Camp Ashraf is the Waco compound of Iraq, but what can the US do to protect its inhabitants?

This is a cross post by Michael Weiss
Maryam Rajavi delivers a speech in Paris on July 20 (Photo: AFP)

Maryam Rajavi delivers a speech in Paris on July 20 (Photo: AFP)

Twenty-five people have reportedly been killed in Camp Ashraf, as one YouTube video shows Iraqi military humvees plowing into people and Iraqi soldiers firing AK-47s at non-discernible targets. According to one resident, six women were among the slain and another 325 people have been injured. National Council of Resistance of Iran, (NCRI) the umbrella organisation whose members exclusively comprise Camp Ashraf’s population, is drawing parallels with Libya and Syria, calling on the US and UN to intervene to stop a massacre. The Iraqi military insists that it was only responding to two days of provocations in the form of camp residents throwing rocks at border guards.

The NCRI is the “political arm”, or “parliament-in-exile”, of a proscribed terrorist group known as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK. Known for its conspicuous presence at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in New York whenever Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in town to hector the United Nations, the MEK was founded in 1963 by radical pro-Mossadegh and anti-shah supporters who had formed an ill-fated partnership with Ayatollah Khomeini in the 1979 revolution. According to the US Council on Foreign Relations, the MEK’s ideology is an outre mixture of Islamism, feminism and Marxism, which is why the Daily Mail, in its coverage of the Camp Arshaf melee, shows a photograph of beamish women in hejabs and guerrilla fatigues. However, what the Mail doesn’t show is the MEK flag, which looks like a hybrid of the Hezbollah pennant and the hammer and sickle. The group’s history is as sordid as that iconography suggests.

MEK terrorists murdered seven Americans (both soldiers and civilians) working on defence projects in Iran throughout the 1970s, before helping the Khomeinists storm the US embassy in Tehran, leading to the 444 day-long hostage crisis. After the mullahs assumed complete control of the state and purged all of their erstwhile Communist and Marxist helpers, what remained of the MEK was led by the husband-and-wife team of Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, who now turned their violent attention to the new bearded bosses. The MEK took to assassinating Iranian officials, trying to bomb the presidential palace, and attacking Iranian missions abroad. Needless to say, MEK terrorism has killed not just members of the regime but innocent bystanders, too.

But it was during the Iran-Iraq War that the MEK found a new patron in Saddam Hussein, who gladly hosted its members in Iraq and outfitted them with supplies, money and weapons. At the close of the First Gulf War, the MEK returned the favour by helping Saddam slaughter the Kurds. Elizabeth Rubin of the New York Times quoted former MEK members on Mariam Rajavi’s commandment: “Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.”

When the Anglo-American-led coalition deposed Saddam in 2003, it put the MEK cadre into Camp Ashraf as “protected persons” and consolidated their materiel. With US withdrawal from Iraq now approaching, the controversy is over what is to be done with these not-quite-desirables. Leave them be and they’ll almost certainly be repatriated to Iran where their fate is certain, or they’ll simply be jailed or killed by an Iraqi government that, under the premiership of Nouri al-Maliki, has effectively become a proxy of Iran. But offer the Camp Ashraf residents a US-sponsored safe haven, and the chief prosecutor of the war on terror risks abetting a longtime terrorist entity. Not to mention a bona fide cult.

NCRI is extremely wealthy because, like the Church of Scientology or the Moonies, it forces its disciples to fork over their personal fortunes to the help the “cause.” (Celibacy is strictly enforced, criticism of Mrs Rajavi is verboten, as is communication with one’s family.) Rajavi has gone on a staggering spending spree in the last decade, subventing speeches and support from a broad and remarkably influential group of American policy bigwigs that includes Wesley Clark, the former Nato commander, James L. Jones, Obama’s national security adviser, Dennis Blair and Michael Hayden, both ex-intelligence officials, Michael Mukasey, the former US attorney general, and Lee Hamilton, the former congressman turned 9/11 Commission co-chairman. All have lobbied for MEK to be taken off the State Department list of foreign terrorist organisations on the pretext that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

True, it didn’t help that MEK was first added to that list by Bill Clinton as a sop to then Iranian President Khatami, thought by Washington in its infinite credulity to be the “reformer” who would end Iran’s cold war with the Great Satan. The MEK has since gone on a massive PR offensive. It now claims to have renounced violence, to advocate freedom of speech and religion, and to consecrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. None of which explains why MEK terrorist attacks continued well into the late 1990s. In 1998, four MEK members assaulted US State Department agents attached to guard the Iranian Foreign Minister in New York; the attackers were arrested and charged, but failed to turn up at their scheduled court hearing.

And there’s this is from an FBI document dated 2004:

Los Angeles investigation has determined that the MEK is currently actively involved in planning and executing acts of terrorism. The planning takes place at MEK bases in Iraq and at the Auver Sur Oise location in Paris, France. Los Angeles has consensually recorded numerous telephone calls in which the MEK leaders at this French location discuss specific acts of terrorism including bombings. Joint investigation with the French DST and the German Cologne Police Department has revealed similar findings from French and German wire taps.

All of which may explain why so many Iranian dissidents hate this embarrassing stain on the resistance movement. At an anti-Ahmadinejad rally in Manhattan I attended in 2008, the picket lines were evenly divided between the NCRI/MEK lot on one side and a consortium of everything else under the Persian sun on the other: Communists, social democrats, liberals, secularists and monarchists, all there to hear the beautiful and charming Nazanin Afshin-Jam, a former Miss World Canada, discuss the evils of Khomeinism. (Here was a beauty queen who actually was working toward world peace.) The most polite description I could hear from the Nazanin camp of their opposite number was: “They’re an Islamo-Leninst cult to be avoided like the clap.”

Nevertheless, their Iraqi brethren are still human beings who, by the looks of it, are about to be put through a special kind of hell. But that doesn’t mean that we should pretend that Camp Ashraf is anything but another Waco compound half a world away.

Also read Sohrab Ahmari