escapees to return home to their families, in particular former POWs and those economic migrants who had clearly been deceived by the MEK in recent years. More contentious figures including long term members have been dissuaded from returning and have mostly found a way to reach Europe instead which circumvented the UN refugee transfer route. Following the Presidential elections in 2013, Iran called a moratorium on voluntary repatriations. For several months Iran did not accept any new transfers. Now, after undertaking a review of its policies and practices concerning the process of repatriating former members of a terrorist entity, the IRI has again begun to accept vetted individuals who wish to return to their families. Certainly Iran has been understandably cautious about allowing any MEK to enter Iran under any pretext. However, Sahar Family Foundation which works in Baghdad with the families of MEK members reports that Iranian embassy officials describe this as “an obligation toward their families”.
With a new government in place, Iraq is working with Iran to expedite the return of ‘pardoned’ MEK to Iran as quickly as possible. Iran has drafted new legislation to allow this. Iraq has also said it has formulated plans to speed up the process which it has handed to UNAMI for approval.
The IRI has compiled a list of around 100 MEK members which it says it will prosecute for crimes against humanity and war crimes if they return to Iran. Arrest warrants have been lodged with INTERPOL for several leading MEK members. The government of Iraq has also compiled a list of 150 MEK members which it says participated in illegal activities in Iraq, including the massacre of thousands of Kurdish civilians in March 1991. The Iraqi police and judiciary will pursue the arrest of all named persons.
Clearly for the past twenty years Iran has considered the MEK to be an irritant rather than an existential threat. As a pseudo-political force acting to publicise a regime change agenda and with a defunct terrorist force the MEK has no potency. However, the IRI does regard the MEK as a social problem. Along with Western agencies, including the US Department of State and the authors of the 2009 RAND report, Iran has identified the MEK as a dangerous, destructive mind control cult which engages in violence to achieve its political aims and which believes that the ends justify the means so that it is not bound by legal, moral or social laws. Former members have described these practices in detail and there is a huge body of evidence behind this assessment. The danger therefore is to its own members who have been effectively enslaved and abused by the leaders, and to any potential new recruits.
Western Support for the MEK
In September the MEK held what it called an ‘International Conference’ in Paris with the title: “First Anniversary of Ashraf massacre, Middle East in crisis, threats and solutions”. The MEK assembled around fifty of its paid lobbyists and advocates to address an audience also assembled from paid refugee and student populations in Europe. Among the issues to be denounced by the speakers was the “inhumane siege imposed on Camp Liberty”.
In Iraq, UNAMI has had to deal with constant complaints from the Mojahedin commanders about “siege conditions” at the camp. On 31 August, UNAMI reported that “the provision of life support systems such as water, electricity and food continue to be well in excess of basic humanitarian standards”. In addition, MEK advocates in Europe, such as MEPs Julie Ward and Judith Kirton-Darling, also insist that the MEK be protected from further attacks like the events at Camp Ashraf on September 1, 2013 and for them to be moved as soon as possible to third countries to prevent further violence. Yet when Jane Holl Lute, Ban Ki-Moon’s Special Representative, negotiated 210 refugee places in Albania, the MEK refused to allow any residents to leave the camp. It was only after grinding negotiations with the camp’s commanders that the MEK submitted its own list of people it was prepared to let go.
It is apparent that the MEK have no achievements to boast of in their gatherings, and can only celebrate the anniversary of some disastrous event or other in their history. The only ‘achievement’ has been that in 2012 then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton removed the MEK from the US terrorism list. This allowed the MEK to be paid to act as an adjunct to that branch of American foreign policy which is covertly working toward violent regime change, hardly something to endear the MEK to the Iranian people.
