From Forough-e Javidan to returning to Europe
After accepting Resolution 598, and the cease-fire being stablished between Iran and Iraq, it was practically impossible for MKO to operate on the Iranian-Iraqi borders due to the presence of UN peacekeepers, but Mojahedin continued to serve the Iraqi Presidential Guards, which is one of the most controversial issues about the presence of the Mujahedin in Iraq: “Suppression of Kurdish and Shiite forces after the First War of Persian Gulf” was their accusation that has always been denied.
After coalition forces invaded Iraq in 1991, Kurds and Shiites rebelled against Saddam Hussein in the north and south of Iraq, which was severely repressed. According to various statistics, around 100 to 200 thousand people were killed, and more than 2 million became homeless in the crackdowns.
The MKO's cooperation with Saddam's regime in the killing of Shiites has not yet been proven. For example, the prosecution of Saddam Hussein, accused of slaughtering of Shiites in Dajail city in 1982, and his sentencing to death, due to the sufficiency of the documents and evidence; but there is no evidence available that Saddam and the Mojahedin collaborated on other crimes against Shiites.
In the summer of 2012, the Iraqi Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Maryam Rajavi and 39 members of the organization on charges of crimes against humanity; but in response to the sentence, MKO accused the court of being “under the influence of Nouri Maliki”, the Iraqi Prime Minister of the time, naming the sentence as “a gift from the Iraqi government for Iran”. Since then, Masoud Rajavi disappeared!
The 1990s were the retrieval decade of the MKO. Although during that same decade they carried out assassination attempts, as well as one-off throwing mortar operations in Tehran, in general, the MKO’s structure in Iraq remained unchanged throughout the 90’s.
In the summer of 1993, Maryam Rajavi was elected as the President of Iran and the National Solidarity Council acted as a parliament in exile. During the same period, women were strongly promoted within the organization and were placed in key posts in their monopoly, so that the majority of the central council of the organization was in the hands of women. In the 90s, Mojahedin was active in two major headquarters: Ashraf Camp in Iraq, as the official military arm of the organization, and Maryam Camp in Auvers-Sur-Oise, in the suburb of Paris, as the political, diplomatic and economic arm. Both branches were under the control of the National Resistance Council and the self-proclaimed government of the Islamic Democratic Republic.
Masoud had the spiritual leadership of this self-proclaimed republic. The huge money given to the Mojahedin during the Saddam period was invested in Europe under various covert foundations by the economic arm, while the diplomatic and political arm acted differently in various organizations such as lobbying, propagating and anti-regime activities through various organizations. The military arm in Iraq, also with the support of Saddam, continued to create instability and insecurity in Iran; it took part in every possible chaos making western boarders occasionally insecure. The illusion of having an established government ended with the US invasion of Iraq, and the organization began operations since then. However, Mojahedin’s sharp decline had started before. Indeed, after administration of the reformist government in Iran, and its dynamic diplomacy in the international arena, the legitimacy of the Mojahedin was questioned internationally .
While the Allied forces attacked Iraq in 2003, the US Department of State previously had put the group on the terrorist list in 1997; later in 2000, the United Kingdom also did the same, and in 2001 Germany blocked the organization's assets. Therefore, the international status of the Mojahedin was severely undermined. In 2002, the European Union also introduced the group as a terrorist group. Though in the first decade of 2000, the international decriminalization of the group was intensifying, the political and military structure of the group had remained unchanged in Europe and Iraq. The US’ attack of Iraq in 2003, Mojahedin's dream of the US invading Iran due to the nuclear activities turned to a nightmare, put them in a strategic stalemate situation. Accused of crimes against the Iraqi and Iranian people, Mojahedin was also charged for the attack. In 2003, almost 3,800 members of the group were confined to Ashraf. More than 2139 tanks and personnel carriers, 429,000 pounds of explosives and weapons were detained and Ashraf Camp was supervised by the US Army.
In the same year, the Iraqi government council issued an order to expel them from Iraq; however, it was opposed by the United States. In fact, as a result of the attack, the military structure arm of the self-proclaimed government collapsed and was later completed. The political structure of the group was also attacked in Paris. In 2003, the police attacked the MKO’s headquarters in Australia and France due to corruption and money laundering, Maryam Rajavi was arrested, along with 150 prominent political members in France, and the National Resistance Council was considered the political and diplomatic arm of the organization by the United States, putting them on the terror list.
