Setting the Record Straight About the Mojahedin-e Khalq of Iran
Professor Daniel M. Zucker
NCR-Iran.org, August 7, 2006
Global Politician - Jay Solomon's article in the Wall Street Journal ("Iranian Exile Group Aims to Build Bridges; Some in Congress See a Role For an Organization Listed as a Terrorist Group", May 22, 2006, A6) did much to shed light on the principal Iranian resistance organization. In that regard, it served a valuable purpose as most Americans have no idea who and what the Mojahedin-e Khalq is, and for what it stands. However, there are some important errors and oversights in his essay that need correction and clarification.
In truth, it is not easy to get to the core of the story about the Mojahedin-e Khalq or MEK as it is generally known in western media. The reason for this difficulty is that the Iranian regime has disseminated a highly successful disinformation campaign about the MEK, a trick that the mullahs learned from studying with the Soviet Union's KGB. In the period before the fall of the shah, many of the student followers of Ayatollah Khomeini spent time in the USSR learning revolutionary tactics and strategy. One such individual is the present Supreme Leader of Iran, the Faqih, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a graduate of Patrice Lumumba Friendship University in Moscow, the Oxford of terrorism.
One of the errors about the MEK is the allegation that they were involved in assassinating U.S. Army personal and military contractors in the early and mid-1970's. The accusation derives from the fact that little was known about the MEK by American intelligence at the time, and not much has been learned until recently. In 1971 the leadership of the MEK was arrested by SAVAK, the shah's secret police for their pro-democracy activities. While the leadership was in prison, a dissident group broke away from the Muslim Mojahedin and formed a Marxist faction. It was this latter group which used the Mojahedin name but violated its principles and attacked and killed Americans. The Marxists later took the name Peykar for themselves. The shah's agents labeled the MEK "Islamic Marxists", but the label is false as the MEK believes in a free market economy and private property, which is the antithesis of Marxism.
Another false accusation against the MEK is the allegation that the MEK supported the student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in February 1979, and subsequent 444 day hostage crisis. MEK members actually tried to protect the U.S. Embassy from the street gang Komitehs that sought to take control of it for the Islamist faction of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini's student followers, including people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, clashed with the MEK, and forbade their entrance to the embassy. Indeed, the Islamist leaders of the embassy-takeover themselves have written that the MEK was not part of their group and would not have been allowed to participate because of major doctrinal differences. (See the account of the takeover by the hostage-takers' spokeswoman, Ms. Masoomeh Ebtekar.) The above points are all carefully documented in the Iran Policy Committee's White Paper # 3 of September 13, 2005, as well as the new IPC White Paper "Appeasing the Ayatollahs and Suppressing Democracy: U.S. Policy and the Iranian Opposition", released on July 27, 2006.
The claim, heard occasionally around Washington, that the MEK is unpopular with the masses in Iran does not add up. If the MEK is so unpopular, why has the regime's media attacked the MEK 350% more than any other group? Why does the Iranian Diaspora support the MEK in numbers that dwarf support for all other opposition groups combined? Why is Teheran scared of the MEK, but not of Reza Pahlavi and the monarchists, the Tudeh Party or Ibrahim Yazdi's Freedom Movement of Iran? How is it possible for the MEK to uncover details of the regime's nuclear and missile programs if the people don't trust and respect the MEK? For that matter, how does the MEK manage to have the written support of 11,000 Iraqi jurists and 5.2 million Iraqi individuals including, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, if the MEK was an agent of repression under Saddam Hussein? The truth of the matter is that the MEK has never harmed Iraqis nor common Iranians; on the other hand, the MEK has inflicted serious damage to the regime and its officials, especially in the Revolutionary Guard Corps and prison officials that have been responsible for the torture and murder of over 120,000 MEK members and sympathizers.
The MEK, under the leadership of theoretician Massoud Rajavi, did not take up arms against the Islamic Republic of Iran until June 21, 1981, the day after a peaceful demonstration of over 500,000 individuals in Teheran was attacked on Khomeini's orders by members of the IRGC (Revolutionary Guards) and Hizbollahis with live fire, resulting in 30 deaths and hundreds of casualties. After its attack, the IRGC indiscriminately arrested thousands and summarily executed hundreds, including young teens, that evening. Following these incidents, the MEK leadership decided to take up arms against the Khomeini regime, launching attacks that killed several high officials of the regime. MEK went underground and the following month Rajavi and Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr, Iran's president, fled together to Paris to set up a government in exile. Bani-Sadr subsequently made his peace with the regime while Rajavi continued to lead the MEK. In 1986, France's President Chirac, then prime minister, concluded a business deal with Iran, which included the expulsion of the MEK from France. Iraq offered refuge, and the MEK accepted, making it clear that it had no intention of being involved in internal Iraqi affairs whatsoever, simply using Iraqi soil to launch attacks against the Khomeini Islamofascist Iranian regime.
The 2003 decision by the Bush administration to place the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the umbrella political organization of which the MEK is a prominent member, on the State Department's Foreign Terrorist Organization was made in response to Iran's request for such action in a trade-off for Iran's promise not to hold captive any American pilots shot down in Operation Iraqi Freedom that landed in Iranian territory. Like the 1997 Clinton decision, cited by Solomon, to place the MEK on the terrorist list, the basis for the 2003 decision was purely political expediency rather than factual reality. So too, five investigative agencies of the federal government conducted a 16-month investigation of all 4,000 MEK personnel at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, including the taking of DNA samples, and none were found to have any links with terrorism or to have violated any U.S. laws.
Dr. Michael Rubin's testimony on the sins of the Islamic regime in Teheran is always first rate. However, Rubin is a supporter of Reza Pahlavi and the monarchists. As a result, his views on the MEK must be held as suspect. I have written elsewhere about Dr. Rubin's sympathies and those of his colleague Dr. Kenneth Timmerman for the monarchists. I would again ask, how reliable is the opinion of those who support the Iranian monarchy when the 1979 revolution, which Khomeini hijacked, was held by the Iranian people to get rid of the shah? Timmerman and Rubin are fine scholars about the regime, but their biases must be recognized when one talks about the Iranian resistance and the question of regime change. The MEK is the grandchild of Dr. Mohammed Mossadeq, the popular nationalist prime minister that the CIA toppled in 1953 so as to bring the shah back to power. The Iranian masses have shown a decided preference for the MEK over any possible return to a Pahlavi monarchy. As such, it would be prudent for the State Department to de-list the MEK and the NCRI to allow them to lead the Iranian people to make the necessary changes to bring about a secular democracy in Iran, one that has already eschewed the possession of nuclear weaponry.
Professor Daniel M. Zucker is Chairman of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East.