Mahmoud Odehzadeh’s Prison Break, an account of escaping Camp Ashraf

Mahmoud Odehzadeh escaped the Mujahedin Khalq Organization after years of imprisonment in Camp Ashraf, Iraq. He had been recruited by the group in 1993 when he was a teenager. He had left his family, his young wife and kids because the MEK’s recruiter had promised him a happy life and money in Europe.
However, Mahmoud turned out to be captured in the MEK’s destructive cult in Iraqi deserts, for eleven years. In 2004, after the group was disarmed by the US army, he could manage to escape Camp Ashraf and to join the US camp located by the side of Ashraf. The story of his escape seems to be inspiring for those who are still taken as hostages in the group’s camp in Albania.

Mahmoud Odezadeh
Mahmoud Odezadeh

“After the US invasion to Iraq and the group’s disarmament by the US military, the rank and file of the group were frustrated,” Mahmoud writes in his memoirs. “They were angry with Maryam Rajavi and her high-ranking members who had fled to Europe immediately after the war broke out. They had left the rank and file under bombs and had fled to France. In Iraq, the remaining commanders made us work hard to deviate our minds from thinking to such serious issues. Everyone was exhausted and desperate, seeking a way to escape the organization.”

The American camp outside Camp Ashraf opened a path to Mahmoud’s mind that was already obsessed with escaping the Cult of Rajavi. “I made my mind to reach the American camp in any possible way,” he recounts. “Under the pretext of health problems, I went to the Ashraf’s clinic several times to investigate the escape route. I had already discussed my plan with a friend who was also determined to escape.”

That was a night of July, 2004 when Mahmoud Odehzadeh and his friend accomplished their goal. He recounts: “When I got back from the clinic, I set with my friend that we would leave after dinner. Dinner was not done yet; we apparently took the dishes to wash. We got out of the building from the back door and rushed to the other side of the embankment. On our way, an MEK guard stopped us, I told him that my friend was not feeling well and I was taking him to the clinic. Then we rushed to the American camp.”

The US forces were not so friendly with them but Mahmoud and his friend did not want to get back to the MEK in any case. He was even ready to be killed rather than getting back to the MEK’s prison. “We told them that we had fled the MEK but they told us to get back to Ashraf,” He writes. “I got out a cutter from my pocket and put it on my throat. ‘We will die here but we will not get back to Ashraf’, I said. The US forces had a Tunisian interpreter, he said, ‘they leave you alone just do not kill yourself!’.”

The Americans took the two defectors of the Mujahedin-e Khalq to their camp and imprisoned them in a cell for a few days. Then, they interviewed with them and ask them why they fled the group. “We told them everything clarifying the truth of the MEK for them,” Mahmoud writes. “Then they took us to the place that other defectors of the MEK had been settled. We were about twenty people. The US forces treated us like slaves.”

Therefore, Mahmoud decided to escape the US camp too. He was looking for an opportunity. He discussed a plan with nine of his comrades in the camp. The other night, a dust storm aided them to fulfil their plan. They crossed the barbed wires. They reached a village and found some food and water and finally could manage to reach the road to Baghdad in the early morning. “A car took us to Baghdad,” he recounts. “He was an Iraqi POW in Iran so he could speak Persian. He was so kind that he took us to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad.”

They introduced themselves to the guard at the gate of the Iranian embassy. He continues: “A few minutes later, an authority came out and listened to our story. He invited us inside the building and received us warmly. Two days later, they transferred us to Tehran on a flight.”

As Rajavi had told them lies about maltreatments of the Iranian government against MEK defectors, Mahmoud and his peers were very frightened and nervous about the likely imprisonment and torture in Tehran. “To our surprise, the Iranian authorities welcomed us warmly and took us to a hotel,” he recalls.

Mahmoud and his friends were delivered to their families three days later. “In contrast to what Rajavi had told us –that families of defectors insult them because they have left the MEK—my family received me really warmly. They held parties and celebrations to congratulate me on my return. When I recounted my story for them, they began insulting Rajavi.”

Mahmoud asked his wife and children to forgive him. “Fortunately, they forgave me and I tried to build a new life,” he says.

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