For decades the MEK has been a tool the U.S. has tried to use against Iran, even though the U.S. had it listed as a terrorist group until 2012, an Australian expert has said.
In an interview with Balkans Post, Professor Tim Anderson said, “With few other options, Washington has tried to clean up the image of a group which has become little more than a personality cult, with no real support inside Iran.”
The following is the full transcript of the interview:
BP: The Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) terrorist group has ramped up its activities aimed at bringing about a regime change in Iran. What’s your take on this issue?
Tim Anderson: For decades the MEK has been a tool the U.S. has tried to use against Iran, even though the U.S. had it listed as a terrorist group until 2012. With few other options, Washington has tried to clean up the image of a group which has become little more than a personality cult, with no real support inside Iran.
Initially the MEK opposed the Shah’s regime and participated in the 1979 Revolution, but it quickly turned on the new government and its supporters. After the MEK was driven out of the country it was adopted by the Iraq-Saudi-CIA bloc, helping Saddam Hussein in his aggression against Iran. With Saddam’s support the MEK created a ‘National Liberation Army’ (NLA) of Iran, based in Baghdad, and used this to destroy Iranian villages, even during a UN brokered ceasefire. Their role in the slaughter of Iranian patriots destroyed the MEK’s reputation within Iran (Carey 2018). Very quickly the group’s hybrid anti-imperialist, socialist and Islamic philosophy was abandoned as it became an opportunistic cult (Merat 2018).
In the 1990s they continued as mercenaries for Saddam Hussein, helping suppress Iraqi Shi’a and Kurd resistance in Iraq (USDOS 2007; Merat 2018). After the 2003 invasion of Iraq they were protected by U.S. forces at the ‘Camp Ashraf’ base, precisely because they were seen as a tool which could be used against Iran (Cartalucci 2018). The U.S. Brookings Institute admitted that the MEK was “undemocratic and enjoys little popularity in Iran itself”. Nevertheless, the think tank recognized that the MEK might be used as a proxy force. However, to do so openly “Washington would need to remove it from the list of foreign terrorist organizations” (Pollack et al 2009). The Obama administration did that in 2012 (USDOS 2012).
BP: How effective are they in their anti-Islamic Republic agenda?
Tim Anderson: They are not at all effective inside Iran, but have some appeal to some shallow western politicians and NGOs, many of whom have been paid to visit or praise cult leader Maryam Rajavi. The MEK has been adopted by Washington as a proxy force, like the al Qaeda groups used against Iraq and Syria, but with a distinct ideology. They are a nominal ‘alternative’, like the many other exile bodies set up by Washington for Iraq, Libya and Syria. Their tiny support within Iran is not considered that important. They are useful to denounce, destabilize and attack (Parsi 2018; Carey 2018). They also help confuse gullible people in the organized misinformation campaigns against Iran.
BP: Would the presence of the MEK in Albania threaten the country’s stability?
Tim Anderson: Yes it is quite possible that Albania will de destabilized by U.S. proxies the MEK, and also by DAESH members. Between 2013 and 2016 Washington moved the 2,900 Camp Ashraf MEK members to Albania, where they had also moved some former DAESH/ISIS fighters (Spahiu 2018; Khodabandeh and Khodabandeh 2018). The U.S. and NATO appear to be using Albania as a home for these terrorist ‘assets’; and the Albanian government seems to expect some leverage with the U.S. for performing this hosting service. The MEK in Albania runs social media campaigns, attacking Tehran and promoting its leader, Maryam Rajavi (Merat 2018).
It seems likely the group is still backed by Saudi money and Israeli advisers. In September 2018 the MEK was linked to an attack on a military parade in the southwest Iranian city of Ahvaz (MNA 2018). Saudi sponsorship of the MEK-linked ‘al Ahwazia’ group was strongly suspected by Iranian authorities (Osman 2018). DAESH may also have been involved. With common sponsors and a common safe haven in Albania, the two terrorist groups might be working together.
BP: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani recently told Fox News Channel’s “Hannity” that the MEK represents the democratic alternative to the Islamic Republic. Considering that he is currently working for U.S. President Donald Trump, is it safe to assume that he’s echoing the Trump administration’s true Iran policy?
