Iranian dissidents and a U.S. dilemma

April 29, 2011

Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON — Call it the coalition of the baffled — a diverse group of prominent public figures who challenge the U.S. government’s logic of keeping on its terrorist blacklist an Iranian exile organization that publicly renounced violence a decade ago and has fed details on Iran’s nuclear programme to American intelligence.

On the U.S. Department of State’s list of 47 foreign terrorist organizations, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq is the only group that has been taken off similar lists by the European Union and Britain, after court decisions that found no evidence of terrorist activity in recent years. In the U.S., a court last July ordered the State Department to review the designation. Nine months later, that review is still in progress and supporters of the MEK wonder why it is taking so long.

The organization has been on the list since 1997, placed there by the Clinton administration at a time it hoped to open a dialogue with Iran, whose leaders hate the MEK for having sided with Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran war.

Calls to hasten the delisting process rose in volume after Iraqi troops raided the base of the MEK northeast of Baghdad, near the Iranian border, in an operation on April 8 that left at least 34 dead, according to the United Nations Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay. In Washington, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, called the raid a “massacre.” Video uploaded by the MEK showed gut-wrenchingly graphic images of dead and wounded, some after being run over by armoured personnel carriers.

The raid drew cheers from officials in Iran, where the group is also classified as terrorist, one of the few things on which Washington and Tehran agree. The word schizophrenia comes to mind here. Iran is one of four countries the U.S. has declared state sponsors of terrorism. The MEK’s stated aim is the peaceful ouster of the Iranian theocracy. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?

In response to the April 8 violence, MEK supporters organized a seminar in Washington whose panelists highlighted the bipartisan nature of those critical of the terrorist label. It’s not often that you see the former chairman of the Democratic National Committe, Howard Dean, a liberals’ liberal, sitting next to Rudolf Giuliani, the arch-conservative former mayor of New York.

At a similar event in Paris on the same day, the podium was shared by Nobel peace prize winner Elie Wiesel, Gen. James Jones, U.S. President Barack Obama’s former national security adviser, former NATO commander Wesley Clark and MEK leader Maryam Rajavi. The theme at both events – take the MEK off the list and protect the around 3,400 Iranians in Iraq, who live in Ashraf, a small town surrounded by barriers and security fences.

To hear Dean tell it in Washington, the April 8 raid was evidence that the Iraqi government is becoming “a satellite government for Iran,” with the terrorist designation used to justify “mass murder.” Dean is not alone in ascribing this and a previous attack that killed 11 in Ashraf in July 2009 to the growing influence of Iran as the U.S. prepares to withdraw most of its troops from Iraq by the end of the year.


What then? You don’t have to be a pessimist to anticipate more raids, more bloodshed and a humanitarian crisis. Until the end of 2008, the U.S. was responsible for the security of Ashraf and its residents enjoyed the status of “protected persons” under the Geneva Convention. That changed when the U.S. transferred control of Ashraf to the Iraqi government which provided written assurances of humane treatment of its residents.

They don’t seem to be worth the paper they are written on. The Iraqi raid on April 8 came a day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was in Baghdad for talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. One of the topics Gates raised — Iran’s influence in the region.

That Ashraf and the terrorist label for its inhabitants would put the United States in an awkward position after the transfer of responsibility was spelt out with remarkable clarity in February 2009 in a cable from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Marked secret and released through Wikileaks, the cable said harsh Iraqi action would place the U.S. in “a challenging dilemma.”

“We either protect members of a Foreign Terrorist Organization against actions of the ISF (Iraqi Security Forces) and risk violating the U.S.-Iraqi Security Agreement or we decline to protect the MEK in the face of a humanitarian crisis, thus leading to international condemnation of both the USG (U.S. government) and the GOI (government of Iraq).”

Which raises a question. How could the U.S. fail to protect unarmed Iranian dissidents opposed to a dictatorship but go to war to protect Libyans in a conflict between armed rebels and a dictatorship? Unlike the Libyan rebels, of whom little is known, the Iranians in Ashraf were all subject to background checks by the American military in the six years it was in control of the camp.

