Strange days! A few days ago, Congressman Poe (T-Texas) introduced House Resolution 60 calling for the Mojahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO) to be removed from the terrorist list by the State Department. At the same time, an unknown group calling itself the "Association of Iranian University Professors in Britain" took a full page ad in the major U.S. papers making the same demand. These efforts to get the MKO legitimized is just the last round of efforts by the MKO and its neocon supporters -- presumably as a reward to have "outed" the Iranian nuclear program. The effort is signed by such neocon luminaries such as John Bolton and former CIA director Woolsey, as well as Bush administration alumni such as former Attorney General Mukasey. What strange bedfellows! On one hand, you have the neocons, close allies of the Israeli right-wing and committed to a muscular war against global terrorism, and on the other, the MKO, a radical left-wing Islamist group involved in the 1970s in anti-Shah and anti-U.S. activities -- including a failed attempt on the U.S. ambassador to Iran and the killing of several U.S. citizens based in Iran at the time
There is much more to the MKO story. During the early days of the revolution, the MKO promoted a Khmer Rouge-type policy of wholesale elimination of the previous elite and massive reeducation of the population. After losing the power struggle against Khomeini and reappearing in Iraq, the group's cult-like reputation and its personality cult around its leader Massoud Rajavi intensified. According to the CIA, the MKO was also used by a beleaguered Saddam to crush the Kurdish rebellion that came immediately after Iraq's defeat in the Persian Gulf War. The MKO organized regular media visits at its base in Iraq, Camp Ashraf, where it exhibited its military arsenal, which included tanks and artillery. Of course, most of this arsenal remained unused, since the MKO was unable to mount anything more than pinprick attacks against the Iranian regime. At the same time, the MKO's propaganda machine was working overtime in the U.S. and Europe. In fact, it has been quite effective, and the MKO has managed over the years to pull the wool over the eyes of some European politicians as well as Congress (on particular its most conservative GOP members) and present itself as a bona fide moderate and democratic opposition movement and an alternative to the theocratic government of Tehran. Following the Iraq war, they were unexplainably protected by the U.S. forces -- presumably because the Bush administration, with its less than profound understanding of Iranian political dynamics, wanted to keep the MKO as a potential weapon against the Islamic Republic. It is only recently that the Shi'ite-led government of Iraq felt strong enough to challenge the U.S. by taking control of Camp Ashraf.
It is no secret that the neocons have been pushing hard for years to get the State Department to remove the terrorist label from the MKO. As a result, there have been numerous efforts by Congress to remove them from the aforementioned list. However, these efforts have taken a new dimension in the past few years with the unholy MKO-neocon alliance. This campaign, which did not succeed even under the Bush administration, is surprisingly reaching a new crescendo under the Obama administration. Nobody can be fooled by the motivation of the MKO supporters in the United States, who have openly promoted either military action against Iran or the dismemberment of the country as the ultimate remedy. That the MKO is complicit in these policies is not surprising for a movement which has already betrayed the Iranian people by siding with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. For this, they have been universally reviled both by Iranians in Iran and the world.
In June 2009, the Iranian people rose up against the massive electoral fraud in the presidential elections. The movement amplified into a broad movement of revulsion against the oppressive theocratic regime, unifying the different strands of opposition under the umbrella of the Green Wave (Mowj-e-Sabz), a genuinely popular and national democratic movement which has captured the the hopes of millions of freedom-loving Iranians and the imagination of the world. The MKO has not been a factor in Iranian politics, has not been a part of this movement. The Iranian pro-democracy movement has of course nothing to do with this treasonous terrorist cult. In fact, the MKO has been a convenient scapegoat for the Ahmadinejad government to demonize the Green Movement.
While the human rights issue of the refugees trapped in Camp Ashraf has to be dealt with in a compassionate way, the State Department must continue to resist pressures to legitimize the MKO. Pressure to remove the MKO from the U.S. terrorism list is a cynical ploy that can only have negative consequences for both the U.S. and the Iranian people. Legitimizing the MKO will not change the fact that it remains a terrorist organization, which has betrayed the Iranian people twice and is willing to go to any length to promote its undemocratic goals, including an unholy alliance with the neocons. The State Department must resist the pressure, for the interest of peace as well as the democratic movement in Iran.
Karim Pakravan is a member of the Faculty at DePaul University in Chicago.