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Just Say No to the MKO

One of the allegations made by Seymour Hersh in his piece on Iran was that the United States was infiltrating Iran, with the clear implication being that the members of the strange Marxist terrorist (ex-terrorist?) Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization were being used by the United States to gather information on Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Doubtless with the MKO in mind, David Kay made the important point yesterday in the Washington Post:

[D]issidents and exiles have their own agenda — regime change — and that before being accepted as truth any "evidence" they might supply concerning Iran’s nuclear program must be tested and confirmed by other sources.

In any case, it’s not clear how effective the MKO can be, anyway, writes Massoud Khodabandeh of the Jamestown Foundation (echoing a point made by the Brooding Persian):

In any event, the notion of sending MKO members inside Iran as secret operatives tasked with undertaking espionage and sabotage operations was always a non-starter. This proposal entirely overlooks the actual state of the organization itself. The average age of the members is over 48 years, with a significant number over 50 years old. And these are people whose bodies have been ravaged by the conditions of constant military training, sleep deprivation and inadequate nutrition. Most have not set foot in Iran for nearly 24 years and would have difficulty now navigating around their own neighborhoods, let alone an unknown nuclear facility. More than this, the psychological state of the members following years of isolation and psychological coercion would not allow them to act independently or intelligently outside their immediate organizational environment – let alone in hostile territory. In short, the U.S. covert operation would need local Iranians not burnt-out ex-patriots. In addition, the MKO has become so heavily infiltrated, and not just by the Iranians, that it is hard to see how such a plan could be even formulated without Iran becoming forewarned of it.

I’m not sure who’s behind the strange US Alliance for Democratic Iran (Brownback?), but it’s worth noting that they support the use of the MEK, as do Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson:

Can the MEK be useful? Yes. Western spy agencies are short on "human intelligence" – meaning spies on the ground in Iran, as distinct from eyes in the sky. Coalition military commanders should seek out the MEK for information on the Iranian’ agents in Iraq. The MEK can also supply key information on developments in Iran – where, despite a tendency toward exaggeration, it has had some major scoops. Its information in mid-2002 about Iran’s nuclear program, for example, was better than what the International Atomic Energy Agency knew, thereby leading a shocked U.S. government to kick off an investigation that confirmed just how far advanced the Iranians are toward building a nuclear bomb. […]

…I’ve also seen it regularly alleged in the press that "officials in the Defense Department and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office" support the use of the MEK but haven’t seen any names attached to that. For the record, Dr. Ledeen is officially opposed.

Now here’s the ironic part of the Jamestown piece:

While Iran lined up with the United States to push for the January 30 elections to go ahead, the MKO struck a defiant tone, effectively adopting the same rhetoric as the neo-Baathists, Salafi Islamists and other insurgent forces that are desperate to derail the election process. But despite its vociferous criticism of the elections, the MKO has no power or mandate to influence the outcome of the electoral process. Implausibly, the organization claims a constituency of support among Iraqi Sunni Arab tribal leaders (especially in Diyala Province) which contrasts strangely with its inability to show any meaningful support inside Iran. The emergence of democratic institutions in post-war Iraq will severely undermine the MKO, as it will lend popular legitimacy to calls for their immediate expulsion. In short, the United States will not be able to ignore the wishes of the new elected government as it ignored the wishes of the unelected IGC back in December 2003.


… one thing I forgot to mention: what Clawson and Pipes want to do (which may or may not be what we are doing at this point) just gives another pretext for a clampdown on regular Iranians. Why would anyone support that?


Submitted by Eric Martin on February 9, 2005

"MEK was added to the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997 and to the European Union’s terrorist list in 2002 because its attacks have often killed civilians."


Also from the same site:

What major attacks has MEK been responsible for?

The group has targeted Iranian government officials and government facilities in Iran and abroad; during the 1970s, it attacked Americans in Iran. While the group says it does not intentionally target civilians, it has often risked civilian casualties. It routinely aims its attacks at government buildings in crowded cities. MEK terrorism has declined since late 2001. Incidents linked to the group include:

-The series of mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids during 2000 and 2001 against Iranian government buildings; one of these killed Iran’s chief of staff

-The 2000 mortar attack on President Mohammad Khatami’s palace in Tehran

-The February 2000 “Operation Great Bahman,” during which MEK launched 12 attacks against Iran

-The 1999 assassination of the deputy chief of Iran’s armed forces general staff, Ali Sayyad Shirazi

-The 1998 assassination of the director of Iran’s prison system, Asadollah Lajevardi

-The 1992 near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and institutions in 13 countries

-Assistance to Saddam Hussein’s suppression of the 1991 Iraqi Shiite and Kurdish uprisings

-The 1981 bombing of the offices of the Islamic Republic Party and of Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar, which killed some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei and Bahonar

-Support for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries

-The 1970s killings of U.S. military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran

And this from the State Department’s website:


Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO) a.k.a. The National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA, the militant wing of the MEK), the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI), National Council of Resistance (NCR), the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), Muslim Iranian Student’s Society (front organization used to garner financial support)


The MEK philosophy mixes Marxism and Islam. Formed in the 1960s, the organization was expelled from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and its primary support now comes from the Iraqi regime. The MEK’s history is studded with anti-Western attacks as well as terrorist attacks on the interests of the clerical regime in Iran and abroad. The MEK now advocates a secular Iranian regime.


The worldwide campaign against the Iranian Government stresses propaganda and occasionally uses terrorist violence. During the 1970s, the MEK killed US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran. In 1981, the MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier’s office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. Near the end of the 1980-88 war with Iran, Baghdad armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, it assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north. Since then, the MEK has continued to perform internal security services for the Government of Iraq. In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian Embassies and installations in 13 countries, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In recent years, the MEK has targeted key military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Armed Forces General Staff in April 1999. In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters—the interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The normal pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during the “Operation Great Bahman” in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK was involved regularly in mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military and law-enforcement units and government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border, although MEK terrorism in Iran declined throughout the remainder of 2001. Since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the tactics along the border have garnered almost no military gains and have become commonplace. MEK insurgent activities in Tehran constitute the biggest security concern for the Iranian leadership. In February 2000, for example, the MEK launched a mortar attack against the leadership complex in Tehran that houses the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. Assassinated the Iranian Chief of Staff.

by praktike –  February 9, 2005

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