Washington’s New Pet Terrorists: State Department Prepares to “De-List” the Iranian MEK

A typically bizarre scene at the MEK's Camp Ashraf in Iraq

In another portent of war with Iran, the U.S. State Department is prepared to remove the Iranian group Mujahadin al-Khalq (MEK) or “People’s Mujahadin” from its official list of terrorist organizations. This follows what the Wall Street Journal calls “an aggressive legal and lobbying campaign in Washington over the past two years” carried out by the terrorist group, which has been aided by a lengthy roster of highly influential current and former U.S. officials.

The list of high-profile MEK advocates, some of whom were put on retainer by the group, includes Rep. Patrick Kennedy, former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, former NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, former Pennsylvania Governor – and founding Secretary of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge, ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, Former CIA Director Michael Hayden, and retired General Wesley Clark.  Under federal law each of the MEK’s supporters is liable to huge fines and lengthy imprisonment for providing material support to a listed terrorist group – that is, if the law actually applied to the elite.

The MEK was created in 1965 as part of a Soviet-sponsored international terrorist network that waged wars of “national liberation” throughout the developing world. Human Rights Watch, which describes the MEK as an “urban guerrilla group,” points out that the group’s ideology is a Muslim variation on “liberation theology.”

In his July 7 testimony before the House Committee on ForeignAffairs, Ray Takeyh, a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, pointed out that the MEK sought to “amalgamate Islam and Marxism. Islam was supposed to provide the values while Marxism offered a pathway for organizing the society and defeating the forces of capitalism, imperialism, and feudalism…. [F]rom Lenin they embraced the importance of a vanguard party committed to mass mobilization, and from Third World revolutionaries they took the primacy of guerilla warfare as indispensable agents of political change.”

In 1970, 13 members of the MEK received training (most likely under Soviet supervision) at PLO camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Upon their return, the PLO-trained MEK cadres shared their newly acquired skills with their comrades, and the group embarked on a wave of attacks and bombings intended to bring down the Shah. During one rampage, MEK terrorists killed several U.S. military personnel – including Colonel Lewis Hawkins, the Deputy Chief of Military Mission in Tehran.

Although the group suffered some attrition in its conflict with the SAVAK, the Shah’s hideous secret police, it survived long enough to participate in Khomeini revolution. MEK cadres were involved in the seizure of American hostages in October 1979. But the MEK’s ambitions and ideology made it a poor fit for Khomeini regime, so the group was purged from the ruling coalition in 1981 and much of its leadership was driven into exile in Iraq. There it was, in Takeyh’s words, used “as Saddam’s Praetorian Guard.”

Following Saddam’s US-supported invasion of Iran, the MEK began a hit-and-run guerrilla war against the Iranian regime in the hope of triggering a popular uprising. When that proved unsuccessful, the group set up a political front group called the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) in Paris. In 1985, notes Human Rights Watch, the MEK’s “leadership was transformed when Masoud Rajavi announced his marriage to Maryam Uzdanlu…. The husband and wife team became co-leaders” of the MEK and announced an “ideological revolution.”

All of the group’s members were required to undertake an individual “ideological revolution” by engaging in Maoist-style “self-criticism” sessions. Adherents were expected to listen raptly “to radio messages and explanations provided by [their] commanders” in order to “gain a deep insight into the greatness of our new leadership, meaning the leadership of Masoud and Maryam…. To believe in them as well as to show ideological and revolutionary obedience to them.”

By 1987, the MEK had acquired “all the main attributes of a cult,” writes Iranian scholar Ervand Abrahamian, with Masoud Rajavi claiming the titles Rahbar (leader) and Imam-i hal (the Present Imam), and the forerunner to the impending second advent of the Mahdi. In 1994, the House Foreign Relations Committee described the group as a violent, Marxist-influenced cult. The Committee Chairman at the time was Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), who is now on the group’s payroll.

“Friendships and all emotional relationships are forbidden” to those recruited into the MEK, writes Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times magazine, who has spent time at the group’s headquarters at Camp Ashraf, 40 miles north of Baghdad. “From the time they are toddlers, boys and girls are not allowed to speak to each other. Each day at Camp Ashraf you had to report your dreams and thoughts.” Maoist “struggle sessions” and severe punishment for “deviationism” are commonplace.

Expelled from France in 1986, Masoud Rajavi was welcomed in Baghdad, where he and his followers built a “National Liberation Army” that joined the Iran-Iraq war on Saddam’s side. The MEK’s plan was to recruit a huge army of suicide commandos whose sacrifice would inspire the “liberation” of Iran.

“We will not be fighting alone; we will have the people on our side,” proclaimed Rajavi. “They are tired of this regime, and … they have every incentive to get rid of it forever. We will only have to act as their shields, protecting them from being easy targets for the [revolutionary] guards. Wherever we go there will be masses of citizens joining us, and the prisoners we liberate from jails will help us lead them towards victory. It will be like an avalanche, growing as it progresses.”

When the war ended in 1988 without victory for Iraq or the “National Liberation Army,” the MEK leadership imposed yet another “ideological revolution” on its followers, this one including compelled mass divorces and widespread torture of those suspected of espionage or ideological deviation. Following the first Gulf War, the MEK collaborated in Saddam’s crackdown on Shi’ites and Kurds.

In its campaign to build support for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration mentioned MEK camps in Iraq as evidence of Saddam’s support for international terrorism. Following the invasion, U.S. forces disarmed MEK fighters who operated several camps within 60 miles of the Iranian border. Rather than treating them as terrorists, the Bush administration designated the MEK fighters as “protected” persons under the Geneva Convention.

In fact, the Bush administration was so intent on sheltering the MEK – which, recall had killed Americans and taken part in the seizure of American hostages – that it rebuffed an offer from Iran to exchange MEK leaders for al-Qaeda suspects being held in Tehran. In exchange for protection, the MEK began to produce a series of lurid – and entirely fabricated – “intelligence” reports regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

The MEK has no support among reform-minded Iranians; in fact, the group is immensely useful to the incumbent regime as a way of discrediting its opposition, which in official propaganda is depicted as allies of the bizarre Islamo-Leninist cult. The current Iranian government is awful; if it were to seize power, the MEK — which is the Persian equivalent of the Khmer Rouge — would be dramatically worse.

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