BAGHDAD (AFP) – French presidential candidate Segolene Royal received a campaign endorsement from an unexpected quarter on Saturday when an Iraq-based Iranian rebel movement held a rally to support her.
The People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), which is listed by the European Union and United States as a terrorist group, claimed that around 4,000 Iranian exiles and Iraqi supporters had gathered in the Iraqi town of Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad.
The guerrilla organisation has a long-standing enmity for the outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and his favoured successor, the Socialist Royal’s right-wing opponent Nicholas Sarkozy.
Photographs released by the group appeared to show a crowd of thousands in a hangar-like hall, and a panel of women behind a banner reading "Women of Iraq, Iran and France: with Segolene, for peace, against fundamentalism."
The women sat in front of three flags — those of Iran, France and Iraq.
PMOI spokesman Shahria Kia said the rally was attended by his group and by Iranian and Iraqi opposition groups who feel Royal would be a better ally than previous French presidents in their battle with the Tehran regime.
A statement from the groups, released to AFP, read: "We ask all of our friends, particularly all the French Muslims, to vote for Ms Royal."
"We are certain that with this choice France will retrieve its values, and will stand beside the oppressed people of Iraq and Iran against fundamentalism and terrorism exported by Iran," it added.
The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq Organisation (MKO), was founded in 1965 by leftist students at Tehran university, and fled Iran after clashing with the Islamist government set up in the 1979 revolution.
It was based in exile in France until 1986, when the then prime minister, Chirac, expelled them.
Saddam Hussein’s Iraq became the group’s new home, and they developed a guerrilla army to launch cross-border attacks into Iran.
The group’s bases were bombed by the US military during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but after the fall of Saddam a ceasefire was signed with the Americans, who keep the activists under guard in Ashraf.
Nevertheless, the US State Department continues to list the PMOI as a terrorist organisation, as does the European Union despite a ruling last year by the European Court of Justice that this was unfair.
Female activist Ategheh Khorsand, who addressed the gathering on behalf of the PMOI, said: "French policy, during past 20 years, towards Iran and Iraq is not something for France to be proud of.
"The only concern of this policy has been to attract consent of the religious dictatorship in Iran for financial and trade concession by suppressing the members of the Iranian resistance in France," she added.
Socialist Party flag-bearer Royal will face Sarkozy in the final round of France’s presidential election, which will choose a successor to the PMOI’s original nemesis Chirac.
In June 2003, when Sarkozy was French interior minister, French police raided several alleged PMOI safe houses in France and arrested 160 suspects. Sarkozy warned that the group was trying to make France its rear base.
By Dave Clark, AFP, April 29, 2007