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Briefs | Court Mandates U.S. Decision on MEK

05 Jun 2012 20:03Comments
giuliani1_0.jpg[ in focus ] On June 1, a U.S. District Appeals Court ruled that the Obama administration must finally decide within four months whether or not to remove the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) from the State Department's list of foreign terrorist groups. The decision was a partial victory for the controversial Iranian opposition movement. It has long pressured Washington through both a court petition and a high-profile public relations campaign to be taken off the list.

In a press statement after the decision, the State Department said its position on the MEK has been under review since a court mandate in 2010, but that it "intends to comply" with the new court's order to determine the group's legal or illegal status in the United States.

The State Department added that the MEK's cooperation in relocating thousands of members from Camp Ashraf and the closure of that main paramilitary base in Iraq would be "key factors" in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's decision. The MEK has been slowly and reluctantly moving its members to a former U.S. military base further from the border with Iran.

Until the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, the MEK ran most of its military operations against Iran out of Camp Ashraf, which is on Iraq's border with Iran. The largest exile group contends it stopped using terror tactics in 2003 and should now be recognized as a legitimate Iranian opposition group.

The MEK, or the People's Mujahedeen, was founded in 1965 as an urban guerilla group opposed to the monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. It had both Marxist and Islamist members, although members were reportedly cult-like among themselves. They participated in the 1979 Revolution but later broke with it over ideology and direction. In 1981, it went underground, and many of its members went into exile. Its core members--estimated to number somewhere between 5,000-10,000 worldwide--are based largely in Iraq and Europe.

In the June 1 decision, the three-judge panel concluded that it would not make the decision about the group's status--for now. It basically threw the decision back to the administration to figure out how to act within four months, until Oct. 1, after which the court may decide on the group's status.

"In light of the national security and foreign policy concerns underlying the designation, we decline, at this time, to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization's designation," the court ruled. "Instead, we order the Secretary to either deny or grant PMOI's petition not later than four months from the date this opinion issues."

If Clinton "fails to take action within that period, the petition for a writ of mandamus setting aside the FTO [foreign terrorist organization] designation will be granted," the court said.

The bitter relationship between both the United States and Iran with the MEK has a long history. The MEK reportedly killed six Americans in Iran in 1973, 1975 and 1976. It was also linked with attempted kidnappings and assassination attempts on senior U.S. military and diplomatic officials, especially in the 1970s. The MEK is often described as a cult that incorporates both Islam and socialism.

In 1981, the MEK was held responsible for bombing the offices of the ruling Islamic Republic Party. The attack killed 70 high-ranking officials, including President Mohammad Ali Rajaei, Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar, and judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti. Since 1981, Iran has prosecuted many Mujahedeen-e Khalq supporters; it has also used that designation to arrest other political dissidents. Alleged MEK members have often been charged with moharebeh, or enmity against God, which can carry a death sentence.

The Mujahedeen also backed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein throughout the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Between 1999 and 2003, Iraq gave the MEK millions of dollars to purchase weapons and fund attacks against Iranian embassies, high-ranking officials, and military targets, the U.S. State Department reported.

The timing of the U.S. court decision is awkward. The world's six major powers have recently renewed diplomatic negotiations over Iran's nuclear weapons program. Europe has already delisted the MEK. After the disputed 2009 presidential election, the MEK lost ground as the leading opposition group to the Green Movement, which mobilized millions of followers to the streets for months to challenge the context vote.

This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

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