Foreign Policy Blogs

Supporting MEK: Not a Step in the Right Direction

Today the Washington Times reported that the United States is discreetly trying to stop Iraq from closing the Camp Ashraf, home to over 3,000 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) members.  As discussed in my previous blog, MEK is regarded by both the Iranian and the U.S. government as a terrorist group.  The group had been operating from Iraq since the 1980s under the protection of Saddam Hussein.  After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the MEK camp in Iraq had been under U.S. protection.

The United States needs to be cautious with its support for the MEK as this could ruin any chance of dialogue with Iran (granted that the chances are already very slim).  The MEK has repeatedly been denounced as a terrorist group by the Iranian government for its attacks against Iranian citizens and public officials.  The group assassinated several of Iran’s leaders in the early years of the Islamic Republic, including the second elected President of Iran, President, Mohammad Ali Rajayee and his Prime Minister, Mohammad Javad Bahonar.  According to this CFR backgrounder, MEK has been accused of the following attacks:

  • the series of mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids during 2000 and 2001 against Iranian government buildings; one of these killed Iran’s chief of staff;
  • the 2000 mortar attack on President Mohammed Khatami’s palace in Tehran;
  • the February 2000 “Operation Great Bahman,” during which MEK launched twelve attacks against Iran;
  • the 1999 assassination of the deputy chief of Iran’s armed forces general staff, Ali Sayyad Shirazi;
  • the 1998 assassination of the director of Iran’s prison system, Asadollah Lajevardi;
  • the 1992 near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and institutions in thirteen countries;
  • Saddam Hussein’s suppression of the 1991 Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish uprisings;
  • the 1981 bombing of the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and of Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, which killed some seventy high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, Prime Minister Bahonar, and the Judiciary Chief, Mohammad Hossein Beheshti.

MEK has also been accused by the Iranian government of organizing unrest in the country after the Presidential election.  The Fars News Agency reported that some of the arrested protesters have confessed to receiving training in Camp Ashraf to conduct sabotage and terror operations and organized activities inside Iran.

Any strong support for the MEK by the United States will give the Iranian regime grounds to dismiss the U.S. offer of dialogue.  The support will be framed by the Iranian regime as American interference in Iran’s internal affairs.  Moreover, it will also allow Iran to accuse the United States of hypocrisy: accusing Iran of supporting terrorist groups in Lebanon, Iraq etc when they themselves are supporting a terrorist group that kills innocent Iranians.  The Obama administration has so far carefully avoided giving the Iranian regime any legitimate excuse for dismissing talks with the United States, lets not start now.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.