A setback for Washington’s anti-Iran lobby as MKO goes into a tailspin

Iran’s election a setback for Washington’s anti-Iran lobby as MKO goes into a tailspin

Only months after being removed from the US terrorism list the Mojahedin Khalq (MEK) has registered under the pseudonym National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) as a lobby group and opened an office in Washington. The move of course allows regime change pundits and pro-war speakers and advocates to now legally accept payments to promote the MEK.

With the election of a new President in Iran, MEK leader Massoud Rajavi is hoping that his lobbying office will become the focus of western anti-Iran activity. The Iranian people’s choice – a moderate, pragmatic negotiator – is bad news for the MEK, which wants war. But all is not lost. Media news about the election headlined with Israel’s irate response rather more than what the election means for Iran’s voters. We will now see the MEK position itself, boasting pretended western support, as the only force which can bring about regime change if the US and/or Israel decide to go ahead with military intervention. Up to that point of course there is still a lot of black propaganda work to be undertaken to sully and defile the reputation of President Rowhani; efforts will be made for example, to provoke a human rights crisis to be laid at his door.

And Rajavi is ready. Or is he? There is a lot happening behind the scenes that belies the group’s boasts and declarations. Behind the scenes at the lobbying office the disintegration of the MEK is gaining momentum and is likely to implode the group in the near future leaving a mere shell. Opening a lobbying office should be seen as an attempt to save themselves rather than representing any capacity for influencing events in Iran. The more the group collapses in Iraq and Europe, the more they try to keep face by using lobbyists and speakers to promote them.

The main existential threat to the MEK comes from the continuing efforts by UNAMI (United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq) and the Iraqi authorities to transfer the remaining 3,000+ residents of Camp Liberty near Baghdad to the safety of third countries. Last Autumn, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intervened to persuade Albania to take 210 refugees. European countries have agreed to take back former residents; for example Germany will take 100, while the UK figure is 52. This means of course that the MEK will be eventually broken up into smaller and smaller groups which are distributed throughout many western countries. The MEK leader’s extreme control over the members, which was severely reduced with the move to Camp Liberty, will be massively eroded to the point that the MEK as an entity may fairly quickly crumble to a mere handful of loyalists based in the European and North American capitals.

The recent transfer of two groups of 14 and 30 individuals to Albania prompted Rajavi to order a boycott of the UNHCR interview process in an attempt to create delays. In a vitriolic attack Rajavi describes the UN and ICRC as ‘poison’, telling his followers they must purge their organisation of the deadly disease of ‘third countries’. To have contact with any agency outside the MEK is now decreed a sin. When Rajavi says that anyone leaving the MEK should be sentenced to death, no one should doubt the severity of punishment for offenders inside the MEK.

Following this vicious attack the UN Secretary General robustly defended his representative in Iraq, UNAMI chief Martin Kobler, who has spent two years in excruciatingly difficult negotiations with the MEK to end the deadlock. Ban Ki Moon politely suggested that the MEK, their backers and supporters spend their money on helping the members in Iraq rather than on paying huge fees to lobbyists. The European Union and the State Department also backed Kobler’s efforts and strongly urged the MEK to give full cooperation to those agencies which are trying to help rescue them.

That state of insecurity was emphasised by a (strangely convenient) violent attack on Camp Liberty to coincide with the election in Iran. This allowed the MEK to repeat its demand for an immediate return to Camp Ashraf. It seems that as the efforts of Martin Kobler, the UN agencies and the Iraqi authorities to progress the removal of the MEK from Iraq are beginning to bear fruit, so the MEK leader is coming under greater and greater pressure.

This is not a new demand. Many in Iraq believe that after the MEK moved to Camp Liberty in a deal which saw the US remove the group from its terrorism list, the other part of the bargain – to find a place of sanctuary for the leader Massoud Rajavi – was not fulfilled and he is now stranded in the nuclear bunker in Camp Ashraf. That is why the MEK leaders are so desperate to return the group there to protect him.

In spite of Rajavi’s attempts to exert control, residents are still managing to escape from Liberty and the families are still waiting outside the camp demanding to have access to their loved ones. On one level Martin Kobler briefed the European Parliament about the MEK’s lack of cooperation. On another level the Farsi language websites and blogs are vibrant with the stories of ex-members who have recently come out and are giving personal accounts of individual suffering as well as describing the desperate psychological condition of those still left inside. Two weeks ago five more residents escaped the camp. In Liberty no one has a voice, but anyone who comes out now joins this wave of exposure.

In a clear attempt to keep them together the MEK spent a lot of money sending two top commanders from Paris to Tirana to stop the new arrivals from contacting the outside world. It was no use. As the first group arrived they lost no time in contacting their friends – other ex-members who have already made it to Europe. They now give daily updates which include their own names, the names of MEK loyalists sent from Liberty with them, and how they are resisting the MEK’s bribes and threats to silence them. They describe their efforts to survive this onslaught and instead try to get into contact with their families and friends and the outside world.

In response Massoud Rajavi, initially describing this as a plot concocted by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry in Europe, warned that anyone contacting Europe based ex-members will endanger the lives of their families in Iran (although he didn’t explain how). When this failed to deter them Rajavi shifted to a scenario in which these people themselves who resist confinement are the agents of the Iranian regime (after thirty years in the camp in Iraq).