Reports from a variety of sources have revealed that the MEK has invited a number of its American lobbyists to visit Camp Liberty. Their route takes them via Jordan where they are also in contact with the Saddamists. The trace of their movements show that they have stayed in the compound of Saddam’s daughter, Raghad Hussein, with the knowledge of Jordanian intelligence. The handler for these trips is Ali Safavi who has an American travel document but who is mostly resident in an MEK base in London. From Jordan they travel to Baghdad and Camp Liberty. On the way they stop in Falujah where they are accommodated in a building belonging to some of Daesh’s top personnel. Entry into Camp Liberty is highly restricted and monitored by the Iraqi security forces who are tasked with guarding the camp. However, it is understood that the foreign visitors are taken in by MEK vehicles and by US embassy staff. While inside the camp, residents are made to stand back and not approach the visitors. Ali Safavi and other English speaking commanders act as translators who are able thereby to monitor and if needed to censor conversations.
These visits are designed to convince the lobbyists that all is well inside the camp and that rumours of discontent are untrue. However, they are also used to convince residents that Western powers support the MEK and their future is thereby assured and if they trust their leader Massoud Rajavi, all will be well. One of the difficulties for the MEK leader is that while advertising this American support he cannot afford to let the Camp Liberty residents near them even to say thank-you because of fears they will speak out of turn and reveal their desperation or even despair. On the other hand the carefully selected visitors have had their visit micro-managed by MEK handlers and are not in any frame of mind (or are not even interested) to engage with their environment sufficient to undertake an investigation into actual conditions – mental or physical – for the residents.
To attract sympathy among Western policy makers the MEK maintains the permanent pretence of victimhood. Yet for this sympathy to be converted into actual financial and political support the group must also still maintain the fiction that the Iranian regime is afraid of them.
It is true that the Islamic Republic is sensitive to the issue of the MEK. Western politicians who see this think they know why. But they don’t. The IRI recognises the majority of Camp Liberty residents and in the base in Paris as victims of a destructive cult. Iran’s government regards the MEK not as a threat to its existence, but as a danger to the health and welfare of all the citizens of Iran. As a pernicious cult, the MEK is a social not a political danger.
2. MEK activities in relation to ISIS
Screen shots of MEK websites showing support for Daesh
Since 2003 MEK has been active in helping what are known in Iraq as Saddamists. That is, people associated with and loyal to the ousted regime of Saddam Hussein and who are actively opposed to the current government and constitution of Iraq. Such Saddamists are currently led by his daughter, Raghad Hussein, and by Saddam’s former second-in-command Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri, both of whom are based in Jordan. The MEK has also maintained its bases in Jordan. Jordanian intelligence and authorities are fully aware of these groups and their activities.
While still under American protection, the MEK used Camp Ashraf to gather Tribal leaders and Saddamists and crucially al-Qaida affiliates. There were various motivations behind this activity. With regard to the Tribal leaders the MEK were keen to bribe them to accept the MEK in the Diyala Province. The residents of Camp Ashraf (as then) were obliged to organise lavish dinner parties for these guests. During a time of war and privations, the guests were treated to some of the most sumptuous feasts possible in those conditions, while the MEK provided slave labour to run the events. This ploy was partially successful and Tribal leaders tolerated the American-backed presence of the MEK for most of the decade. The Saddamists were of course former employers of the MEK. They have been instrumental in facilitating payments and political support for the MEK in so far as the MEK furthered their cause against the new government. This was particularly the case when the Iran-leaning Nouri al-Maliki became Prime Minister. The Saddamists have also been allies of the Saudi backed al-Qaida. The insurgents attended Camp Ashraf for training in the bomb making and guerrilla warfare which the MEK had learned while pursuing their terrorist activities in Iran in the 1980s. Al-Qaida were also potential protectors should the insurrection prove successful.
The creation of Daesh in Iraq has been linked to the move by Bremmer and Rumsfeld who agreed to disband 400,000 Iraqis with military training, including the full officer corps, after 2003. Many of these unemployed soldiers went on to create an insurgency as some joined various resistance groups against the American military. Some have gone on to join Daesh at top levels of leadership. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri is now helping coordinate Daesh attacks. The MEK seeks to provide training and logistical support in return for protection from Daesh.
