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Reality Check: Mujahedin-e Khalq, Kurds and Shiites in Iraq

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One of the unsubstantiated allegations against the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK) is that it was involved in the suppression of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The source of this allegation, which later found its way into a 1994 Department of State report on the MEK,[1] and subsequently in the Department's Country Reports on Terrorism, is none other than the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).

The fact is that in the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Iranian regime launched an extensive propaganda campaign alleging that the MEK had played a role in putting down the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq. The propaganda blitz specifically meant to overshadow Tehran's dispatching of thousands of troops into Iraq in March and April 1991 to destroy MEK bases close to the Iran-Iraq border.

Surprisingly, despite a palpable dearth of factual and evidential basis, this accusation also acted as one of the justifications for the MEK's terror listing in the United States. Not only is there not the slightest bit of evidence supporting this accusation, in fact, a plethora of documents and evidence exist, at times offered by prominent Iraqi Kurds and Shiites themselves, that definitively dismiss the allegation.

This is the third in the series of Reality Check posts that address the specific allegations against the MEK.

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"(We) can confirm that the Mujahedeen (sic) were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising nor in its aftermath. We have not come across any evidence to suggest that the Mujahedeen have exercised any hostility towards the people of Iraqi Kurdistan."

Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari


There is absolutely no truth to the allegation that the MEK was involved in the crackdown on Iraqi Kurds. The most definitive testament to this fact is a 1999 letter to a court in the Netherlands by Iraq's present Foreign Minister, Hoshyar Zebari, who was at the time the foreign policy spokesman for the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP). He wrote, "(We) can confirm that the Mujahedeen (sic) were not involved in suppressing the Kurdish people neither during the uprising nor in its aftermath. We have not come across any evidence to suggest that the Mujahedeen have exercised any hostility towards the people of Iraqi Kurdistan."[2]

Four years earlier, an official United Nations document had refuted those allegations, noting that they were part of a well-orchestrated misinformation campaign by the Iranian regime to discredit the MEK. "From our independent investigation and discussion with parties involved, we find these allegations false," wrote International Educational Development, a non-governmental organization with consultative status at with UN.[3]

In 2001, statements by defectors from the Iranian regime's Intelligence Ministry confirmed that the propaganda campaign concerning "the MEK's suppression of the Kurds" was one of the Ministry's top priorities. In an affidavit to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2001, one such defector, Jamshid Tafrishi, wrote: "My mission was to tell international organizations and foreign governments that the PMOI crushes the Kurdish uprising in Iraq. The plot was conducted under the supervision of Nasser Khajenouri, regime's agent in the USA. He arranged for me and other agents to be interviewed by an Iranian radio broadcast in Los Angeles so we could air our stories on how the PMOI [MEK] had oppressed the Kurdish people alongside Iraqi forces. Khajenouri further prepared a written brief on the subject on my behalf and sent it to the US intelligence and government agencies and the United Nations."[4]

This corroborated the conclusions of International Educational Development, which again registered another document with the United Nations in 2001, reiterating its earlier findings that Iranian intelligence services were the source of these bogus allegations.[5]

And in its 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism, even the Department of State expressed doubts about the veracity of the charges concerning the MEK's actions against Iraqi Kurds by grudgingly diluting its earlier definitive statement in this respect. It wrote, "In 1991, the group reportedly assisted the Iraqi Republican Guard's bloody crackdown on Iraqi Shia and Kurds who rose up against Saddam Hussein's regime."[6]

This was hardly surprising especially after an exhaustive 16-month investigation of each and every MEK member in Iraq by seven different agencies of the US Government acknowledged in 2004 that "there was no basis to charge any member of the group [MEK] with the violation of American law."[7]

