Support for the Iranian exile group Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, among some former U.S. government officials is a product of their “own illusions,” an Iranian studies expert tells TPM.
“I think part of it is wishful thinking, and [the MEK’s] very active PR campaign to represent themselves,” Ahmad Sadri, a professor of Islamic World Studies and Sociology at Lake Forest College in Illinois, said in a phone interview. “They are saying to the world ‘we are whatever you want us to be.'”
As TPM has reported, the MEK has a history of support in Washington, and a number of prominent U.S. national security experts and former government officials have recently taken up the MEK cause, which includes getting the MEK removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. The MEK was put on the terror list in 1997, in a move that has been described as a nod to Iran’s then reformist president.At a panel in Washington D.C. two weeks ago, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and ex-Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) joined former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey in painting the MEK not only as unfairly shackled by the terrorist label, but also as a critical part of the Iranian opposition movement.
“The Mujahedin have absolutely no backing in Iran,” Sadri told TPM. He said he’d first become aware of the MEK 40 years ago, when he occasionally listened to the group’s clandestine radio shows, broadcast before the fall of the Shah. He described the MEK in its early days as a “vanguard organization.”
Sadri, who moved from Iran to the U.S. in the mid-1970s to attend a Ph.D program at The New School, said he visited Iran once every year or two until the 2009 election, and “never heard a positive word uttered” about the MEK. According to Sadri, many Iranians have never gotten over the group accepting safe haven and patronage from Saddam Hussein, and then fighting on his behalf in the Iran-Iraq war. MEK supporters maintain that they had nowhere else to turn in 1986, when Saddam took them in.
“If there is one thing everyone can agree on Iran, it’s that Saddam Hussein is a really bad guy,” Sadri said. Despite the relationship with Hussein, Sadri described the executions of MEK prisoners in Iran by the regime in the 1990s as a “horrific, horrific episode,” one that “really created a black spot on the regime.”
The MEK has publicly renounced violence. About 3,400 members live at Camp Ashraf, in Iraq, where they surrendered their arms following the U.S. invasion in 2003. The camp’s inhabitants have been subject to several attacks, including a recent one that left 175 people injured, and which the MEK blames on Iraqi special forces and Iranian agents.
Sadri described the MEK’s supporters, meanwhile, as “very, very active.”
“They wheel and deal and they’re willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder,” he said.
When asked what relationship he saw between the MEK and the Green Movement in Iran he responded: “Zero. Nothing. No support I can detect.”
Sadri came to the U.S. before the fall of the Shah, and originally intended to return to Iran. He stayed in the country on a student visa for 10 years before applying for a green card, in the hope that the political situation in the Iran would improve. But he finally decided there was “no chance” of that happening.
“I could never really work in Iran and have the freedom to express myself,” he said.