Iranian group's big-money push to get off US terrorist list
SPECIAL INVESTIGATION: A roster of influential former US officials is speaking at rallies in support of removing the MEK, an Iranian opposition group with a violent anti-American history, from the US terrorist list. A decision is expected within weeks.
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Expelled from Iran in 1981, and then evicted from France, the MEK in 1986 set up in Iraq where they "became a wholly owned subsidiary of Saddam Hussein's regime," according to Ken Pollack, a former CIA analyst and National Security Council director for Gulf affairs, in his book "The Persian Puzzle."Skip to next paragraph
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Saddam "armed them, paid them, and sent them on missions into Iran during the later stages of the Iran-Iraq War," notes Mr. Pollack, adding that they became "such creatures of the Iraqi regime" that they helped crush Shiite and Kurdish revolts in 1991 that the White House had encouraged – actions that today are one reason for enduring anti-MEK hostility from Iraq’s Shiite-led government.
The MEK denies fighting in Saddam's wars and often claims it was "independent" of the Iraqi dictator's regime, but Pollack's description is confirmed by numerous independent sources.
A US State Dept. report in 1994 dismissed MEK efforts to reinvent itself. Noting the MEK’s “dedication to armed struggle"; the “fact that they deny or distort sections of their history, such as the use of violence”; the “dictatorial methods” of their leadership; and the “cult-like behavior of its members,” the State Dept. concluded that the MEK’s “29-year record of behavior does not substantiate its capability or intention to be democratic.”
That report describes tactics that foreshadow the MEK’s lobbying campaign today, 16 years later. It notes a “formidable Mojahidin outreach program,” which “solicits the support of prominent public figures,” and the “common practice … to collect statements issued by prominent individuals.”
The more recent 2009 RAND study came to similar conclusions. It speaks of the MEK's "long history of deception," and how it has become "increasingly adept at crafting ... its image as a democratic organization that seeks to bring down Iranian tyrants."
When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it also took ownership of the sprawling MEK base at Camp Ashraf, north of Baghdad near the Iranian border. US forces did not disband the camp; hawkish talk in Washington was that the thousands of MEK militants might be recycled for future use against Iran.
The sources of funding for the campaign to rehabilitate the MEK are not clear, even to US officials. The Monitor sought contact with more than a dozen speakers which, combined with news reports and official disclosures, paint a picture of several Iranian-American groups – some with past links to the MEK, and all engaged in pro-MEK activities – bankrolling the effort.
Besides the string of well-attended events at prestigious American hotels and locations, and in Paris, Brussels, and Berlin, the campaign has included full-page advertisements in The New York Times and Washington Post – which can cost $175,000 apiece – that demand delisting the MEK and protection of Camp Ashraf.
Several conferences have been sponsored by ExecutiveAction, LLC, whose CEO Neil Livingstone has long been active with MEK issues. His company has produced lengthy reports rebutting official US positions on the MEK.