Saturday, April 16, 2005

Iranian Group Asks State To Lift Terror Designation

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
Three hundred supporters of an Iranian opposition group characterized by the State Department as a terrorist organization gathered here yesterday to pressure the Bush administration to lift the designation. READ MORE

Supporters of the Mujahedin e-Khalq, or MEK, gathered just four blocks from the White House at Constitution Hall, where a handful of congressmen and two former military officers praised the group as the vanguard of a democratic opposition to the reigning mullahs in Iran.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Cantwell, the former military police commandant of Camp Ashraf, a facility in northern Iraq where some 4,000 fighters associated with the MEK are under military supervision, expressed solidarity with fighters he used to guard. To cheers of support, he told the audience, "If there is a terrorist group in Ashraf, where are the terrorists?" ...

The MEK and its political arm, known as the National Council of the Resistance in Iran, are considered terrorists by the State Department for their role in a string of successful attacks on Iranian regime targets in the country throughout the 1990s. The organization, which initially supported the Islamic revolution in 1979, was purged by Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s. With many of its leaders in prison, the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war by 1985.

In 1991, MEK fighters were on the front lines of Saddam's brutal counterinsurgency campaigns in the Shiite south and Kurdish north. "Up until the fall of the regime, they were part and parcel of the Iraqi military. And they were heavily involved in suppressing the Kurdish uprising of 1991," the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan representative in Washington, Qubad Talabani, said yesterday.

Nonetheless, before the Gulf War, the group reached out to America and shared intelligence on a clandestine Iranian nuclear centrifuge program in Natanz. President Bush this year acknowledged that the first bit of information on the Iranian program came from the group.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom, American special forces initially encountered MEK military units equipped with tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers. According to reserve Army Captain Vivian Gembara, the military lawyer who negotiated the deal for the MEK fighters to hand over their arms in 2003, the MEK was highly disciplined and knowledgeable about military affairs.

"We have more reason to trust them than some of the other groups we worked with," Captain Gembara said. Specifically, she said she was mystified as to why coalition forces allowed the militia trained by Iran's revolutionary guard, known as the Badr Brigade, to remain intact while dismantling the MEK fighting unit. "We let the Badr Brigade keep their uniforms, but we disarmed people willing to work with us," she said.

Yesterday's event, which the organizers called a national convention, featured groups of regional supporters of the MEK, who were in the audience and identified with the vertical placards of state names normally associated with political conventions. The similarities ended, though, when a message from an MEK leader, Maryam Rajavi, was beamed to an audience that shrieked and applauded with rapturous fervor.

"Just as the time has come to abandon the appeasement of tyrants, so the time has come to remove the ominous legacy of that policy, namely the terror label against the Iranian resistance," Ms. Rajavi said to thunderous cheers. In 2003, members of the MEK immolated themselves in protest when French police briefly arrested Ms. Rajavi in Paris.

Some congressmen shared Ms. Rajavi's position on the terrorist designation. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a Republican of Colorado, compared those gathered yesterday to America's Founding Fathers.

Not all members of the Iranian opposition, however, have such fond words for the MEK. The organization has been left out of the nascent movement inside the country to press for a constitutional referendum.

An Iranian activist in Los Angeles, Roxanne Ganji, told The New York Sun yesterday, "They are definitely a cult, and that is a dangerous thing. If anyone goes to Iran and takes the pulse of the people, though, 90% would never allow them to go back. That does not mean the information they gave America was not good. But they are a terrorist organization. If the United States wants information, then they can get it from viable groups and not terrorists."
The article failed to mention that the MEK were responsible for the murder of Americans in the 1970's.