Iranian Terrorist Group Enjoys US, EU Protection
By Joseph Fitsanakis* | intelNews | 01.29.2009
THE MUJAHEDEEN-E KHALQ (MEK), also known as the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, is one of several armed groups deemed terrorist by Washington and the European Union (EU). On January 26, however, the EU decided to remove MEK from its official list of terrorist organizations, a move that some observers believe was secretly supported by the US. This is because, despite MEK’s terrorist designation, Washington has routinely collaborated with it since 2003, prompted by the group’s fierce opposition to the regime in Tehran.
MEK, which operates under a peculiar breed of Marxist, feminist and Islamic ideology, began its political activities in 1963, when it emerged in opposition to the US puppet regime of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. In 1979, it was among several political groups that participated in Pahlavi’s ouster, which subsequently earned it its terrorist designation from Washington. Soon afterwards, however, the group fell out with the conservative elements in Iran’s Islamic Revolution and began an armed war against Tehran. Many in MEK’s armed wing resettled on the Iraqi side of the Iraq-Iran border, where they received funding and diplomatic support from the government of Saddam Hussein.
In 2003, when the US invaded Iraq, American forces entered Camp Ashraf, MEK’s main military base in Iraq, to find “armored personnel carriers, artillery, anti-aircraft guns and vehicles […] along with more than 2,000 well-maintained tanks”. However, even though the group if officially classified by the US as terrorist, US troops were ordered by the Pentagon to give military protection to MEK armed groups in Iraq. Since then, Western correspondents in Iraq have frequently reported that US military personnel “regularly escort MEK supply runs between Baghdad and […] Camp Ashraf”.
The main reason for Washington’s clandestine backing of an armed group it officially describes as terrorist is well publicized. It relates to America’s consideration of MEK as “a source of valuable intelligence on Iran”, particularly its assistance in “helping expose Iran’s secret nuclear program through spying on Tehran for decades”. Additionally, the group “has been secretly helping the CIA run operations against the Islamic regime” from Camp Ashraf.
While enjoying covert US protection, MEK has been tied to several attacks on civilian targets inside Iran, a recent one being the bombing of a girls’ school in the town of Zahedan. These attacks have infuriated the Iranian government, which has demanded that Iraq stops hosting MEK bases on its territory. Late last year, the Iraqi government, which is ideologically aligned to Tehran, pressured Washington to terminate MEK’s presence on Iraqi soil. The Bush Administration eventually succumbed to the pressures in the context of the broader US-Iraq security agreement. Accordingly, Camp Ashraf is scheduled to close down in 2009.
Interestingly, the EU’s surprise decision to remove MEK from its list of terrorist organizations came right at the point where the group’s leadership is considering where to relocate its thousands of supporters (many armed) currently in Iraq. Its removal from the EU’s official terrorist list has opened up the possibility that MEK members will resettle in Europe, thus “temporarily solving the problem of what to do with them once [Camp] Ashraf is closed”. Moreover, the EU move is expected to unlock MEK’s “untold millions of dollars” frozen in Europe and permit the group to increase its political campaigns, which could well catapult it to “a leading role in the Iranian opposition abroad”, according to one former US intelligence official, who also discerns “a hidden American hand in the EU decision”.
Meanwhile, US covert collaboration with MEK operatives is expected to intensify under a major CIA operation authorized in 2008 by former US President George W. Bush and now supervised by the Barack Obama Administration. Iran appears to have apprehended at least four operatives working on this project. Earlier this month, Tehran announced the arrest and secret trial of four individuals “seeking to topple [the government] with the backing of the US State Department and the CIA”. The four were apparently convicted after a secret trial, in which they were found guilty of trying to secretly instigate a “velvet revolution” in the Islamic state.
* Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis has been writing and teaching on the politics of intelligence for over ten years. His areas of academic expertise include the institutional analysis of the intelligence community; the interception of communications; and the history of intelligence with particular reference to international espionage during the Cold War. He is co-founder and Senior Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.