A brief review on US-MKO ties

With a review on US-MKO relations, it can be seen the MKO has always been perceived by various US governments as nothing more than a tool to be used against Iran.

Founded in 1965 by a group of leftist Iranian college students, the “Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, a.k.a MEK and NCRI)” was mainly devoted to opposing the rule of the Shah before the Islamic revolution. In its first five years, the group primarily engaged in ideological work, their interpretation of Islam and economic and political ideas. The MKO preached a combination of Marxism and Islamism.

Soon following the Iranian Islamic revolution, the organization started a phase of armed struggle in a bid to destabilize the newly formed regime and have its revenge of failing to assume a share in the power. As a result, MKO’s dedicated terrorist teams launched numerous blind suicide operations, bombings, gun-shot assassinations as well as street gun-battles in which many innocent civilians and key officials were killed. The atrocities and crimes of Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization set up one of the bloodiest chapters of Iranian history.

But one of the first times the MKO adopted terrorism as a tool goes back to the era of Shah regime; When the MKO was involved in assassination of American businessmen, military personnel, and even a senior American diplomat in Iran before the 1979 revolution. Some of the attacks on U.S. citizens were reflected in American newspapers back in the 70s. The St. Petersburg independent published an article titled ‘Terrorists Slay Americans in Iran’ in May 21, 1975. It is written in a part of the article: ‘A Woman telephoned the Associated Press office anonymously at noon and said: “The execution of American officers today was a reply to the execution of nine Iranian revolutionaries in prison last month”. Identifying herself as a spokesman for the Iranian People’s Warriors Association, she said Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi is a “stooge of the Americans, therefore we murder Americans.”

Following is a short review on US government's stance on MKO issue since 1984 until 2013:

In December 1984, the US State Department wrote to Rep. Lee Hamilton, then Chairman of the Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East, to clarify its official views on the MKO: “The Iranian Mujahedin remains a highly nationalistic, Islamic, left-wing and anti-western organization...”

On June 14, 1985, the US State Department issued another statement against the MKO. In this statement, the MKO was referred to as “a militantly Islamic, anti-democratic, anti-American, anti-Western collectivist organization.”

On July 24, 1985, 10 years after the MKO assassinated US citizens, Richard W. Murphy, US assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs, stated to the US House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East affairs that the MKO was “ militantly Islamic, anti-democratic, anti-American, and continue to employ terrorism and violence as standard instruments of their policies.” He also identified the MKO as having been active in bringing down the former Shah and as being Marxist.

These statements shaped the earliest stances the US had taken on the MKO issue. Some people believe at that time, the US government was trying to persuade Iran to help release American soldiers who were arrested in Lebanon so they pressured the MKO to impress Iran.

About a year later, the US government somehow shifted its policy towards the MKO. The State Department apparently contacted the MKO’s Washington office in November 1986, to arrange a meeting.

At a hearing on April 21, 1987, in line with the change in policy, Mr. Murphy did an about-face when asked about the Department’s MKO statements. He said: “I will very freely admit that there were gaps in our knowledge about the organization,” adding, “We meet, have met with the Mojahedin Organization here in Washington. They are a player in Iran...We are not boycotting them.” This policy shift took place exactly at the time the Iranian forces were achieving big victories in the battle against the Iraqi Ba’ath forces who had started the war on Iran. The MKO was at Saddam’s service at the time and the group needed to be strong enough to help Saddam against Iran.

A couple of years later, the MKO was despised again by the US government. In September 1989, the US State Department replied to a letter from Congressman Mervyn Dymally to Secretary of State James Baker. The congressman had asked the Secretary of State to resume talks with the MKO. The State Department rejected his request and again referred to MKO as an anti-American, anti-Western collectivist organization that continues to employ terrorism and violence as standard instruments of its policies.

In November 1992, The US Secretary of State submitted "a report detailing the structure, current activities, external support, and history of the people's Mojahedin of Iran”. The report was prepared at the request of US Congress.

Some of the report highlights are as following (all direct quotes):

“The Mojahedin revolutionaries developed and disseminated an eclectic ideology based on their personal interpretation of Shi'a Islamic theology and Marxist tenets. Then as now the Mojahedin advocated a two-pronged strategy of armed struggle and the use of propaganda to gain their political objectives.”

“They assassinated at least six American citizens, supported the takeover of the U.S. embassy, and opposed the release of American hostages. In the post-revolutionary political chaos, however, the Mojahedin lost political power to Iran's Islamic clergy. They then applied their dedication to armed struggle and the use of propaganda against the new Iranian government, launching a violent and polemical cycle of attack and reprisal. In 1981, the Mojahedin leadership fled to France and with other Iranian opposition movements formed the National Council of Resistance (NCR).”

“In 1986, France expelled the leader of the Mojahedin, Masud Rajavi.”

“After his expulsion form France, Rajavi relocated to Baghdad, Iraq, adopting Saddam Hussein as his patron, In 1987.”

“Rajavi announced the formation of the National Liberation Army (NLA), the military wing of the Mojahedin, which conducted raids into Iran during the latter years of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. The NLA's last major offensive reportedly was conducted against Iraqi Kurds in 1991, when it joined Saddam Hussein's brutal repression of the Kurdish rebellion. In addition to occasional acts of sabotage, the Mojahedin are responsible for violent attacks in Iran that victimize civilians. They also engage in violence against Iranian government targets in the West.”