Tim Anderson: Yes, there is a concerted effort by many within the Trump administration to promote the MEK. NATO has also been ‘normalizing’ the MEK among the European states, as various European figures have endorsed or attended their ‘Free Iran’ rallies in recent years. For example, Trump advisor John Bolton is reported to have been paid large sums of money to advocate for the MEK (Merat 2018), while Trump’s legal advisor Rudy Giuliani has also visited the MEK in Albania, on the invitation of Maryam Rajavi (Jazexhi 2018).
BP: Over the years, many have argued that due the group’s unpopularity within Iran and its undemocratic nature, it cannot be a legitimate alternative to the current government in Iran. What’s your view on this?
Tim Anderson: The MEK has virtually no support within Iran, not even amongst those nationalists who oppose the current form of government. Many remember its traitorous actions during the war with Saddam Hussein. Since the 1980s it became a foreign creation, ready to work for any anti-Iranian sponsor. It is only capable of occasional terrorist acts and funded PR events.
Dr. Tim Anderson is Director of the Sydney-based Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies. He has worked at Australian universities for more than 30 years, teaching, researching and publishing on development, human rights and self-determination in the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East. In 2014 he was awarded Cuba’s medal of friendship. He is Australia and Pacific representative for the Latin America based Network in Defence of Humanity. His most recent books are: Land and Livelihoods in Papua New Guinea (2015), The Dirty War on Syria (2016), now published in ten languages; and Countering War Propaganda of the Dirty War on Syria (2017). His next book Axis of Resistance is due out in 2019.
Carey, James (2018) ‘The MEK: from revolutionary group to imperialist asset’, Mint Press, 24 January, online: https://www.mintpressnews.com/mekrevolutionary-group-imperialist-asset/236653/
Cartalucci, Tony (2018) ‘The US has delisted anti-Iranian MEK terrorists still openly committed to violence’, Global Research, 2 October, online: https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-us-has-delisted-anti-iranian-mekterrorists-still-openly-committed-to-violence/56558
Jazexhi, Olsi (2018) ‘Is Albania a Partner of the US In Supporting International Terrorism?’, Global Research, 27 March, online: https://www.globalresearch.ca/is-albania-a-partner-of-the-us-in-supportinginternational-terrorism/5633671
Khodabandeh, Anne and Massoud Khodabandeh (2018) ‘US Forces Albania To Take IS Fighters After Hosting MEK’, LobeLog, 8 June, online: https://lobelog.com/trump-forces-albania-to-host-islamic-state/
Merat, Arron (2018) ‘Terrorists, cultists – or champions of democracy?’ The wild story of the MEK’, The Guardian, 9 November, online: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/nov/09/mek-iran-revolution-regimetrump-rajavi
MNA (2018) ‘Iran: US masters responsible for today terror attack in Ahvaz (joint “al-Ahwaz” and “MEK” terror attack)’, Mehr News Agency, 22 September, online: https://iran-interlink.org/wordpress/iran-usmasters-responsible-for-today-terror-attack-in-ahvaz-joint-al-ahwazand-mek-terror-attack/
Osman, Marwa (2018) ‘Ahvaz Terrorist Attack Exposes US’s New Chapter of Regime Change Wars’, Al Ahed, September, online: https://english.alahednews.com.lb/44667/269#.W6j0R5NKhbU
Parsi, Trita (2018) ‘Why Trump’s hawks back the MEK terrorist cult’, The New York Review of Books, 20 July, online: https://www.nybooks.com/daily/2018/07/20/why-trumps-hawks-back-the-mek-terrorist-cult/
Pollack, Kenneth, Daniel Byman, Martin Indyk, Suzanne Maloney, Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel (2009) ‘Which Path to Persia? Options for a New American Strategy toward Iran’, The Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, Analysis paper No 20, June, online: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06_iran_strategy.pdf
Spahiu, Ebi (2018) ‘MEK in Albania—Potential Implications and Security Concerns for Albania’, Terrorism Monitor, Volume: 16 Issue: 19, The Jamestown Foundation, 12 October, online: https://jamestown.org/program/mek-in-albania-potential-implications-and-securityconcerns-for-albania/
USDOS (2007) ‘Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK)’, Foreign Terrorist Organizations’, US State Department, 30 April, online: https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/crt/2006/82738.htm
USDOS (2012) ‘Delisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq’, US Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism and countering violent extremism, 28 September, online: ttps://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/266607.htm