The Iranian Extremists America Loves: U.S. Takes Violent Group Off Terror List
A pro-MEK rally in support of Camp Ashraf.
Photo Credit: Newtown graffiti/Flickr
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In a move certain to ratchet up already-high tensions with Iran, the administration of President Barack Obama will remove a militant anti-regime group from the State Department’s terrorism list, U.S. officials told reporters here Friday.
The decision, which is expected to be formally announced before Oct. 1, the deadline set earlier this year by a federal court to make a determination, was in the process of being transmitted in a classified report to Congress, according to the Department’s spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland.
The decision came several days after some 680 members of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK), or People’s Mojahedin, were transferred from their long-time home at Camp Ashraf in eastern Iraq close to the Iranian to a former U.S. base in at Baghdad’s airport in compliance with Washington’s demands that the group move. The transfer leaves only 200 militants at Camp Ashraf out of the roughly 3,200 who were there before the transfers began.
Most analysts here predicted that the administration’s decision to remove the MEK from the terrorism list would only worsen already abysmal relations with Iran and possibly make any effort to defuse the gathering crisis over its nuclear programme yet more difficult.
“Delisting will be seen not only by the Iranian regime, but also by most Iranian citizens, as a hostile act by the United States,” Paul Pillar, a former top CIA analyst who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, told IPS.
“The MEK has almost no popular support within Iran, where it is despised as a group of traitors, especially given its history of joining forces with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War,” Pillar added.
“Any effect of the delisting on nuclear negotiations will be negative; Tehran will read it as one more indication that the United States is interested only in hostility and pressure toward the Islamic Republic, rather than coming to terms with it.”
The decision followed a high-profile multi-year campaign by the group and its sympathisers that featured almost-daily demonstrations at the State Department, full-page ads in major newspapers, and the participation of former high-level U.S. officials, some of whom were paid tens of thousands of dollars to make public appearances on behalf of the MEK.
Officials included Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, former FBI chief Louis Freeh, and a number of senior officials in the George W. Bush administration, including his White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, attorney general Michael Mukasey, and former U.N. ambassador John Bolton.
Created in the mid-1960s by Islamo-Marxist university students, the MEK played a key role in the 1979 ouster of the Shah only to lose a bloody power struggle with the more-conservative clerical factions close to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The group went into exile; many members fled to Iraq, which they used as a base from which they mounted military and terrorist attacks inside Iran during the eight-year war between the two countries. Its forces were also reportedly used to crush popular rebellions against President Saddam Hussein that followed the 1991 Gulf War.
During a brief period of détente between Washington and Tehran, the administration of President Bill Clinton designated the group as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) in 1997 based in part on its murder of several U.S. military officials and contractors in the 1970s and its part in the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover, as well as its alliance with Saddam Hussein.
When U.S. forces invaded Iraq in 2001, the MEK declared its neutrality and eventually agreed to disarm in exchange for Washington’s agreement that its members could remain at Camp Ashraf as “protected persons” under the Geneva Convention, an arrangement that expired in 2009.