The eighth and ninth steps were two complementary steps; in the eighth phase, the legitimacy of the political and military structure of the organization was questioned and in the ninth phase, the political and military structure collapsed. However, the collapse was rather a temporary suspension of the activities; the United States and the West needed such a group to interact with Iran on some issues, such as the nuclear issue, especially when the organization provided the United States with information on the nuclear activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran since 2002. The temporary suspension of the group’s political activities was ceased in 2005; allowing it to restart its activities soon after. It was when Iran's nuclear case was back up for international discussion, and the West needed such a tangible organization to collect information about Iran.
Although the suspension of the political structure was temporary, the group's military structure was subject to a permanent suspension. Exiting the UK terror list in 2006, as well as the European Union's terror list in 2008, and the abolition of MKO’s assets blockade in the European Union in 2008, the organization restarted its political activities under the supervision of Maryam Rajavi in Paris. However, Ashraf Camp was under American supervision until 2008 and the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention were applied to the military arm of the group afterward.
About 380 members of the group registered to return to Iran in 2008, due to the general amnesty of Iran for the members of the group, and a center was created to send the regretted members to Europe as refugees. However, in 2008, the Ashraf Camp was supervised by the Iraqi government and there were some conflicts between the members of the organization and the Iraqi army, which ultimately made the Iraqi government order the residents of Ashraf Camp to leave Iraq by 2011 and the group's diplomacy toward parties such as “Iraqi National Dialogue” and “Iraqi Accordance Front” did not go on well to cancel the order. Eventually, under the US supervision, MKO’s members were transferred to another camp, called Liberty Camp in Iraq, to determine their future. This meant the end of a dream; an end to the Mojahedin's military structure and a bitter end to the National Liberation Army, which was going to be launched in Tehran!
Masoud Rajavi was no longer seen after disarmament of the Mojahedin and the seizure of Iraq, although some speculation suggests his death. Maryam Rajavi practically led the organization afterward. (The most valid document about Rajavi's death is the statement made by Turki al-Faisal, former head of the Saudi Intelligence Service, at the annual meeting of the Mojahedin in France, 2016, among hypocrite supporters, announcing the death of Masoud Rajavi. Al-Faisal addressed Maryam Rajavi as “your deceased spouse”. After unintended revealing the news by Turki al-Faisal and reflecting on the media, Mojahedin Khalq Organization tried to deny it via Persian Voice of America.
By the end of 2008, Ashraf Camp was supervised by the American forces and was handed over to Iraqi forces on January 1, 2009. The new Iraqi government, which had a good relationship with the Iranian government, had repeatedly tried to raise control over Ashraf. Ashraf Camp, and later the Liberty Camp, was repeatedly attacked by missiles 2 and mortars. 3
The accusation was occasionally pointed at the Iranian forces (Quds Force) or the Shiite forces loyal to the Iranian government, and sometimes to the official police and army of Iraq, but none of the accused claimed or denied the attacks.
The main attack was the attack carried out by the Iraqi army under the command of Nuri al-Maliki to capture Ashraf. Dozens of Mojahedin were killed and wounded. Following the collisions, the Iraqi government called for the MKO to be evacuated from Ashraf by the end of 2011; however, it was postponed by April 2012 due to international pressures. Since then, over a period of one and a half years, about 2,700 members of the Mojahedin Organization disbanded the Camp.
Only one group of 100 people remained in Ashraf Camp to protect the MKO’s property, which was always the subject of conflicts between them and the Iraqi government; they were attacked by unknown attackers in September 2013. 52 Mujahidin members were killed and seven were captured and disappeared.
Although none of the terrorist groups took responsibility for the attack, the Revolutionary Guards issued a statement calling the incident “a relief” for the people, attributing it to “sons of Iraqi warriors”. Ahmad Khatami, imam of Tehran's Friday praying, and Mohammad Reza Naghdi, a Basij commander, praised the attack, calling it “more important than the Mersad Operation”. But after the well-known Iraqi army attack on Ashraf, the most important attacks were two deadly attacks operated in 2013 and 2015. Hossein Abrishamchi, a senior official of the organization was killed during the one of the mentioned attacks. “Free Military” (Mokhtar Army), which is the military wing of the Iraqi Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the attacks. Though Tehran never officially confirmed such a link, Mokhtar Army is known as an Iranian-backed group.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, declared MKO a “terrorist group” on the first day after taking over Ashraf, announcing its activities “against Iraq’s constitutions”. However, Mr. Maliki told the residents of Ashraf Camp “not to be forced to return to Iran” and assured that he would give them the opportunity to go to another country.
