PMOI supporters rallying outside the White House
Iranian Dissidents Convince U.S. to Drop Terror Label
By SCOTT SHANE
The New York Times, Washington, 21 Sep 2012 — An Iranian opposition group that mounted an extraordinary lobbying campaign to get off the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations has succeeded in that goal, officials said Friday.
The decision, by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was based in part on the recent cooperation of the group, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People’s Mujahedeen, in completing a move of more than 3,000 of its members out of its longtime location in Iraq, known as Camp Ashraf, said two officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of an official announcement. A final convoy of 680 people from Ashraf arrived at Camp Liberty, near the Baghdad airport, on Sept. 16.
The group, known as the M.E.K., carried out terrorist attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, first against the government of the Shah of Iran and later against the clerical rulers who overthrew him. Several Americans were among those killed. In the 1980s, it allied with Saddam Hussein, who permitted it to operate from Camp Ashraf.
But by most accounts, the M.E.K. has not carried out violent attacks for many years. While it is described by some critics as cultlike and unpopular with Iranians both inside and outside the country, the group has been able to gather large crowds at rallies in the United States and Europe to press its bid to reverse the United States’ terrorist designation, imposed in 1997.
Over the last two years, the M.E.K. has enlisted an impressive array of prominent American politicians and former military officers to help make its case that it has abandoned violence and that it should be removed from the terrorist list. Among the supporters were former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation and former top government officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Many of the American supporters accepted fees of $15,000 to $30,000 to give speeches to the group, as well as travel and accommodation to Paris, where the M.E.K. is based. But some said that while the offer of lucrative speaking fees first drew them to the group’s cause, they became convinced that it was unfair and possibly dangerous to leave the M.E.K. on the terrorist list.
With a new Iraqi government that has close ties to Iran, the supporters said, there was a significant danger that its approximately 3,200 members still in Iraq could be slaughtered. In fact, two clashes with Iraqi security forces since 2009 left at least 45 M.E.K. members dead.
The same argument was advanced by many members of Congress, who wrote to the State Department in support of dropping the terrorist listing, which they argued might encourage Iraqi or Iranian attacks on the M.E.K.
But M.E.K. officials, including its leader in Paris, Maryam Rajavi, were slow to cooperate with a United Nations plan to empty Camp Ashraf, as demanded by Iraq, and move the 3,200 members temporarily to Camp Liberty. In recent months, M.E.K. officials have complained about what they described as poor living conditions at Camp Liberty and repeatedly delayed planned convoys.
Ms. Clinton had said publicly that the group’s cooperation in leaving Ashraf would be a factor in her decision about the terrorist listing. State Department officials said that a failure to cooperate in the move would raise questions about its promises never to resort to violence.
The M.E.K.’s lawyers went to court to challenge the terrorist listing, and Ms. Clinton face a court-imposed Oct. 1 deadline for her decision. After the final convoy left Ashraf, American officials said, there was little doubt that the terrorist label would be dropped.
Currently, about 200 M.E.K. members remain at Ashraf, and half will move soon to Camp Liberty. The remaining 100 will stay at Ashraf with the permission of the Iraqi authorities to oversee the group’s property that is still at the camp, American official said.
Meanwhile, United Nations officials have been interviewing the M.E.K. members at Camp Liberty and granted several hundred of them refugee status. United Nations officials are now looking for countries that will accept them, since few are expected to remain in Iraq.