Officials close to the security services in Iraq divulged that they are in possession of taped conversations, documents and films which show the MEK have on occasion carried money for Daesh and the Saddamists, including Ezat Ibrahim. The same sources say they have documents from inside Camp Liberty concerning what Massoud Rajavi announced to his commanders as Daesh approached Baghdad in July 2014. He told them then, ‘don’t worry, they will arm us when they reach the camp’.
During the duration of my stay in Baghdad, Daesh in Falujah were very close to the airport and it was uncertain how that assault would unfold. It is clear now that Daesh have been repulsed and forced to retreat. However, Rajavi was very hopeful. Camp Liberty is close to the airport and a Daesh victory there would have meant the camp coming under their control. A source inside Camp Liberty revealed that Massoud Rajavi sent a message to loyal commanders at the camp saying that he has been reassured (he didn’t say by whom), that ‘Daesh will not interfere with our camp when they overrun the area’. This was surprising because no one in Baghdad has any doubt that Rajavi’s endgame is to kill all the residents of Camp Liberty.
While these events unfolded, the MEK websites remained uncharacteristically silent. The sites stopped giving news and only talked about the nuclear issue between Iran and the Americans. It was as though Rajavi was waiting in anticipation of how events would unfold. Certainly he was hopeful of a Daesh victory since, according to his announcement above, this would mean the MEK remaining in Iraq. It cannot be emphasised enough that the MEK is not a militant force. It would be incapable of joining in any military action. Instead, Rajavi wants to maintain a ‘bank account’ of people to expend at his will and for some gain.
Information gleaned from various sources in the Iraqi government and agencies concerned with Camp Liberty and the MEK can be interpreted in this way. The MEK’s links with the Saddamists are financial and political. The MEK facilitate activities inside Iraq and traffic people and money between Daesh and the Saddamists. In return they have benefitted from political lobbying to prevent or delay the expulsion of MEK members from Iraq. The MEK’s links with Daesh sprang from their links with al-Qaida operatives. The MEK have provided training in terrorism, logistics including money handling, and most significantly consultation in public relations, manipulation of public image and in the recruitment and brainwashing of recruits.
3. Methodology behind MEK terrorism
Since the mid-1980s, disaffected members of the MEK who left have spoken about their experiences and revealed the secretive inner workings of the organisation. Human rights agencies collected hundreds of personal testimonies from former members at all levels who described gross violations of human rights including torture and murder. Until the 2005 report ‘No Exit’ by Human Rights Watch was published, these agencies also found hundreds of reasons not to expose or act to curtail the blatant human rights abuses carried on by the MEK against its own members. The silence was so deafening it was interpreted as clear bias in obeisance to a virulent Western anti-Iran agenda.
In Europe, as these testimonies accumulated and former members gained support and understanding from one another it became clear to them and anyone else who had an interest in really understanding the inner workings of the MEK, that the organisation was using cultic abuse to recruit, maintain and control its members. Once it became possible to identify, name and analyse the underlying behavioural and ideological factors which govern the MEK, it became possible to effectively challenge the organisation. As well as exposing the group’s deceptions to public scrutiny the former members sought to rescue the MEK still trapped in the group.
It became apparent that MEK who left and returned to a supportive family and/or community very quickly shed their cult personality and were able to re-integrate into normal society. An important, though not exclusive, factor in this recovery was the non-judgemental understanding and support of the family and the local community. This view was compounded when, in 2003 after the MEK were disarmed by the American army and corralled into Camp Ashraf, several of their families took the extraordinarily courageous – perhaps we can say desperate – step of travelling through a war zone to try to make contact with their loved ones.
When the MEK denied them this contact, they turned to the various Associations and Societies formed by former MEK in Europe for help and advice about how to proceed and how to talk to the MEK to get contact. When several MEK were released from prison in Iran after serving sentences for terrorist acts, they also joined with the families and former members to launch an international campaign to rescue loved ones from Camp Ashraf. As well as the European and Canadian groups, a non-governmental body called Anjoman Nejat (Rescue Society), was established in Iran with over 700 families from all over the country.
With expertise gained through knowledge and activism, these groups have, over the past decade, been successful in exposing the MEK in every possible way and in every forum. There is nobody now who can claim they have no knowledge of what the MEK is, and any support it has – political or otherwise – is given with this knowledge.
