By Chris Zambelis (& editorial comments from Alan)
The People’s Mujahideen of Iran (PMOI), more commonly known as the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (“people’s mujahideen”; MEK), is one of the most organized and controversial Iranian opposition groups. Although it maintains an armed wing—known as the National Liberation Army (NLA)—and numerous front organizations, it derives its greatest strength from the slick lobbying and propaganda machine it operates in the United States and Europe.
Alan note: the Mullahs have managed over the last decade to corrupt many of the MEK so that there appears to be "two" versions, at odds with each other and with conflicting loyalties vis-a-vis the Islamic Regime in Iran.
Surviving original MEK members (remember Khomeini had about 30,000 of them in prison when Iraq went to war against him and had them all slaughtered) are now aged close to being in their seventies.
The MEK also boasts extensive support within U.S. government and policy circles, including many of the most vocal advocates of a U.S. invasion of Iran.
The MEK remains on the list of banned terrorist organizations in the United States and European Union (EU). Both parties have indicated no intention of reconsidering their positions.
The May 7 decision by the United Kingdom’s Court of Appeal to overrule the British government’s inclusion of the MEK on its list of banned terrorist organizations, however, may pave the way for both the United States and EU to reassess their positions regarding the MEK down the line.
Alan note: last year, France already removed them from their list of banned or terrorist groups and returned all the funds they had confiscated from the MEK.
Given the MEK’s history of violence and its willingness to act as a proxy force against Iran, such a move would represent a major escalation in hostilities between the United States and Iran, with consequences in Iraq and beyond.
The MEK is an obscure organization with a long history of violence and opposition activities. It emerged in the 1960s, composed of college students and leftist intellectuals loyal to Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq; the (very) leftist nationalist prime minister was deposed by a U.S.- and U.K.-backed coup in 1953 that restored Mohammad Reza Shah to power.
Alan note: Mossadegh was highly unpopular with most Iranians - except very liberal leftist students and gave free rein to the Tudeh (Communist) Party, whose pro-Soviet machinations through Mossadegh was about to hand Iran and its oil to the Soviet Union. Thus the West stepped in and removed him rather than restoring the Monarchy, which was a convenient method to achieve this.
Morever, as a prominent family member of the previous Qajar dynasty , he had removal of the Shah and restoration of the Qajars as his primary, unstated objective and was prepared to use the Tudeh and Soviets to achieve this at any cost to Iran. Including the oil he asked the shah to nationalize. Putting the young monarch at very grave physical danger from the West.
Its revolutionary zeal (carefully orchestrated by the Soviets through their Tehran Embassy) combined aspects of Marxist and Islamist ideologies in pursuit of its goal to overthrow the U.S.-backed Shah through armed resistance and terrorism.
Alan note: Islamist idelogical pretence was used to lure and enlist religiously superstitious and totally politically ignorant youths.
Its primary targets in the 1970s included ranking officials and symbols of the shah’s regime, both within and outside of Iran.
The regime responded in kind with intense repression through SAVAK, the shah’s domestic intelligence apparatus. (Aimed at the Marxists and Communists whose pro-Soviet policies enadangered Iran).
Thousands of members and associates of MEK were killed, tortured and jailed during this period.
(Alan note: there were less than two or three people executed in any given year by the Monarchy in the 25+ years of the Shah's rule. Not even thousands were killed in the Khomeini revlution so this "numerical fact" is totally wrong).
Consequently, like many Iranians at the time (who have lived to regret it), the MEK viewed the Islamist opposition as a positive force for change. The MEK supported the revolutionary forces and the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy and subsequent hostage crisis led by student activists in Tehran.
Alan note: Remember about 60% of Iran's population was under the age of 25 and wildly idealistic but not politically savvy, so inciting them was a relatively simple task, controlled by a team of a dozen Soviet urban gueilla psychologists, who enjoyed creating an anti-USA and Anti-Western frenzy inside Iran.
The group’s unique brand of Marxism and Islamism, however, would bring it into conflict with the rigid Shiite Islamism espoused by the post-revolutionary government.
The failure of a June 1981 coup attempt intended to oust Ayatollah Khomeini elicited a massive crackdown by the regime against the MEK, forcing the group’s leaders and thousands of members into exile in Europe.
When France ousted operational elements of the group in 1986, many made their way to Iraq, where they joined Saddam Hussein’s war effort against Iran and enjoyed a safe haven.
Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, a (cultishly )charismatic husband and wife team that fled into exile in Europe, lead the MEK (Massoud is no longer around).
From her base in France, Maryam Rajavi currently holds the position of “President-Elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)” after her husband’s disappearance sometime in 2003. He is presumed to be in hiding. The Rajavis enjoy a fanatical cult-like following among MEK members and supporters.
The group’s cult-like character was displayed when 16 followers of the Rajavis staged dramatic public acts of self-immolation over a period of three days in June 2003 across major European and Canadian cities. The protests followed the arrest of Maryam Rajavi and 160 of her followers after a French court ruled that the MEK and its numerous front groups constituted a terrorist organization.
According to former members of the group, the MEK’s “human torches” are a testament to the stranglehold the Rajavis have over their followers and the extent to which members are brainwashed and manipulated psychologically into blindly following them.
The MEK is reported to maintain a list of volunteers ready and willing to perform acts of self-immolation on the orders of the leadership.
Like other cults, MEK members are often separated from their children and families and discouraged from maintaining contact with individuals outside of the group.
Former members who defected from the MEK describe the Rajavis as autocrats who demand unquestioned loyalty from their followers (pars-iran.com, January 30, 2006).
Women make up a significant contingent of the MEK’s ranks, especially in its armed wing. In addition to its Marxist and Islamist pedigrees, the rise of the Rajavis to the group’s leadership led to the introduction of feminist ideologies into the group’s discourse.
