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- Written by Eman Jueid
- Category: World News
The U.S. State Department has until March 26 to make a decision on the MEK’s petition. Experts say there is a slim chance the U.S. will seriously consider de-listing the group in light of the its “inconsistent” and “peculiar” past. Discussions of de-listing the MEK alone will not threaten U.S.-Iranian diplomacy unless the State Deptartment actually moves forward with it – something many stress would be inadvisable at this time.
While lobbying to denounce the MEK’s terrorist classification became more visible in the last few months, so did a key alleged act of terror.
A Feb. 9 NBC report revealed that the MEK is believed to have carried out the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, by working in cahoots with Israel. The following day, a sharp denial of accusations was issued in a statement back to NBC by a sister organization of the MEK, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Paul R. Pillar is a 28-year CIA veteran whose last position was a National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia. “I don’t consider the report hard and fast confirmed, but I think it’s entirely plausible,” he said.
Pillar, who has also held a position as deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, asserted that the group’s denouncement of violence is “a data point” to consider in their designation but any indication of what they have done—recently and not—is just as important.
Supporters of the MEK do not seem to agree.
In New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel just two days after the NBC report was published, several hundred rallied in the grand ballroom to hear DNC Chairman Howard Dean, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, and even Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein speak out in support of de-listing the MEK as an FTO. There was no mention of the assassination allegations or anything the MEK did to get itself on the terrorist list in 1997.
In fact, one unaware of the MEK’s history would leave with a very positive understanding of the group.
That same perspective is depicted in the television commercials that start with:
MEK is Iran’s democratic opposition working for a nuclear free Iran
founded on human rights. Unjustly listed a terrorist group, MEK is the
victim of violence by the radical regime in Iran and their Iraqi allies.
It has appeal.
“The current political environment, in which there’s a strong premium at looking and sounding tough against the Iranian regime, especially in the midst of the presidential election campaign, works to the MEK’s advantage,” said Pillar, currently the director of graduate studies at Georgetown University’s Center for Peace and Security Studies. Characterizing the GOP debates as “bellicose,” the ad placement is “clever and smart” because of its charm to hardliners against the Iranian government.
Dr. Gary Sick, who served on the National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan, and was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, calls the MEK’s background “checkered at best.”
“They claim to be victims, Israelis claim to be victims, Palestinians claim to be victims, but calling yourself a victim doesn’t mean you’re right,” he said. “The policy choices the MEK has made, that we know about, are undisputed. I don’t think the U.S. will just disregard that.”
But the MEK is still looking for a second chance – one like the European Union granted them in 2009 by reclassifying them as a “resistance effort.” Reza Marashi, research director at the National Iranian American Council in D.C. said the move was based on a technicality. Whether that is the case or not can be debated, but at the heart of America’s wariness comes what experts say is an implausible shift in the fundamental ideology of the group when the original leadership remains.
Massoud Rajavi took leadership of the MEK in 1979 but his wife, Maryam, has been the president-elect since 1993. The group is now staunchly against the Islamic regime although it also helped overthrow the Shah in the 1979 revolution.
“I don’t think this particular group has the ability to change the political spectrum,” said Marashi, who worked for four years in the Office of Iranian Affairs at the U.S. State Department. “Having a few neo-con validators for support will only take you so far.”
Marashi is referring to the self-trumpeted bi-partisan group that spoke at the Waldorf-Astoria, amongst various other venues. In a special investigation, the Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson revealed in August 2011 that the top officials speaking for the MEK had been paid in the tens of thousands, many of them admitting to having no knowledge of the MEK prior.
How an isolated Iranian “terrorist organization” operating out of Iraq with less than 4,000 members could fund events at the Waldorf-Astoria and pay top officials has piqued a suspicious interest.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s counterterrorism wing is currently investigating former Pennsylvania governor Edward G. Rendell for taking some of these fees.
Founder and President of NIAC, Dr. Trita Parsi, said this collectively multi-million-dollar campaign could not be the work of private money alone. “Speculation has pointed to Israel or Saudi Arabia because it seems to be government funds,” he said alluding to the nations’ obvious interests in working against the Iranian regime. “You don’t see Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah holding similar rallies. Why would this be okay?”
The MEK, unlike Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah, has a wild card: Camp Ashraf in Iraq, the home Saddam Hussein gave to them in 1986.
During the Iran-Iraq war, Hussein armed the group, paving the way for the MEK to launch attacks with the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard against the Kurdish and Shiite uprisings. This history of supporting Hussein “doesn’t sit well with current Iraqi public opinion,” Pillar said, reiterating the need for the U.S. to monitor the situation. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forces have allegedly attacked the 3,4000 residents of Camp Ashraf repeatedly.
Now, a multi-lateral effort to dismantle the base and relocate residents outside the country is taking place. As of last month, the first 400 were removed from their home in the camp and relocated to Camp Liberty near Baghdad. The MEK and its U.S. proponents call it a “prison” and a “concentration camp.” Giuliani even proposed that he and other officials would buy their own plane tickets to inspect the camp for human rights violations.
Several experts say this is both a genuine issue that needs to be dealt with, and an effort by the MEK to find leverage in the de-list debate. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said last month that a smooth transition to Camp Liberty would be a “key factor” in determining the reclassification.
“If the MEK does dismantle Ashraf,” Marashi explained, asserting the U.S. wants to see a peaceful transfer. “It will be an important first step by the MEK to demonstrate that it's willing to dismantle its organizational infrastructure. Many additional steps would be necessary before de-listing, but this is a big one.”
Two former members of the MEK, Anne Singleton and Massoud Khodabandeh, published a book last September detailing coercive tactics used by the group’s leaders to maintain control and suppress dissent. A Human Rights Watch report also revealed a similarly questionable organization in Camp Ashraf.
The complexity of the MEK’s history coupled with recent revelations, both from supporters and opponents, makes the likelihood of de-listing the MEK even more improbable, said Dr. Parsi, author of “Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States.”
“There is no benefit for the U.S. to really support this now while they are trying to negotiate with Iran. But if more assassinations continue by the MEK and Israel, it could potentially derail those talks into a more violent dialogue.”
A history sprinkled with aiding the enemy, internal cult-like tactics and anti-U.S. sentiment do not work in the MEK’s favor. Using the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” is not enough, said Dr. Sick.
“I have no use for mullahs or the Islamic republic or way it’s being run,” he added. “The only government that could be worse is one governed by the MEK, and that I just can’t even imagine. How they would behave?”
Marashi echoed saying that even if you accept that Iranian people—and much of the western world—are against the Iranian regime, “hardly anyone supports this ‘resistance movement’.” He warned that if the MEK were de-listed, “it would really render a diplomatic solution to the nuclear program as zero.”
So long as the MEK remains a terrorist organization, Steven Pinker’s theory that 94 percent of small terrorist organizations fail to achieve any goals resonates. If the designation is removed, however, little is known of what the MEK would do to lead the Islamic Republic of Iran.By Kiran Alvi, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo Credit: Wikipedia
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