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Media Watch | US State Dep't on Verge of Delisting MKO as Terrorist Group

by PAUL MUTTER

22 Sep 2012 05:20Comments

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MKORally.jpg5:20 a.m. IRST, 1 Mehr/September 22 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has reportedly decided to remove the U.S. government's designation of the Mojahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) as a foreign terrorist organization (FTO). The delisting is apparently tied to the Iranian opposition group's agreement to vacate its Iraqi base at Camp Ashraf, which has been assaulted on several occasions by Iraqi security forces since 2005, in favor of a new American-built facility near Baghdad.

MKO supporters noted that the announcement comes just as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York to speak before the United Nations, though the State Department declined to offer comment on the timing. It will, perhaps inadvertently, be seen as symbolic for another reason, though: the announcement comes on the eve of the 32d anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), which claimed over one million lives.

During the war, which Iraq initiated to seize control of the Shatt al-Arab waterway and Iran's Khuzestan province, the MKO ramped up its armed campaign aimed at toppling Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The group's leaders built up an army in Iraq that launched a failed offensive into Iran during the final year of the war. Before, during, and after the offensive, the Islamic Republic reportedly carried out mass killings of real and alleged MKO supporters in its prisons.

After Tehran and Baghdad accepted a U.N. ceasefire, what remained of the MKO's armed forces operated out of Iraq throughout the 1990s, participating in the suppression of Iraqi Kurdish separatists. It was during this time that the MKO was designated as an FTO by the U.S. government for its involvement in the murder of American citizens in Iran during the 1970s.

The United States and Israel have allegedly provided training and funding to the MKO on several occasions, though both countries deny maintaining a formal relationship with the group. The Islamic Republic accuses both states of supporting MKO operations inside Iran. As reported by Frontline, the MKO and its "political arm," the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), have been used as sources for U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.

Members of the U.S. Congress praised the State Department's reported decision, notably Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Bob Filner (D-Calif.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), and Ted Poe (R-Tex.), long-time supporters of the MKO who have, according to the Guardian, worked with pro-MKO groups like the California Society for Democracy in Iran and the Iranian-American Community of North Texas. Along with dozens of other Democratic and Republican members of Congress, they have defended the MKO as a democratic organization that should serve as a focal point for resistance to the Islamic Republic.

The MKO and the NCRI are supported by a number of Iranian diaspora organizations and individuals, as well, though the exact level of support outside of Iran is not quite clear. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) condemned the State Department's decision, though PR Newswire reports that a coalition of state-based Iranian American groups have praised the ruling.

In Iran, the organization has been censured by the leadership of the reformist Green Movement, and it is still widely unpopular because of its decision to ally with Iraq's former Baathist leaders.

The delisting represents a victory for the multimillion-dollar lobbying effort tied to Iranian expatriates in the United States and European Union (where the NCRI maintains its Paris headquarters), which has ramped up its efforts to have the group delisted ahead of the State Department's mandatory 2012 FTO review. It is likely that the delisting will make it easier for the MKO and NCRI to increase their fundraising and lobbying work in the United States.

Via major public relations firms, the MKO has employed a well-paid, bipartisan roster of prestigious figures to speak on its behalf. Notable MKO advocates include former New York City Mayor Rudy Gulliani, journalist Carl Bernstein, at least two ex-CIA directors, and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. While The Hill reports that the Treasury Department began an investigation of MKO speaker fees over the summer, it is now unclear whether it will be pursued.

Intermittently connected to the delisting campaign has been a small advocacy coalition that pushes the U.S. and Iraqi governments to do more to protect the human rights of Camp Ashraf's residents, many of whom the New York Times reported in 2003 are being held there against their will.

The Washington Post notes that MKO's delisting "could make it easier for its members to apply for refugee status and seek homes abroad." An American official speaking on the condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor that an FTO delisting would not mean that the United States now officially supports the MKO.

Neither the Islamic Republic's government nor Iranian state media have yet responded to the report.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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