This aspect of the MEK’s ideology indicates their attempt to tap into local grievances and international sympathy regarding the position of women in the Islamic Republic.
In this regard, the MEK presents itself as a liberal and democratic alternative to the rigid brand of Islamism espoused by the ruling clerics, an image it has cultivated in U.S. and Western policy circles to great effect.
The U.K. court based its ruling on the premise that the MEK has renounced violence and terrorism, and that it currently maintains no operational capability to execute future acts of violence.
Violence and Terrorism
The MEK’s long history of violence and terrorism includes the abduction and assassination of ranking Iranian political and military officials under the shah in the 1970s, as well as attacks against the clerical establishment throughout the 1980s. Foreign-based MEK operatives also targeted Iranian embassies abroad in a series of attacks.
MEK militants struck diplomatic officials and foreign business interests in Iran under both the shah and the Islamists in an effort to undermine investor confidence and regime stability.
Furthermore, the MEK targeted and killed Americans living and working in Iran in the 1970s, namely U.S. military and civilian contractors working on defense-related projects in Tehran (mkowatch.com).
The group has never been known to target civilians directly, though its use of tactics such as mortar barrages and ambushes in busy areas (and bank robberies) have often resulted in civilian casualties.
In addition, the MEK’s repertoire of operations includes suicide bombings, airline hijackings, ambushes, cross-border raids, RPG attacks, and artillery and tank barrages.
Saddam Hussein exploited the MEK’s fervor during the Iran-Iraq war. In addition to providing the group with a sanctuary on Iraqi soil, Saddam supplied the MEK with weapons, tanks and armored vehicles, logistical support, and training at the group’s Camp Ashraf in Diyala Province near the Iranian border and other camps across Iraqi territory.
In a sign of the group’s appreciation for Saddam’s generous hospitality and largesse, the MEK cooperated with Iraqi security forces in the brutal repression of uprisings led by Shiite Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens in 1991.
MEK members also served alongside Iraq’s internal security forces and assisted in rooting out domestic opponents of the regime and other threats to Baathist rule.
Despite its history of high-profile attacks, the MEK never posed a serious threat to the Iranian regime. The group never enjoyed popular domestic support, despite its claims to the contrary.
Alan note: an estimated 150,000 "boots on the ground" inside Iran. They do not have a brand stamped on their foreheads and as such can remain fairly invisible inside the Iranian populace - until they open their political mouths.
Many Iranians actively oppose the clerical regime and sympathize with segments of the opposition. At the same time, most Iranians also regard the MEK as traitorous for joining the Iraqi war effort against Iran and resent its use of violence and terrorism against Iranians at home and abroad (mkowatch.com).
Alan note: much of this hatred has been repeatedly fanned into flames by the Mullah regime, which is afraid of the MEK as the only opposition group with members with military and weapons training.
Approximately 3,500 members of the MEK remain in Camp Ashraf. Following an agreement with U.S.-led Coalition forces, MEK units allowed Coalition forces to disarm the group.
Decommissioned MEK units are currently under surveillance in Camp Ashraf. Their future status, however, remains a point of controversy.
Despite their demobilization, (Islamic) Iran believes that the United States is holding on to the group as leverage in any future confrontation with the Islamic Republic (see Terrorism Monitor, February 9, 2006).
Although it has been disarmed, the MEK retains the capacity to remobilize, especially if it gains a state sponsor.
Nevertheless, it is the MEK’s lobbying and propaganda machine in the United States and Europe that enables it to remain a relevant force in Middle East politics and a key factor in U.S.- Iranian tensions.
The MEK’s political activism falls under the auspices of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)—an MEK political front organization that also serves as an umbrella movement representing various (leftist and Communist) Iranian dissident groups.
These efforts persist despite the fact that U.S. authorities ordered NCRI offices in Washington to shut down in 2003 (New York Observer, June 5, 2007).
From Iran’s perspective, the U.S. position on MEK is both ambiguous and at times hypocritical. On the one hand, the MEK remains on the U.S. State Department’s list of banned terrorist organizations, yet the group remains on Iraqi soil, albeit disarmed and under surveillance by Coalition forces.
The MEK has cultivated a loyal following among an outspoken network of U.S. politicians, former and active government officials, members of the defense establishment, journalists and academics advocating violent regime change in Tehran.
The MEK is even credited in some of these circles for disclosing aspects of the Iranian nuclear program.
At the same time, it is accused of fabricating intelligence information to boost its profile in the United States (Asia Times, March 4).
With their call for regime change in Iran and pleas for international support, media-savvy MEK representatives based in the United States appear regularly on the cable news show circuit and other forums in Washington, DC in a campaign reminiscent of the one led by Ahmed Chalabi and the network of Iraqi exiles who mustered American support for the Iraq war.
The MEK has also gained legitimacy as a liberal and democratic force for positive change in Iran, despite evidence to the contrary.
The MEK will continue to capitalize on the ongoing tensions between the United States and Iran by enlisting the support of elements in Washington seeking a bargaining chip against Tehran.
It is important, however, to see this bizarre organization for what it is; that is, to see through (disbelieve) the façade of liberalism, democracy and human rights that it purports to represent through its propaganda.
The well-documented experiences of scores of former MEK members are reason enough to consider this group and any of its claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.
Alan note: the hatred the MEK has for the Mullahs will result, should a "sponsor" appear, in a "sandblasting" cleansing of Mullahs from the Islamic Iranian scene, to be replaced with quasi Islamic pretence and Soviet style Marxism with strong cultish and feminist overtones.
As such they are an excellent tool to clear out Mullahs but not a long term solution for the opposition diaspora. Junk Yard dog type of profile. Useful but not to be trusted not to turn on you.