“Since their leadership's expulsion from Iran, the Mojahedin have conducted a public relations campaign among Western press and public officials, seeking political support and financial backing. Exploiting Western opprobrium of the behavior of the current government of Iran, the Mojahedin posit themselves as the alternative. To achieve that goal, they claim they have the support of a majority of Iranians. This claim is much disputed by academics and other specialists on Iran, who assert that in fact the Mojahedin-e Khalq have little support among Iranians. They argue that the Mojahedin's activities since the group's leadership fled from Iran in 1981-- particularly their alliance with Iraq and the group's internal oppression -- have discredited them among the Iranian polity. “

“Despite Mojahedin assertions that the group has abandoned its revolutionary ideology and now favors a liberal democracy, there is no written or public record of discussion or debate about the dramatic reversals in the Mojahedin's stated positions. Moreover, the Mojahedin's 29-year record of behavior does not substantiate its capability or intention to be democratic. Internally, the Mojahedin run their organization autocratically, suppressing dissent and eschewing tolerance of differing viewpoints. Rajavi, who heads the Mojahedin's political and military wings, has fostered a cult of personality around himself. These characteristics have alienated most Iranian expatriates, who assert they do not want to replace one objectionable regime for another. Given these attributes, it is no coincidence that the only government in the world that supports the Mojahedin politically and financially is the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein.”

“The Mojahedin's actual military efforts have consisted of occasional strikes against border towns, industrial targets (particularly oil installations), and civilian targets. “

“At the border the Mojahedin's military record is limited. The group launched its most significant incursion in June and July 1988, when they coordinated an advance into Iran with Iraqi forces. During the same offensive, Iraqi units in other sectors of the front used chemical weapons against Iran. “

United States government’s view on the MKO barely changed until during Clinton presidency, the group was put on the US State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997. Some believe MKO’s designation as a terrorist organization was a goodwill gesture to the newly elected Iranian government. The MKO was kept on the list for some 15 years in 3 different administrations.

The Bush administration cited Saddam’s support of MKO as a reason to invade Iraq. When the Bush administration sought to justify its attack on Iraq in 2003 by accusing Saddam Hussein of being a sponsor of “international terrorism”, one of its prime examples was Iraq’s “sheltering” of the MKO.

But despite the group was referred to as a terrorist organization and Saddam’s support of it would lead to invasion of Iraq, the MKO enjoyed the support from the US government indirectly and secretly after the US invaded Iraq. The US had planned to use MKO’s terrorist capabilities to confront Iran.

U.S. Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich, The former Ranking Member on the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, gave a speech during House debate HR 282, the Iran Freedom and Support Act in which he criticized the U.S. government’s support of the Mujahedin e-Khalq terrorist group.

“HR 282 supports anti-government advocates in Iran promoting regime change. This is highly problematic. While an important amendment offered by Congressman Blumenauer was adopted into this bill during markup, to prohibit U.S. assistance to groups that are on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, or have been on that list for the last 4 years, there are ways around this. For example, according to a Newsweek article from February 14, 2005, the US has been recruiting individuals from the MKO, a group currently labeled as “terrorist” by the State Department, who have agreed to form a new group with the same mission of the MKO: regime change in Iran. These individuals have been conducting military activity in Iran with the United States’ support. I just want to remind everyone that the MKO was the group responsible for the U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran in 1979. The MKO also had a camp in Iraq where Osama bin Laden’s first fighters were reportedly trained. The MKO also trained and supported Taliban fighters. Now we’re recruiting help from members of the MKO, which makes a total mockery of this so-called War on Terror.” Kucinich said.

The renowned investigative journalist Seymour Hersh also revealed striking details of his findings on the aim of the $400 million budgeted US covert operations inside Iran in an article published in New Yorker in July 2008, titled ‘Preparing the battlefield'. He provided valuable information on US military preparations to strike Iran, on the total expansion of the Bush Administration's executive power, about the US recognition of Iran's overall positive role in Iraq and on the US support for the anti-Iran terrorist organizations Jondollah, PJAK and MKO. He explained how the Bush Administration's policy of “my enemy's enemy is my friend” has led the US to support the Baluchi organisation Jondollah and the MKO (Mujahideen-e-Khalq a.k.a PMOI), both of which have clear track records of terrorist activities including against the US. He reiterated that the US has been giving arms and cash to the terrorists in the MKO for years and reveals that “most of the [MKO] leaders have been taking our money and cashing it in an awful lot of bank accounts in London.” He also revealed for the first time that the US has trained MKO teams in the state of Nevada and that “they do a lot of crazy stuff inside Iran”.

As reported by Seymour Hersh, Illegal military and financial support of MKO was not limited to the Bush administration. In April 2012, Seymour Hersh reported at the New Yorker that the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) of the US military gave members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) training in signals intelligence at a facility in Nevada during the Bush era. The MEK was then on the US State Department’s terrorism watch list, so the Pentagon’s deployment of this group was quite illegal.

Hersh revealed a trail of blatant hypocrisy on the part of the US government. The U.S. favorite terrorists are not terrorists even if they have blown up non-combatants, but national liberation groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon are designated terrorists. The U.S. Government officials have even brandished the word “terrorism” to describe perfectly peaceful protesters and dissidents inside the US, while JSOC was flying dyed-in-the-wool terrorists to Nevada for training.

Finally, after the United States played all those games with its favorite terrorists, the Obama administration started a new game and removed MKO’s name from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. They also allowed the former terrorists to open an office in Washington. Again what didn’t matter here at all was the MKO itself. It was about politics and a leverage to pressure Iran.

With a brief review on US-MKO relations, it can be seen the MKO has always been perceived by various US governments as a tool to be used against Iran. In fact, what doesn’t really matter is the terrorist group. It is all about the United States and Iran. MKO is just a terrorist group with a black record that could only serve its Master’s wishes without any independency. The only reason the MKO continues to exist today, is that its masters believe they can still use it to pressure Iran.