There are several defining events in the history of US-Iranian relations. These include the CIA overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossedegh, the US support of the oppressive regime of the Shah, the attack on the US embassy and the subsequent hostage crisis and US support of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. One can argue about the level of the US support for Iraq during the war, but this conflict which resulted in the deaths of 1mm Iranians shapes much of the Iranian worldview. Murals of the martyrs (heroes) of this war are everywhere in Tehran.
Another result of the memory of this conflict is that there is only one group more unpopular in Iran than the “Zionist regime” in Israel. This unpopular group is the Mujahedeen al-Khalq Organization (MKO) or People’s Mujahedeen, aka Mujahedeen e Khalq (MEK). This group, with its odd Islamist/Marxist ideology, shared the anti Shah viewpoint of other Iranian groups and participated in the 1979 Islamic revolution. They quickly fell out with the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini and after increasingly militant opposition were forced into exile in France and Iraq.
A military wing which advocated overthrow of the Islamic Republic by force was formed in Iraq and became supporters of Sadaam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. With strong contacts and relationships within Iran, the MKO was able to provide Sadaam with useful intelligence as well as Farsi speaking fighters. This participation in the deaths of so many Iranian young men has made the MKO a hated group both within the Iranian government and among the Iranian people on the street. This animosity has been heightened by MKO terrorist attacks on Iranian civilian targets.
The terrorist attacks resulted in the MKO being classified as a “terrorist organization” by the US State Department. The US, however, seemingly looking for another way to increase animosity between the US and Iran has decided to support its own “terrorist organization” in the region. Everybody else has one; why not us? (For this story, click here.) This unusual policy choice may have something to do with US domestic politics as the MKO has considerable support within the ex-pat Iranian community in the US. In the Middle East it sure is hard to figure out who the “good guys” are. Maybe there are no “good guys”.