If there’s logic in protecting one but not the other, it’s not easy to see.

(You can contact the author at


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I think the author is right to highlight this important issue. Clearly the unjustifiable blacklisting of the Iranian opposition is giving the Iraqi and Iranian regimes an excuse to murder its members and supporters.

Posted by Farhad_A | Report as abusive


I was almost losing hope. Saying to myself what is happening in this world of ours. It is as if the media has intentionally closed its eyes and looked away from the killing field of Camp Ashraf, home to close to 3400 men and women who have dedicated all they have to liberate their people of the yoke of one of the most insidious and tyrannical religious fascisms we have come to witness in centuries.

I always like to quote Winston Churchill when it comes to the barbarism and savagery of the ayatollahs running a glorious land and wonderful and resourceful people. They have fought with dignity and bravery the Sheik and the Shah for more than six decades (not to speak of the Constitutional Revolution of 1905 and 1911), nearly five of those decades under the leadership of the People’s Mujahidin Organization of Iran, a group of dedicated folks who have irrigated the tree of liberty with the blood of more than 120,000 of the best and the brightest of the3ir members and sympathizers.

Back to Winston Churchill who when Lord Halifax suggested that Brittan make peace with Hitler, he not only declined but instead vowed to rescue “mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened the stained pages of history.”

Here we are!!! The US is trying a rapprochement with the devil for no less than a decade and a half to no avail; and the strange thing is that my country is in bed with an implacable enemy that has killed many of our young servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is involved with the development of Weapons of Mass Destruction, which of course we all know the kind of catastrophe it will cause in a tinder-box of a region, called Middle East.
The mullahs’ terrorist extraterritorial Qods Force has been involved with Hezbollah and other nutcases in the region to attack Israel from Egyptian land, thus creating complications for the Egyptian-Israeli relations, a plot that was foiled in time by the Egyptian security forces. And on and on we go.

And here is what I don’t understand!!! The EU took these guys out of the list and so did Brittan and the Court of Appeals in Washington instructed the Secretary of State to revise its decision and delist these good folks (more than 237 days ago) who are the best friends of the US. The CIA doesn’t have anything on them, neither does any other security, intelligence and law enforcement agency in the US, all of whom, plus 12 other agencies that interviewed Camp Ashraf Residents and did not find an iota of evidence to link them to any unlawful activities since 2003, when they voluntarily gave up their arms, in return for the commitment of protection by the US for the 3400 residents.

Nothing has been done to uphold our commitments and the tenets of international law, i.e., the fourth Geneva Convention, Article 45 and other relevant statutes. One day they tell us Iraq is a sovereign nation, the next, they are afraid the mullahs’ mercenaries would kill our soldiers, as if they have not been doing this dastardly deed all along by sending IED’s to the Iraqis, and undo all the efforts we have put forth to build that nation. In essence, they sacrificed the lives of many Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars to simply give it to the mullahs in a silver platter.

We have let the Iraqi mercenaries in coordination with the Iranian government to kill more 34 residents and injure more than 300 on that infamous day of April 8th, and not to speak of the 11 innocent, unarmed and “Protected Persons” they killed in the course of July 28th and July 29th 2009, and injuring of another several hundred residents. Enough is enough. We are giving the Iraqis an excuse to kill these brave people. When the Iraqi Ambassador in Washington was asked why you are killing unarmed residents, he shot back “you put them in the list.”

I am so mad that I have to say some of these things that have been gnawing at me for a while. But the purpose of this piece is t tell you folks that after reading this article by a man of dignity, I feel a great deal better, as if there is hope, that there is still humanity amid all the chaos and chicanery and yellow journalism. Bernd Debusmann has written an ethical rule for the rest of the nonchalant observers.

I am proud of this country and I am certain that no matter how far some of our functionaries (that is the State Department bureaucrats) try to dig us into a hole, the resources of this great nation is unlimited and its humanity will be demonstrated sooner than later.

