Dalia Al-Aqidi, Arab News, August 23 2021:… After the war in Iraq in 2003, the MEK lost its major supporter, and was under attack by both US troops and Iraqi security forces. The group is no longer welcome in Iraq since most Iraqi people remember it as another brutal faction that Saddam’s Republican Guards used to crack down on Iraqi Shiites and Kurds who revolted against the dictatorship in 1991, following the invasion of Kuwait. Later, in 2011, the Iraqi government reached an agreement with the UN to disarm the group and move its members to a transitional location outside Baghdad, Camp Liberty, before resettlement in a third country. Why the US should not trust the MEK
Why the US should not trust the MEK
When it comes to a nation’s fate, sometimes the theory “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is of little benefit.
We have seen it before in countries such as Iraq, where the US decided to support certain Islamist factions of the Iraqi opposition against the Saddam Hussein regime without considering the long-term consequences or possibility that these same opposition parties might turn against Washington.
And that is exactly what happened in Iraq after 2003, when the majority of Shiite Islamist parties that dominated the political arena turned out to be loyal to the Iranian regime, allowing it to operate on Iraqi soil through well-funded and trained militias directed by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to launch attacks against US-led coalition troops in addition to kidnapping and assassinating Iraqis who opposed Tehran’s interference.
Regarding Iran, the US is looking at an exiled opposition group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq (MEK), as the best alternative to the republic’s current rogue regime.
What is this organization, and is it wise supporting a Marxist-Islamic group in order to replace another Islamic group?
In 1997, the US listed the MEK as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) over the killing of several American citizens in the 1970s. Then, in September 2012, the US State Department removed the group from its FTO list — a surprise move since the organization was known for targeting US personnel and interests in Iran.
In protest at the 1972 visit of the late US President Richard Nixon to Iran, the MEK set off bombs in Tehran at the US Information Service office, the Iran-American Society and the offices of several US companies. Similar attacks were carried out by the organization throughout the decade.
“Though denied by the MEK, analysis based on eyewitness accounts and MEK documents demonstrates that MEK members participated in and supported the 1979 takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran and that the MEK later argued against the early release the American hostages. The MEK also provided personnel to guard and defend the site of the US Embassy in Tehran, following the takeover of the embassy,” a statement by the US State Department read.
The MEK supported the leader of the 1979 Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, and played a part in overthrowing the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, but turned against the new government after its leader, Massoud Rajavi, was banned from participating in Iran’s first presidential election.
The organization had strong ties to Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime in Iraq, where they took refuge and moved their base to a camp near the Iranian border in 1986 during the war between the two countries.
During that time, few knew what was going on inside Camp Ashraf. The cult-like group members were isolated from the rest of the country, while several human rights organizations reported that the MEK leadership has committed numerous human rights violations, including the abuse of female members.
After the war in Iraq in 2003, the MEK lost its major supporter, and was under attack by both US troops and Iraqi security forces.
The group is no longer welcome in Iraq since most Iraqi people remember it as another brutal faction that Saddam’s Republican Guards used to crack down on Iraqi Shiites and Kurds who revolted against the dictatorship in 1991, following the invasion of Kuwait.
Later, in 2011, the Iraqi government reached an agreement with the UN to disarm the group and move its members to a transitional location outside Baghdad, Camp Liberty, before resettlement in a third country.
The MEK, or People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran, uses democratic and human rights slogans to present itself as the secular democratic choice for the people of Iran in a bid to garner the international support it needs.
What kind of democracy does the MEK believe in?
The well-funded group, which has been led by husband and wife Massoud and Maryam Rajavi since 1985, monopolizes the Iranian opposition in an attempt to silence potential rivals.
The US should be careful what it wishes for.
Several secular opposition groups have a strong base and support inside Iran and are leading protests against the clerical regime.
Political Islam was never a friend of the West, regardless of all the promises and vows, and should not be trusted.
That ought to be lesson No.1 from the Iraqi experience.
Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi
Why the US should not trust the MEK
The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
Michael Rubin, The National Interest, July 31 2021:… The MKO is correct to condemn incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for his role in the 1988 massacres of several thousand political prisoners. Everyone should. But having been the victims of persecution in the decade after they helped bring Khomeini to power does not change the fact that the MKO’s tendency to cry wolf hinder and obstruct the real fights against the Iranian regime, Iranian terrorism, and the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program. The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
The MKO’s tendency to cry wolf hinder and obstruct the real fights against the Iranian regime, Iranian terrorism, and the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program.
by Michael Rubin
The Mujahedin al-Khalq (MKO) formed against the backdrop of the anti-shah opposition in the 1960s and evolved to become an important component of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolutionary coalition. But Khomeini turned on the MKO as he consolidated his dictatorship. Unlike others forced out of power, persecuted domestically, or sent into exile, the MKO fought back: They both sponsored a terror campaign targeting regime officials—killing many innocent bystanders in the process—and they accepted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s protection, a move ordinary Iranians considered treasonous. Within Iran, the Islamic Republic is deeply unpopular. Khomeini promised Islamic democracy, but delivered a regime as dictatorial, more corrupt, and less tolerant than that which preceded it. Inside the Islamic Republic, Iranians remain curious about opposition groups. They watch diaspora television channels, following the opposition on Telegram channels, and ask about high-profile figures like Reza Pahlavi, the son of the ousted shah. About the MKO, however, they voice only opprobrium.
The hatred ordinary rank-and-file Iranians feel for the MKO is the group’s Achilles’ heel. MKO activists counter both by accusing anyone who criticizes them as being a regime agent and arguing that their record of success exposing Iranian secrets shows the depth to which they have infiltrated the Iranian regime. If the MKO is able to so deeply implant themselves in Iran’s most sensitive and security-conscious organs, the logic goes, it demonstrates that they both have support and are far better positioned as an opposition group than anyone else. The former is betrays crass amateurishness, and the latter is simply false.
Consider just how many exposés and supposed intelligence coups the MKO have bungled or gotten wrong. More than two decades ago, the group announced that Ahmad Behbahani, an alleged high-ranking Iranian intelligence officer, defected. Behbahani gave an off-camera interview to “60 Minutes” implicating Iran in a number of operations in which claimed to play a central role. Much of what he said, however, was nonsense. Nor was the alleged Bebahani the age or height of the real figure. The MKO may have to attract attention to its own cause, but doing so threw a wrench into real investigations and created a situation in which the Islamic Republic could dismiss real evidence as fraudulent in the future.
Between 2002 and 2004, I worked in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as an aide on both the Iran and Iraq desks. When Iranians and Iraqis would request meetings with more senior leaders, I was a gatekeeper: I would sit down and do a preliminary meeting to understand their agenda and, ultimately, determine who in the Defense leadership they should meet, if at all. It was not uncommon for Iranian American activists from a range of organizations with very little presence or history to request such meetings. They would present us with documents purporting to be smoking guns of one sort or another.
Provenance was always a concern: How did the person in front of me or my colleagues acquire such a document? Without exception, when we investigated, the documents turned out to be fraudulent, and often had figurative MKO fingerprints on them. In effect, it was a time waste that distracted from the battle against Iranian terrorism and the regime’s nuclear program. Had any of those group members gotten through, the result would have been an embarrassment to top officials and a delegitimization of their work on Iran at a time when, according to subsequent U.S. National Intelligence Estimates, the Iranian nuclear weapons program was still ongoing.
In 2012, a website affiliated with the MKO said there had been a nuclear leak at an Isfahan reactor. Again, this was nonsense. Western journalists, however, often bite and give the group the publicity off which it thrives. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the MKO’s political umbrella and the same group that now sponsors lavish galas in France or Albania in which prominent politicians like Rudy Giuliani and former officials like Michele Flournoy speak in exchange for honorarium filtered through various front groups, often gives bombshell announcements about new discoveries in Iran. On February 24, 2015, Ali Reza Jafarzadeh, NCRI deputy director, gave a presentation at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, in which he purported to expose a new secret uranium enrichment facility. “Despite the Iranian regime’s claims that all of its enrichment activities are transparent,” Jafarzadeh said, “It has in fact been engaged in research and development with advanced centrifuges at a secret nuclear site called Lavizan-3.” It turns out, however, there was less there than met the eye. An image the NCRI provided of an “underground hall” was actually a screenshot from a company making safes. Nor did the facility have the electrical infrastructure necessary to run an operation Jafarzadeh described.