An examination of MEK behaviour over thirty years can be instructive in understanding how the methodology used to deceptively recruit and to brainwash the people in its ranks can be traced in newer terrorist groups like al-Qaida and Daesh. There will be people who reject the concept of brainwashing because they do not understand it and believe it to be a fiction. There are many others who have invested in their own interpretation of how and why young people are being recruited. Many of these believe they are radicalised by extreme interpretations of religious texts as preached by extremist clerics or that there is a romantic pull attraction for the Jihadi lifestyle as advertised on internet sites and social media. These interpretations however, lead us toward Islamophobia and increasing curtailment of civil freedoms and rights. They do nothing to stem the threat of terrorist recruitment and the fear of a backlash.
For experts, a fundamental precept in identifying cultic abuse is that people do not join such groups, they are recruited. That is, a relationship is deliberately sought and established through a deceptive message and behaviour which is then exploited using manipulative methodology designed to deliberately and cynically alter the mindset of the victim. The aim is to, as quickly as possible, switch off a person’s critical thinking and leave them susceptible to psychological manipulation. If a victim does not realise this is happening, the chances are this will be successful; though for many this process does not work. But groups like al-Qaida and Daesh are becoming ever more sophisticated in applying these techniques to the point that they are now able to initiate recruitment via the internet. Families of young people recruited by terrorist groups talk about the inexplicable change in their children’s behaviour and beliefs.
Once the recruit comes under the hegemony of the leaders they undergo further processes of manipulation and brainwashing. From there, individuals can be selected to perform different tasks. From hundreds of recruits only a handful will be able to be converted into the kind who will die or kill to order. The rest fulfil support roles. The brainwashing process works best if a person is isolated from normal society, from their previous life and family. The MEK used their camps in Iraq and bases in Western countries. But rather than attach the descriptor ‘organisation’ to the MEK it is useful to use the onion analogy to demonstrate how this works, how a person becomes increasingly isolated and unreachable even while operating in what appears to be normal society.
At the very heart of the onion are the leader, the lieutenants and recruiters and the most brainwashed members, the actual terrorist forces; these are the most inaccessible group. Just outside this is a layer of financial, logistical and political support which holds this inner part in place; ironically perhaps the most accessible group of people. The third layer will be a criminal class who perform vital but illegal functions such as people trafficking, passport forging and money laundry as well as sourcing and procuring supplies. These are then protected by and hidden behind layer after layer of support functions. These will typically include the initiators of recruitment, the people who deceive public and political opinion, people who divert attention through controversy or manufactured campaigns. There will also be groups of people who provide services for the inner layers, who provide accommodation, food and clothing, even aid workers who perform menial and other tasks which they may not even associate with terrorism.
This structure explains how terrorist entities operate beyond the strictures of a single organised body. The layers of this onion can exist anywhere in the real world, but they all function to push recruits through a series of brainwashing processes. The more processes they are susceptible to and submit to, the closer they get to the centre where their optimum function is found – to die or kill on command. (If anyone doubts that these are the real victims of deceptive recruitment, remember, they usually die.) A signifier which differentiates this type of structure from other similar military entities is that in the case of cultic groupings the recruits do not join voluntarily with full knowledge of what they are really getting involved in, and they are recruited for life; as the 2005 Human Rights Watch report on the MEK stated, there is No Exit. (On September 17, CNN broadcast an item which included a recorded telephone conversation between member of Daesh and an American Muslim convert. The Daesh recruiter was heard to invite the convert to ‘come, hang [out] with us’. As the anchor pointed out, “there was no explicit invitation to come and bomb something, or behead someone, no, just come hang with us.”)
It does not need stating that combatting the kind of structure described above requires a multi-faceted approach as each layer of the ‘onion’ demands a different approach. Using this understanding and analysis, the families and former members of the MEK have been able, over many years, to reduce and disable the MEK’s functions in all but the three innermost layers. Certainly the political, financial and media support enjoyed by the MEK comes from the West. Maryam Rajavi’s base in Auvers-sur-Oise is still there not because its secretive and abusive inner workings are unknown, but precisely because it is required to be there in order to fulfil the MEK’s lobbying function for these countries. That kind of support must be addressed at governmental level. The third layer of criminal activity is the responsibility of law enforcement agencies.
