Insight on the News - World
Insight Daily: April 28, 2003
Iranian Mujahedin Takes Multiple Hits
By Kenneth R. Timmerman
The outlawed Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group the State Department has designated as an international terrorist organization because of its close ties to the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, is reeling from the one-two punch delivered by the United States this month. The group also is accused by the State Department of having murdered U.S. military personnel in Iran during the late 1970s under the Shah, and of having jointly carried out the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979 with pro-Khomeini forces who held U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
On April 10 and April 11, U.S. warplanes devastated several Mujahedin training camps inside Iraq, after the U.S. military had dropped leaflets warning MEK members to disperse as civilians, leaving their weapons behind.
In a press release originally published April 13 on its English-language Website, the group acknowledged that 18 of its fighters were killed and 43 wounded, but blamed the attacks on "agents of the Iranian Intelligence Ministry, Revolutionary Guards and operatives against the Mujahedin."
The MEK statement was repeated and amplified the following day. In the statements, it pretended to list the names of "Kurdish and Arabic-speaking operatives" working on behalf of the Iranian government, and claimed that Iran "has dispatched large groups of Revolutionary Guards to Iraq under the command of Guards Corps Brig. Gen. Jafari, GC Brig. Gen. Reza Seifollahi," and others, many of whom the MEK identified only by first names.
The almost surrealistic nature of these allegations became apparent on April 17, when U.S. Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks confirmed in Doha, Qatar, that U.S. forces had been targeting MEK bases in Iraq "for some time." Brooks told reporters the coalition was close to securing "some sort of agreement that would be a cease-fire and a capitulation." On April 22, he reported that most of the remaining MEK fighters "have moved into what can best be described as assembly areas, in a noncombat formation," while U.S. commanders decided what to do with them.
"We certainly know that the United States has maintained the MEK, as we describe it, on the terrorist list, and they still are. So, until that changes, we view them that way," Brooks said. "However, there's discussion that's ongoing right now to determine exactly what the condition and what the status will be and how we'll handle them. It's premature for me to describe exactly what that will be at this point."
In Washington, the group is watching its political support on Capitol Hill evaporate. After taking out a quarter-page ad in the Washington Post on April 17 to generate publicity for a Washington rally the next day, the group was denounced by a prominent former supporter, Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).
Ney had accepted $4,000 in campaign contributions from MEK members in 1995, before their efforts to buy influence in Congress had been exposed in the press by this reporter, based on information initially provided by an FBI undercover agent.
On April 23, Ney sent a stinging letter to The Hill newspaper, denouncing the "outright lies, exaggerations and deceptions" used by the group. He blasted the MEK for using "dozens of pseudonyms, such as the National Council of Resistance and the People's Movement of Iran, to hide contributions and spread its propaganda," and accused the group of faking its support in Congress. Despite numerous inquiries from members of Congress and from the press, Ney said, the group has refused to publish the names of members of Congress who signed a letter of support last November. The reason? Because the list "does not exist."
Ney explained: "At one point, it may have; in fact, when MEK representatives first visited my office several years ago, preaching democracy for Iran, I was glad to join them in what appeared to be their effort. However, I quickly discovered that the MEK are not the proponents of democracy they claim to be but are in fact documented terrorists with a history of killing American citizens and supporting Saddam Hussein."
The MEK claims that it seeks violently to overthrow the clerical regime in Iran and replace it with a democracy. In speeches and in literature handed out by the group, however, the MEK already has designated the future leaders of Iran, and have identified whole sectors of the population who will be deprived of political rights under their rule. Opponents of the group believe an MEK regime in Iran quickly would degenerate into a bloodbath, and have called MEK leader Massoud Radjavi "the Pol Pot of Iran."
Iranian exiles who track the activities of the Mujahedin tell Insight that Radjavi, who critics accuse of running the group like a religious cult, recently has taken a second wife in addition to his current "political" wife, Mariam Radjavi, whom the group has designated as the "president-elect" of Iran.
Radjavi is said to have married the sister of a top Iranian government official, Mohammad Atrianfar, the editor of Tehran's largest-circulation daily, Hamshahri, and a former member of the city council. Atrianfar belongs to the circle of so-called "reformers" around President Mohammad Khatami, whom Radjavi has denounced as "dictators" and "tyrants."
According to some reports, Radjavi succeeded in fleeing Iraq before the coalition attacks on his bases outside Baghdad and currently is living with his new bride in France.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.