It is becoming blatantly obvious that Rajavi cannot prevent the attrition of his members. His best scenario was that they would die in an assault on Iran, but this didn’t happen. One of the things people believe is that he wants them back in Camp Ashraf because it is nearer to Iran and he can devise a way to get them killed in some violence. It should be noted that the average age of these people is around 50 years.

Interestingly, while dealing with these issues, the MEK have not abandoned their activities with the Saddamists and al Qaida in Iraq, Syria and Jordan. A few weeks ago two MEK operatives from Sweden were killed in fighting in Aleppo, Syria at a joint base with insurgents nicknamed the hospital. This week Iraqi security has seized communication equipment they were trying to smuggle into Camp Ashraf in a food delivery. Fugitive Saddamists regularly praise the MEK in their clandestine websites for their help. Their lobbyists in Washington DC close their eyes to the point they are, by default, wholeheartedly in support of the remains of Saddam Hussein’s regime – in particular Ezzat Ibrahim in Jordan. The MEK have never denounced 9/11.

But the MEK’s woes are not confined to the Middle East. In France, Atefeh and Effat Eghbal, two sisters of Mohammad Eghbal who is in Camp Liberty, and a few other close members of the MEK started an internet campaign asking the MEK leaders to cooperate to bring people out of Iraq as their lives are in danger. Soon more MEK rank and file and NCRI members joined them and the campaign got bigger and bigger. The MEK immediately denounced them as ‘working for the intelligence services of Iran’. This was the last straw for fiercely anti-Iran campaigner Iraj Mesdaghi who wrote a 200 page open letter to Massoud Rajavi exposing his ill treatment of his own members and ridiculing Rajavi’s analysis of the situation in Iran, Iraq and Syria. This was a hard blow for the MEK as, along with Hassan Daioleslam, Mesdaghi had for years deliberately posed as a non-MEK aligned individual in order to support the MEK in other media. Daioleslam has gone quiet but Mesdaghi has continued vocalising his criticisms. Ironically the MEK response to this criticism – which was written not as a rejection of the MEK but as an attempt to be helpful from within – is that not only has the MEK published statements saying he is an ‘agent of the regime’ and that he was converted thirty years ago while in prison in Iran, they have also brought every wobbly member or distant supporter to prove their allegiance to Rajavi by swearing at him as this ‘agent of the regime’.

Not only did this fail to prevent the spread of vocal criticism but now dozens of close supporters and members have joined the campaign of questioning the MEK leadership and calling for answers. Among them is Esmael Vafa Yaghmai the famous poet who was a member of the MEK and NCRI for around 40 years. He hasn’t been spared the now famous MEK vitriol as he started asking for answers about the welfare of his son’s mother after MEK members sent him condolences on her death. Rather than answer, the MEK were quick to tar him with the same brush – that he and his son have been recruited by Iran.

And it seems that the spread of this internal rot will not end. Last week the last two remaining non-MEK members of the NCRI resigned after thirty years. In a joint statement Dr Karim Ghassim and Mr Mohammad Reza Rowhani emphasised that they would not expose their differences and say why they have resigned, and only expressed their best wishes for the MEK and NCRI. The MEK published its predictable reply in the form of the NCRI’s annual report which contained nothing but the accusation that the resignation of these two is part and parcel of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry’s plots – which include moving people out of Camp Liberty, closing Camp Ashraf and buying UNAMI, ICRC, DoS, EU officials and Prime Minister Al Maliki, as well as the corruption of the Eghbal and Yaghmai families in western countries – the report claims that all these are being done in an attempt to ultimately kill Massoud Rajavi.

The report also listed the majority of NCRI members who could not attend the annual conference but who voted in support of the report by proxy. Former member Ghorban Ali Hosseinnejad in Paris revealed that most those who could not attend are trapped in Camp Liberty and that he knows several who would have left as he did if they had the opportunity. Iraj Shokri, another writer who left the NCRI some time ago, blogged to advise NCRI members this is their last chance; either leave now or be part of the crimes Rajavi is committing. A group of ex-members, Iran Pen Association, requested the many ex-NCRI members, including Dr Hedayat Matin Daftary who left fifteen years ago, not to waste their time but to start a new Council to which everyone can subscribe. The inference is that Rajavi can no longer be regarded, or followed, as an Ideological Leader; he has become an anachronism. When he is eventually dug out from his bunker he should be parked in a museum as an ‘archaeological leader’.

While this internal chaos grows, the MEK are carrying on with business as usual. Preparations are in full swing for the anniversary celebration of the so-called armed struggle (the new face of MEK terrorism). As ever, huge amounts of money are being spent to pay refugees from any country possible to attend the 22 June rally in Paris. The offer is three days’ holiday with spending money in exchange for a few hours attendance at the rally. In addition the refugees are being told they will have photo opportunities with the paid speakers, John Bolton, Struan Stevenson MEP and Alejo Vidal Quadras MEP, in order to help their asylum cases.

In spite of all these internal crises, the MEK’s English language lobbying office in Washington behaves as though it hasn’t heard about these events. The office coolly insists the MEK is not a terrorist group and that, even as the last two non-MEK members resign, the NCRI is only an umbrella group which just happens to include the MEK.

Is it not sad that those who have put their reputations on the line to be paid by the MEK for lobbying and advocacy activities really have no idea not only what, but who they are lobbying for.

Middle East Strategy Consultants,

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