Thank you Bernd, with this writing, you have given back to us our dignity and our relentless striving for human rights


Posted by CNGS | Report as abusive

We all know that a principle reason for attacking Iraq was in support of Israel’s ambitions. Having made war on Iraq, Iran moved to the head of the line. Moreover, much evidence against Iran (“computers filled with nuclear data”) is manufactured by Israel and passed off to the West. Western anti-Iran people pick up the phony evidence and flog it.

Moreover, both Israel and the US have threatened Iran with nuclear attacks.

Our government remains infiltrated with Neocons who have shown themselves eager to attack Iran, probably killing millions of people. AIPAC wants us to attack Iran, and tells our politicians what to do. So, it makes me suspicious that this is just another way to get Iran.

Moreover, some terrorist group has been conducting bombings against Iran in the area close to the MEK stronghold.

All this means that we don’t really have a clear picture of what is going on in Iran, or with the MEK. And how does MEK, living is a small town in Iraq, have reliable information on Iran? (More Israeli generated disinformation?) Its easy for MEK to publically renounce their terrorism. If they really have forsworn it, why is Iraq, or even Iran you think, so much against them?

“[T]he Iranians in Ashraf were all subject to background checks by the American military”: and what did they find?

Of course, I don’t support massacre of the unarmed peaceful MEK, but the evidence that they are no longer terrorists seems a little flimsy. What, actually, does the United Nations Human Rights chief, Navi Pillay know? Recently, we have seen phony propaganda videos used in the Ivory Coast conflagration.

Rather, we should make peace with Iran!

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

To label a group “terrorists” is to make no effort to understand them.
It’s like “pagans” or “infidels” “heretic” or “apostate” politics are driven by meaningless stereotypes.

Posted by rtgunlimited | Report as abusive

[…] Mosul saw reports of gun fire.  And the media emargo will continue. On another issue, Bernd Debusmann (Reuters) writes: Call it the coalition of the baffled – a diverse group of prominent public figures who […]

Posted by Iraq snapshot (C.I.) | thecommonillsbackup | Report as abusive


I agree that the validity of the label depends on the point of view of the labeler.

But, maybe the issue here is that if the MEK is removed from our terrorist list, then this enables funding of them by Americans for more “terrorist” attacks in Iran, and I am definitely against that.

Posted by xcanada2 | Report as abusive

[…] Iranian dissidents and a U.S. dilemma […]

Posted by Suicide bomber in Northern Iraq | | Report as abusive

[…] of protest. Mosul saw reports of gun fire. And the media emargo will continue. On another issue, Bernd Debusmann (Reuters) writes: Call it the coalition of the baffled — a diverse group of prominent public figures who […]

Posted by gary shapiro is 1 of the greatest dangers to the country (Rebecca) | thecommonillsbackup | Report as abusive

To label a group “terrorists” is to make no effort to understand them.

No kidding. Are you people clueless? Have any of you geniuses read their literature?These lunatics have murdered Americans, starting with the 3 Rockwell security employees in about 1976 when Maryam’s husband was starting out. They have murdered many Iranians, and are the one Iranian “group” universally hated by virtually all other Iranians. If anybody fits the label, “Islamo-Fascist,” it is these barbarians. For the US to start supporting them would be the height of stupidity. Get a grip!

Posted by skteze | Report as abusive

Don’t make a new Taliban by supporting these terrorists. They killed many innocents. I am a radical opponent of Iran’s Mullahs’ regime, but supporting MEK is nonsense. After all, MEK was an influential figure in Mullahs’ takeover.

Posted by AlirezaAmini | Report as abusive

@skteze and @alirezaamini

you guys are horribly misinformed.  /Rockwell

Posted by vabayad | Report as abusive

I don’t think so vabayad. I have it directly from an IBEX security official who knew the victims personally. Remember, Helms was convicted of lying to Congress–disinformation was his job. Besides, again, have you read the MEK/MKO stuff? I know some of these guys. They should be hanged not partnered with. AlirezaAmini is right and you are NOT.

Posted by skteze | Report as abusive

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Posted by Iranian dissidents and a U.S. dilemma | Report as abusive

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