Moreover, in a November 2006 letter to then-US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, Mr. Mohammad Mehdi Hachem, a senior official of the Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, expressed concern about the allegations and activities against the MEK, and reiterated the amicable relationship that exists between the people of Iraq and the organization.[8] Among other things, for example, he wrote that MEK members have been law-abiding residents in Iraq for over 20 years. In a separate statement on December of that year, Mr. Hachem emphasized that the "PMOI [MEK] has never acted against the Kurdish people in Iraq, and has not been involved in any suppressive action against them. The rumors spread by the Ministry of Intelligence of Iran are all false and a conspiracy."[9]

Indeed, had there been any evidence of the MEK's collusion with the former Iraqi government on any issue, let alone suppressing the Kurds or the Shiites, it would have certainly surfaced in the seven years since the invasion of Iraq considering that forces hostile to the MEK, including those in the current government, have had access to all the documents. In response to a question about the involvement of the MEK in the suppression of the Iraqis, the prominent and senior Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Iyad Jamal ad-Din, Deputy Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Iraq's Council of Representatives, told the Al-Arabiya television, "I have personally followed up and reviewed many of the files in the intelligence services of the previous government and special security agencies to see whether I could find a single page of evidence, or a photograph or a document that would show that this organization had participated in the suppression of Iraqi. We did not find any such document or evidence that the Mujahedin-e Khalq took part in the crack down against the people of Iraq... In my view, these lies are being disseminated by the Iranian intelligence to tarnish the image of the Mujahedin-e Khalq."[10]

Of course, this is not the only case where Tehran has tried to blame the MEK for the ill-treatment of the Iraqi Kurds. In October 2005, Mr. Emmanuel Ludot, a French jurist and lawyer in the Counsel of the former Iraqi head of state, unveiled a proposal made to him by the then Iranian regime's ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, asking him to attribute the gassing of Iraqi Kurds to the MEK. Mr. Ludot said, "The Iranian ambassador told me [to] say Iranians did not gas the Kurds ... [that] this was the work of the MEK."[11] The Iranian regime has never denied this assertion.

Beyond these indisputable facts, from a historical perspective, this allegation is inconsistent with the MEK's principled position vis-à-vis the Kurdish minorities in Iran and in Iraq. In other words, just as the MEK has always defended the rights of Iranian Kurds for autonomy within the territorial integrity of Iran [12], it has never harbored the slightest bit of hostility toward Iraqi Kurds.

In 1984, even before the MEK relocated to Iraq, then-head of the Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan (PUK), and now Iraq's President, Jalal Talabani, wrote a letter to Massoud Rajavi, President of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), saying in part: "Honorable and dear brother Massoud Rajavi, on behalf of the Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan (PUK) politburo, I would like to express my greetings and very best wishes to you and other Mujahedin brothers in your just struggle against the reactionary gang of zealots who rule Iran... We are therefore always ready to strengthen our good relationship with the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran."[13]

Regrettably, some time later, after bowing to pressure from the clerical regime and in order to buy Tehran's strategic support to secure his political future, Mr. Talabani changed his stance and the PUK went as far as launching armed attacks against the MEK and Iranian dissidents in Iraq. Dozens of MEK members were killed in those unprovoked attacks. It even boasted of handing over MEK members to the Iranian regime who were later executed.[14] The MEK never retaliated, which makes it certainly bizarre for it to be involved in the suppression of the Iraqi Kurds.

Also, from a practical standpoint, the MEK could not have been involved in cracking down on the Iraqi Kurds. Months before the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War, the MEK evacuated all of its bases in the Kurdish areas in the north and in the Shiite regions in the south of Iraq, relocating instead to the central part of the Iran-Iraq frontier, in Diyala Province, where Camp Ashraf is located. The purpose was to refrain from getting embroiled in internal Iraqi affairs.[15] This was a policy to which the MEK has remained strictly committed ever since it made the decision to establish its bases there in 1986. In exchange, Iraqi officials agreed to refrain from meddling in the MEK's affairs and decisions. In the Zebari letter cited above, he said, "The Mujahedin-e Khalq has its own political agenda in Iran and does not interfere in Iraqi internal affairs.[16]