So, the last, central core of the MEK’s ‘onion’ is Camp Liberty in Iraq. It is here that the leader Massoud Rajavi has effectively imprisoned the majority of MEK members and it represents for him the existential bastion of the MEK. Without Camp Liberty the MEK will be severely reduced. And it is here that the struggle of the residents’ families to free their loved ones is being waged. This and the previous three reports make clear that the only people serious about rescuing the Camp Liberty residents are their families, former members, the government of Iraq and the government of Iran. All the other players are complicit in a game to keep the MEK locked up behind closed doors.
Massoud Rajavi will do anything in his power to hold on to the people in the camp. He is supported in this by the will of Western anti-Iran, regime change pundits. Now that Senator McCain, as a go-between for the anti-Shia terrorist forces in Iraq and Syria, has come out in defence of the MEK, it is clear that the MEK still play an active role in the regime change plot for Iraq, Syria and Iran.
Rajavi wants to keep them there because he has nothing else. His only claim is to have an anti-Iran force in Iraq. He keeps them hidden because they are old and sick and are not useful for anything. But in terms of numbers, he claims to have nearly three thousand people. He wants them there because in that way he can continue to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq on behalf of his paymasters. Rajavi’s paymasters want Camp Liberty to remain because this is their only excuse to continue their presence in Iraq so they can interfere in the internal affairs of the country.
UNAMI’s role in supporting this situation is lamentable. Although Jane Holl Lute is to be congratulated on finding places for 210 residents, and the American’s have managed to find places for 80 (some of whom may be from Albania anyway), a pattern has become clear over ten years. Removing a small number of residents acts to relieve pressure, not to solve the situation. Just as the Temporary Internment and Protection Facility (TIPF), which was run by the American army adjacent to Camp Ashraf, absorbed 800 of the more disaffected residents, this was done to remove them so they didn’t infect the others with their dissent. Now the MEK proposes sending around 100 of the disabled and sick and dying members to Albania. They serve no useful purpose for Rajavi or his masters and they can be removed to be a burden on another country. This is not a start to resolving the situation, it is done to placate public opinion and pretend something is being done.
As far as the government of Iraq is concerned there is no obstacle to allowing all the residents of Camp Liberty to be accommodated in separate, more comfortable buildings like Hotel Mohajer, and for their asylum cases to be processed from there. Ostensibly the UN also has no objections. The UN is trying to convince other countries to take them and is trying to convince the MEK to go. But because these efforts are being stymied, Camp Liberty has become a de facto retirement home cum hospice; but without comfort or medical support or the loving attendance of family. Condemned to suffer the daily strictures of cult culture and severe suppressive measures, the residents of Camp Liberty are deadened to their own fate. Hardly able to think beyond the moment, liable to explosive anger or morose depression, it is not a life worth living.
The people who have managed to escape Camp Liberty are not dead. They come to Europe and talk and are active in exposing the MEK. They get on with normal life, they return to their families, they get married, find work, and in this way break every taboo Rajavi created to scare them into submission. This is why the residents are not allowed out of Camp Liberty, not because the West cannot offer refugee places for them through the UNHCR.
It is time to open the gate and let these people leave. Serious people know this is the only way. The UN must surely acknowledge that ten years of negotiation with the leaders who have imprisoned the residents have achieved nothing. It is not possible to negotiate with people who refuse to accept any legal, moral or social obligations or considerations. Indeed, by negotiating only with a handful of MEK leaders there is a tacit acknowledgement that they ‘own’ the people inside, that they are effectively the slaves of the leader and have no voice or choice of their own. This cannot be the case.
The most effective solution to this problem is to unlock the gates of the camp. Allow the families to claim their loved ones. And enable each individual to make their own informed choice in a free atmosphere.