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Iran sees less threat in exiled MKO militants

Some 100 members of the Iranian antiregime group have left a holding camp in Iraq in recent weeks. Iran says amnesty offer holds.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 11, 2008

Here: Arash Sametipour, a former member of the anti-Iranian MKO, points to offices of the Nejat Society, which helps former militants reintegrate to Iran.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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TEHRAN, Iran

Gholam Reza Sadeghi felt certain of his fate if he ever returned to Iran: torture and execution, given his years as a member of the antiregime Mujahideen-e Khalq, or "People's Holy Warriors."

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But stuck in a crowded camp in Iraq with 3,400 other members of the MKO under US military guard, Mr. Sadeghi finally had had enough. He wanted out, and to see his son.

So he came back to the Islamic Republic, which imprisoned him for five years in the 1980s for participating in a group labeled "terrorist" by both Washington and Tehran. Yet some American officials view the MKO – disarmed but still intact – as a possible tool of regime change against Iran. And the MKO's continued presence in Iraq aggravates US-Iran tensions.

What Sadeghi found was a soft-touch amnesty that he had never been told of in the MKO camp. His case could resonate with the 100 or so other Iranian militants who have been allowed to leave the camp in recent weeks, afraid to return to Iran and running into trouble in Kurdish northern Iraq and upon entering Turkey.

"Because I had been in prison, I expected to go back to prison, torture, and execution," says Sadeghi, who was detained for a week and then let go. "They said [the MKO] is not a threat. [They said,] 'We know you were a victim yourself, who thought you were doing something good for your country but were deceived by a cult.' "

The MKO (or MEK) in 2002 tipped off the world to Iran's secret uranium-enrichment program – with the help of Israel, many analysts have concluded. It now says the recent findings of a US National Intelligence Estimate were wrong and that Iran restarted a nuclear-weapons program in 2004. UN inspectors, however, say that much of the information the UN has received from the group in recent years has a political purpose and has been wrong.

No nation has taken the militants who left Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad, some of them carrying US military letters for travel to Turkey. Documents of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees show that at one point in their saga nearly two weeks ago, 19 were turned back to Iraq by Turkey, dozens were picked up in Kurdish northern Iraq and some forced to return to the dangers of central Iraq, and 26 were missing.

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