Similarly, neither did the MEK have any role in events related to the Shiite uprising in south of Iraq. In a letter to then-European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, the Secretary General of the prominent Iraqi Shiite movement, Intifidiya Movement of Sha'baniya, Sami Ghazi al-Assadi, wrote, "The People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran had no participation in suppressing the Shiite movement against the previous government in 1991 and there is no evidence to that; rather it is the invidious claims and rumors by the Iranian regimes agents against them."[17]

In 2006, in a joint declaration, more than 12,000 Iraqi jurists and lawyers expressed readiness to defend the MEK in any court of law about its 20-year presence in Iraq. The Iraqi jurists testified, "The MEK had no involvement in Iraqi internal affairs and therefore allegations of its involvement in suppression of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites are absolute lies and have been fabricated by the Iranian regime to tarnish the image of the Iranian Resistance."[18]

And finally, the extensive support for the MEK by Iraqi Shiites during the past five years belies the allegations of MEK involvement in "suppressing" them. In November 2007, some 300,000 Shiites from southern Iraq voiced their support for the MEK and rejected the claims about MEK's involvement in suppressing the Shiites in Iraq.[19] That support among Shiites swelled to three million by June 2008.[20]

Such bogus allegations against the MEK also shed light on the motivations and legal poverty of the US State Department terror label against the organization. If the MEK was really a terrorist organization, why would the Department risk its credibility by resorting to dubious accusations that are not only unsubstantiated but clearly contradicted by credible sources and evidence?


