US President Barack Obama’s administration granted a victory to a militant Iranian organization that used to be allied with former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, taking the group off the US terrorism list despite vehemently rejecting its claim that it is a pro-democracy opposition movement worthy of replacing Iran’s Shiite regime.
In announcing the decision on Friday, the US Department of State said the Mujahidin-e-Khalq (MEK) has not committed terrorism for more than a decade and credited its 3,000 members for nearly completing the peaceful departure from their paramilitary base near Iraq’s border with Iran. Effective immediately, any assets the MEK has in the US are unblocked and Americans are permitted to do business with the organization.
Derided by its critics as a cult, the MEK helped Islamic clerics overthrow Iran’s shah before carrying out a series of bombings and assassinations against the Iranian government. It fought in the 1980s alongside Saddam’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war, but disarmed after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
The group now claims to seek the peaceful replacement of Iran’s government with a democratic, secular government — which US officials contest. However, they note that US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who made the decision, focused strictly on whether its members still had the capacity and intent to commit acts of terror.
However, a senior State Department official said that the administration does not regard the MEK as a viable opposition group that could promote democratic values in Iran. The official briefed reporters on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
Delisting the MEK is sure to infuriate Iran, which accuses the group of involvement in the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years. Just this week, Iran blamed the MEK after New York police were forced to escort an Iranian diplomat from a Manhattan street when he was surrounded and threatened by an angry mob of protesters near the UN.
In an interview on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the MEK “chants dirty slogans and openly sanctions the killing of Iranian women and children.”
Administration officials informed reporters about the decision last week, ahead of a court-ordered Oct. 1 deadline for Clinton to either strike the Iranian group off the US list of foreign terrorist organizations or explain why it should be left on. The deadline resulted from a high-profile pressure campaign by the MEK to get off the blacklist, with champions including former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Homeland Security secretary Tom Ridge and former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell. Other advocates were a former attorney general and FBI director under former US president George W. Bush and Obama’s first national security adviser.
Several US military officials and defense contractors were killed by the MEK in the 1970s, US officials maintain, and its attacks have killed hundreds of Iranians.
Yet US officials rejected that the MEK’s public lobbying pressured them into the decision.
Iran’s mainstream opposition groups have distanced themselves from the MEK, whose ideology stems from elements of Marxism, secularism, an obsession with martyrdom and near-adoration of its leaders.