The MKO purports to derive their intelligence from a spying network not only in Iran but also inside the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A 2016 report about atrocities in Syria, however, suggests the MKO relies less on secret access and more that the organization recycles Israeli, American, and Iranian media reports, for example, with regard to Qods Force training of Iraqi, Afghan, and Pakistani militias. Likewise, while the group reported that the Iranian Martyr Foundation in Syria pays Syrian mercenaries, none of this is new. The Foundation was hardly secret, however. It has a line item in the Iranian budget each year. In 2007, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned it.
The Trump administration was burnt in 2018 when the White House justified some of the president’s claims about Iran’s military spending by citing a Forbes article written by Heshmat Alavi. Alavi, however, does not exist but rather seems to be the creation of MKO operatives in Albania to play the American press. Forbes was not the only publication the MKO fooled. The Hill, The Federalist, al-Arabiya, and the Daily Caller also published Alavi. The problem was not Alavi’s arguments as much as the methods with which the MKO operated. Rather than win debates, the group increased the Islamic Republic’s ability to avoid them by citing the bogus claims.
This is not to say the MKO and NCRI are always wrong: The group was most famously responsible for publicizing word of Iran’s then-covert enrichment facility at Natanz. The U.S. government, however, knew about Iran’s covert work several months earlier. While the MKO says its exposés are proof of the degree of its infiltration, a more plausible explanation is that the intelligence services of other countries use the group to launder information. In the case of Natanz, many regional countries that may have known about Iran’s covert nuclear enrichment could have provided the information to the MKO in order to inject it into the public sphere while maintaining their own plausible deniability. There is also the question about exposés that blindsided even the MKO. If the MKO had really infiltrated Iran’s nuclear program to the extent they claim, then why did the organization not know in advance about the covert nuclear archives that Israeli agents spirited out of the country?
The MKO is correct to condemn incoming Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi for his role in the 1988 massacres of several thousand political prisoners. Everyone should. But having been the victims of persecution in the decade after they helped bring Khomeini to power does not change the fact that the MKO’s tendency to cry wolf hinder and obstruct the real fights against the Iranian regime, Iranian terrorism, and the Islamic Republic’s covert nuclear program.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). You can follow him on Twitter: @mrubin1971.
The Trouble With Mujahedin Khalq
A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
Daniel Larison, AntiWar, July 15 2021:… This show of support for the MEK reflects the extent to which our foreign policy debates are distorted and corrupted by the lobbying efforts of foreign groups and governments alike. No one knows for sure where the MEK gets its money, but there is reason to believe that it may be coming from the Saudi government and/or Saudi individuals. In recent years, prominent Saudis have begun participating in MEK events, and that coincided with the kingdom’s intensifying hostility towards Iran in the last decade. A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy
by Daniel Larison Posted on July 14, 2021
Every year the notorious cult and “former” terrorist group Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) holds a political conference to promote its propaganda and call for regime change in Iran, and every year many current and former American, Canadian, and European officials and elected representatives line up to pay homage to the group and their leader, Maryam Rajavi. Members of both major parties in the U.S. have either traveled to the group’s compound in Albania or spoken remotely through video messages in exchange for hefty speaking fees for the last ten years. The annual parade of prominent officeholders and policymakers that offer up effusive praise to such a wretched group is an ongoing disgrace for the United States and its allies, and it is a symptom of deeper problems with our foreign policy.
This show of support for the MEK reflects the extent to which our foreign policy debates are distorted and corrupted by the lobbying efforts of foreign groups and governments alike. No one knows for sure where the MEK gets its money, but there is reason to believe that it may be coming from the Saudi government and/or Saudi individuals. In recent years, prominent Saudis have begun participating in MEK events, and that coincided with the kingdom’s intensifying hostility towards Iran in the last decade. Our Iran policy debate is being influenced to an alarming degree by an extremist cult and an increasingly repressive authoritarian client state, and none of that can be good for American interests or democratic accountability in our foreign policy.
American support for the MEK reminds us that bipartisanship in foreign policy usually means rallying behind exceptionally bad causes. This year’s conference was described in one report as a “rare moment of bipartisan unity,” as if this somehow made cheering on a deranged cult better. The pro-MEK boosterism also shows that there are far too many people in and around our government that will make common cause with absolutely anyone if they are in favor of regime change in Iran. That in turn is a measure of just how irrational our government’s fixation on Iran is.
