Any day now the U.S Department of State will announce whether or not it will remove the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) from its Foreign Terrorist Organizations list. Well-funded and mostly unmonitored lobbying activities led to the group’s delisting in the EU and UK and now leader Maryam Rajavi (her husband Masoud Rajavi mysteriously disappeared in 2003) is standing outside the U.S.’s door. (I examine the group and some of its U.S. supporters in Al Jazeera English.)
Some Washington-based US-Iran analysts argue that the Obama Administration views the MEK as an annoyance and is dragging its feet on the decision to delist or not because of the human rights concerns at Camp Ashraf. The 3,000+ inhabitants there face a serious threat by the Iraqi government which has carried out deadly raids against them. But Rajavi refuses to allow human rights organizations full access to the inhabitants so they can assess the situation clearly. She also won’t allow the members to accept refugee status so they can be relocated elsewhere. Once armed to the teeth by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the inhabitants are now living in a country that does not want them, near the border of a government that they have been at war with for most of their existence. They are in a political no man’s land, but as I argue in my article, to conflate this issue with the decidedly political question of delisting may only exacerbate the already fragile US-Iran relations.
After reading reports by Human Rights Watch, the RAND Corporation and conducting an interview with a former member, there is no doubt that this group operates as a cult and that many of the Ashraf inhabitants want to leave. (Also see this 2007 documentary by Maziar Bahari). It is also undeniable that the Rajavis will do anything to maintain their power and funding sources (which are unknown) and go to extremes to reach their goal. Now more than ever human rights groups need access to the people there and I sincerely hope they will help them reunite with their families which they were forced to give up.
But according to veteran U.S. diplomat Ambassador John W. Limbert who has years of experience with Iran, the solution to the human rights issues at Camp Ashraf is clear and is only complicated because of broken US-Iran relations:
…Perhaps 90-95 percent of Camp Ashraf residents could return to Iran under International Red Cross supervision, abandon their MEK activity, and benefit from an amnesty that, by all accounts, the Tehran authorities have respected for earlier returnees. Once that group has left Iraq, those hard-core members remaining–perhaps fewer than 50–would be a very different and much more manageable problem.
Except for the MEK’s hired mouthpieces, everyone can see this obvious solution that removes a major irritant to all parties. Once again, however, the two sides’ historic inability to “get to yes” at the same time has played havoc with rational policy. The crux of the problem is this: any deal one side accepts or proposes is, by definition, seen as bad for the other. Each is convinced that the other’s purpose in life is to annoy and mislead “our side”. Therefore–in this curious universe–both sides assume that anything the other proposes or accepts contains a hidden motive to deceive.
Others have suggested relocating the members to developing countries, but Rajavi, who is based out of Paris, insists that they must remain in Iraq even though the MEK never formally sought citizenship.