|Another recruiting tactic was arranged with the assistance of Saddam’s government. Iranian prisoners from the Iran-Iraq War were offered the choice of going to MeK camps and being repatriated or remaining in Iraqi prison camps.|
The MeK as a Cult
From its earliest days, the MeK had had tight social bonds, but these began to be transformed into something more sinister during the mid-1980s after the group’s leaders and many of its members had relocated to Paris. There, Masoud Rajavi began to undertake what he called an “ideological revolution,” requiring a new regimen of activities—at first demanding increased study and devotion to the cause but soon expanding into near-religious devotion to the Rajavis (Masoud and his wife, Maryam), public self-deprecation sessions, mandatory divorce, celibacy, enforced separation from family and friends, and gender segregation.
Prior to establishing an alliance with Saddam, the MeK had been a popular organization. However, once it settled in Iraq and fought against Iranian forces in alliance with Saddam, the group incurred the ire of the Iranian people and, as a result, faced a shortfall in volunteers.
Thus began a campaign of disingenuous recruiting. The MeK naturally sought out Iranian dissidents, but it also approached Iranian economic migrants in such countries as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates with false promises of employment, land, aid in applying for asylum in Western countries, and even marriage, to attract them to Iraq. Relatives of members were given free trips to visit the MeK’s camps. Most of these “recruits” were brought into Iraq illegally and then required to hand over their identity documents for “safekeeping.” Thus, they were effectively trapped.
Another recruiting tactic was arranged with the assistance of Saddam’s government. Iranian prisoners from the Iran-Iraq War were offered the choice of going to MeK camps and being repatriated or remaining in Iraqi prison camps. Hundreds of prisoners went to MeK camps, where they languished. No repatriation efforts were made.
For coalition forces, the MeK’s cult behavior and questionable recruiting practices are significant insofar as they affect both the daily operations at the camp and the strategic disposition options available to the group. The leadership is unlikely to cooperate with policies that would undermine its ability to exert direct control over its members.
Indeed, Human Rights Watch reports that the MeK long ago instituted a complicated process to retain members who expressed a desire to leave, which included a “trial,” forced confessions of disloyalty, and even torture. Although this process has been modified since the group was consolidated at Camp Ashraf, would-be walkaways are still “debriefed” for days or even weeks while held in some form of solitary confinement, during which they are encouraged to change their minds. Conversely, the long-term indoctrination and isolation experienced by MeK members are likely to have instilled an exaggerated sense of loyalty, causing them to reject offers to separate themselves from their leaders. This would apply in particular to repatriation to Iran, where the expectation of persecution has been dramatically instilled in their minds.1
1 Our extensive interviews with U.S. military officers, soldiers, and civilians indicate that the prevailing opinion about the MeK rank and file at Camp Ashraf is that the majority are neither terrorists nor freedom fighters; they are simply trapped and brainwashed people who would be willing to return to Iran if they were separated from the leadership.