The MEK was originally an armed group opposed to the Iranian monarchy before the revolution, and during that period it was also responsible for killing several Americans. The MEK supported taking and keeping US diplomats hostage. After the group fell out with Khomeini and were brutally purged, the group relocated to Iraq where they joined with Saddam Hussein to attack their own country. Their participation in Iraq’s attack on Iran has earned them the enduring loathing of almost all Iranians everywhere, and for that reason and others they have virtually no support in Iran or in the diaspora. While the MEK was officially removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2012 after an extensive lobbying campaign, it remains a totalitarian, cultish organization that abuses its own members. There is good reason to believe that members of the group still act as cat’s paws for Israeli intelligence in carrying out assassinations and acts of sabotage inside Iran. As part of the group’s effort to remake its image, it uses a political front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), to create the impression that the MEK has changed and committed itself to democracy.
The MEK has not changed. They remain at their core the same militant and extremist organization they have been for decades. Cheering on the MEK is as crazy and irresponsible as endorsing the Lord’s Resistance Army or defending the Khmer Rouge, and it is not an accident that the group has sometimes been likened to the latter. Unfortunately, because they hate the Iranian government and make the right noises about democracy, they are given a free pass and Iran hawks embrace them as allies. In the past, participants in MEK summits have ranged from Newt Gingrich, John Bolton, and Rudy Giuliani to Joe Lieberman, Tom Ridge, and John McCain. This year it included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy, the current Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, his fellow New Jerseyan Sen. Cory Booker, and many other members of Congress. The speakers routinely declare that the MEK and its allies are the “real” opposition working towards “secular democracy,” they denounce the Iranian government, and they call for some form of regime change.
Flournoy’s participation in the conference this year proved to be especially controversial since she is a major figure in Democratic national security circles and had frequently been mentioned as a possible Biden nominee for Secretary of Defense earlier in the year. In her remarks, she expressed hope for “internal regime change” in Iran, and congratulated the assembled audience for their work: “we must continue to applaud and support the important work of Diaspora groups like yours that keep alive the vision of a secular, free, and democratic Iran.”
Faced with a swift backlash online, Flournoy now claims that she didn’t know that she was speaking at an MEK event and wouldn’t have participated had she known, but it strains credulity that she was unaware of the nature of the event and its sponsor. A simple web search would have shown the relationship between the NCRI and the MEK, as well as the violent and disturbing history of the cult. Frankly, it is impossible to believe that she didn’t know who she was addressing.
The language that Flournoy used in her speech sounds too much like the standard pro-MEK talking points that other speakers have used for the last decade, and the MEK’s lobbying efforts are too well-known and have been going on too long for her to plead ignorance. It is notable that Flournoy felt the need to concoct a cover story to excuse her participation, since most pro-MEK shills take pride in what they do, but her excuse isn’t credible. Even if her explanation were true, it doesn’t excuse the horrible lack of judgment that she displayed here. If she didn’t understand that she was addressing an MEK event, she shouldn’t be offering advice on Iran policy or holding forth on the political future of Iran.
The MEK is a dangerous and disreputable group. They ought to be so politically radioactive that no one would want to be associated with them, but that has not happened because Iran hawks from both parties and in many other Western countries find the MEK useful to their agenda. Supporting the MEK allows them to mislead ignorant audiences into falsely believing that their hard-line policies enjoy support from the Iranian Diaspora No one who knows anything about Iran thinks that the MEK deserves support or has any support back in Iran, so whenever someone celebrates the group that is all the proof you need that nothing else that person says about Iran and Iran policy should be taken seriously.
Iran hawks and the MEK are both obsessed with regime change in Iran. Since they cannot achieve it from within Iran, it is just a matter of time before the cult’s yes-men in Washington push for military action aimed at toppling the government. Just as they sided with Saddam Hussein to attack their own country over forty years ago, the MEK wants to rope the US into fighting another war against Iran. If we want to prevent that war from happening in the future, the MEK’s cheerleaders need to be exposed to ridicule and criticism over their willingness to support a group that has both American and Iranian blood on its hands.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.
A Deranged Cult and Our Warped Foreign Policy