Endnotes

[1] US Department of State, "People's Mojahedin of Iran," prepared at the request of Congress, Section 523 of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1994 and 1995, Public Law No. 103-236., October 28, 1994. p. 10.
[2] Hoshyar Zebari, letter to M.F. Wijingaarden, attorney in the Netherlands, July 14, 1999. See also, "U.S. Says Iraq-based Iran Opposition Aids Iraq Government," by Jonathan Wright, Reuters, May 22, 2002. Available at:
http://www.neareastpolicy.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21&Itemid=30
[3] Implications of Humanitarian Activities for The Enjoyment of Human Rights, written statement submitted by International Educational Development, United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Forty-seventh session, Agenda item 19, E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/NGO/55, August 22, 1995. Available at: http://www.globalpolitician.com/25756-ncri-mek-pmoi-iran
[4] Jamshid Tafrishi, affidavit to the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, submitted in the case PEOPLE'S MOJAHEDIN ORGANIZATION OF IRAN, Petitioner, v. DEPARTMENT OF STATE and Colin L. Powell, Secretary of State, Respondents. No. 01-1465 and No. 01-1476., September 11, 2001. Available at: http://bulk.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F3/327/327.F3d.1238.01-1476.01-1465.html
[5] Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World, written statement submitted by International Educational Development, United Nations Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, Fifty-seventh session, Agenda item 9, E/CN.4/2001/NGO/51, January 23, 2001. Available at: http://www.globalpolitician.com/25756-ncri-mek-pmoi-iran
[6] 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, US Department of State, Chap. 6, Terrorist Organizations, April 30, 2008. Available at: http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/crt/2007/103714.htm
[7] Douglas Jehl, "U.S. Sees No Basis to Prosecute Iranian Opposition 'Terror' Group Being Held in Iraq," The New York Times, July 27, 2004, p. A8. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/27/politics/27iran.html?pagewanted=all
[8] Letter by Mohammad Mehdi Hachem to US Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, November 2006.
[9] Statement by Mohammad Mehdi Hachem, December 2, 2006.
[10] Ayatollah Iyad Jamal Ad-Din, interview with Al-Arabiya Television Network, Panorama Program, January 28, 2009.
[11] Emmanuel Ludot, Interview with the French-German Television channel, ARTE, September 27, 2005.
[12] National Council of Resistance of Iran, Plan for the Autonomy of Iranian Kurdistan, adopted November 1983. Available at: http://ncr-iran.org/content/view/32/
[13] Jalal Talabani, letter to NCRI President Massoud Rajavi, March3, 1984, Mojahed Weekly, No. 196, March 29, 1984. Also reprinted in Democracy Betrayed, A Response to the State Department Report on the Mojahedin and the Iranian Resistance, Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, Paris: 2005, p. 128. Available at: www.iran-e-azad.org/english/special/chap8.html
[14] Agence France Presse, dispatch from Tehran, April 13, 1991. Hassan Zolfaqari and Beshar Shabibi, were handed over to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in Qasr-e Shirin (western Iran). See also the report by Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Special Representative of the United Nations Human Rights Commission to the 49th Session of the Commission, para. 360, p. 89. E/CN.4/1993/46, December 23, 1992. Available at: http://www.extrajudicialexecutions.org/application/media/49%20Comm%20HR%20SR%20Report%20(E-CN.4-1993-46).pdf
[15] Reuters, dispatch from Damascus, March 27, 1991. The only allegation concerning MEK's involvement in the crackdown on Iraqi Kurds revolves around a single incident in the Iraqi town of Kelar on March 25 1991. Anticipating that the Iranian regime might take advantage of the turmoil resulting from Iraq's defeat in Operation Desert Storm to attack its bases, the MEK sent a number of messages through the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran - Revolutionary Leadership, to the leaders of the Iraqi Kurds in early March 1991, explaining Tehran's nefarious plans. The MEK stressed that it did not seek to engage the Iraqi Kurds unless attacked, explaining that the MEK's presence in Diyala Province, in the central region of the Iran-Iraq border, was its only passage into Iran. Owing to the geographical distance, at no time and at no place did the MEK come into contact with the forces of Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq. But on March 11, 1991, Talebani's forces attacked a detachment of MEK units near the city of Tuz, as they were evacuating from one a base further north to Camp Ashraf. The MEK's unit commander (Reza Karamali) was killed and several others were wounded. On March 25, during large-scale battles between the MEK and the units of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which had penetrated well into Iraq to attack MEK's defensive positions near the town of Jalula, a platoon of 19 combatants, riding in four armored vehicles, lost radio contact with the command center. The group lost its way in the unfamiliar terrain, and mistakenly advanced several kilometers north toward the city of Kelar, where they were captured by members of Talebani's group and the Kurdish Hezbollah (a proxy group of the Iranian regime). Although the MEK immediately acknowledged the error and issued statements to that effect the same day, the Talebani group executed 17 MEK fighters. The other two, Hassan Zolfaqari and Beshar Shabibi, were handed over to the Iranian regime in Qasr-e Shirin (western Iran).
[16] Zebari letter, op. cit.
[17] Letter by the Political Bureau of Intifadiya Movement of Sha'baniya to the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, November 18, 2006.
[18] In March 2006, Iraqi national dailies Az-Zaman, Al-Watan, Al-Haqa'eq, Al-Iraq Al-Yowm and Assyiada published the declaration by 12,000 prominent Iraqi jurists and lawyers. The declaration was also published in a full-page advertisement in The New York Times on April 21, 2006 (p. A19). See also: "Hitting the Mark on the Wrong Iranian Target Doesn't Help the Cause," Daniel M. Zucker, Global Politician, February 22, 2006. Available at: www.globalpolitician.com/21625-iran
[19] Amit R. Paley and Sudarsan Raghav, "Muslim Shiite Sheiks Condemn Tehran for Violence in Iraq", The Washington Post, November 22, 2007. Also reported by CNN.com, "Tribal leader: Evicting Iranian regime is only solution for Iraq," November 23, 2007. Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/meast/11/23/iraq.iran/
[20] Arab-language daily, Al-Qabas, Kuwait, June 15, 2008, p. 73.