A number of US officials, including then US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, as well as Senator McCain, expressed their concerns about Mojahedin transition and the occasional attacks against them. 4
At the same time, as Mojahedin was moving from Ashraf to the Temporary Liberty Camp, and from there to Europe, MKO did not remain silent, beginning its main activities on the international arena and lobbying.
The group’s political activities became more prominent in Paris since 2011, taking place in diplomatic, economic and lobbying fields. It showed off its operational importance to the West through collecting information about nuclear programs and human rights, and taking different diplomatic, political actions in order to escape from the terror list. Meanwhile, it expanded its offices and relations in countries such as the United States, Israel, Jordan, Germany, Italy, England, Scandinavia, Canada and Saudi Arabia, and at the same time it also worked with countries like Israel and spy centers such as Mossad and the CIA, and was involved in terrorist acts inside the country. Recently, the organization’s basic agenda is based on lobbying in different parliaments and major political centers. Collaborating with lobbying organizations such as Harry Walker, Akin Gump Strauss, Brown Lloyd James, Fold, 21st Century Speakers and ExecutiveAction are clear examples of the MKO’s recent agenda; therefore, its co-operation led the organization to exit from the State Department's terror list in 2012.
Close relations with political figures in the United States and Europe, as well as the Middle East and the Arab world, is one of the various actions of the organization, seeking legitimacy for its activities through promotional programs and inviting them for its anniversaries. Broadcasting of figures such as the former prime minister of Algiers, former intelligence minister of Jordan, former foreign minister of Egypt, Palestinian Authorities, the influential figure of the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia, Turki al-Faisal, former foreign minister of France, former PM of Spain, former spokesman of the US House of Representatives, former ambassador to the United States at UN and... at the recent conference of Mojahedin in Paris, is an obvious example of the MKO’s new diplomacy.
Visiting various parliaments and presenting Mojahedin Khalq Organization as an alternative for Islamic Republic was one of the activities of the political arm. Also, establishing charities for fundraising in Europe through children of broken families who have been under ideological training, in addition to creating of foundations for money laundering, drug and human trafficking are other economic activities of the organization. Making usage of satellite media and advertising in major US and European newspapers, as well as collaboration with scientific foundations such as Enterprise are the other political activities of the group.
Indeed, with the debilitation of the group as a military and political organization in 2011, MKO turned to a diplomatic organization and an enterprise for political activities against the regime, surviving and creating a new international legitimacy. The consequence of this legitimacy, which is based on desirable economic resources, has greatly helped to revive them to the point where it may even lead to the restoration of their military power. Transferring the members from Liberty Camp to Albania and accepting a group of them as refugees in the United States and Europe are considered as attempts with the same goal. The plan, which is being implemented since 2016, may have hidden grounds for reviving the organization's military arm and would lead to the transfer of all Liberty members and even the military arm to the United State. This is happening now with the support of the United States and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
In September 2012, the United States announced removing the organization's name from the list of terrorist organizations. The statement by the US Department of State says that the Mojahedin Organization did not commit terrorist acts over the past 10 years. In addition, the public announcement of the MKO about its armed activities being stopped and its members’ cooperation with evacuating Ashraf Camp in Iraq are other reasons convicting the US government to remove the organization from the terror list.
Referring to the history of MKO’s activities in the 1970s that led to the killing of some American citizens, the statement issued by the US Department of State criticizes the organization’s behavior toward its members. Earlier, the organization’s name was removed from the European list of terrorist organizations. Removing the organization's name from the US terrorist list, not only legalized its activities in the West, but also helped the organization to transfer members from Iraq to other countries and their settlement. Thus, the Mojahedin’s attempts of more than a decade to be removed from the terrorist list worked out. Soon after, around 2,700 members evacuated Ashraf to Liberty Camp; however, it sometimes caused conflicts between Mojahedin and Iraqi forces. The process was initiated by the Albanian government in late 2013, accepting fourteen members of the MKO as refugees.
Prior to that, Maryam Rajavi had announced that all Mojahedin members have to be transferred to the United States or be returned to Ashraf Camp. But the Americans appreciated Albany’s government, calling out the MKO’s members for taking the opportunity.
In 2014, it was announced that 600 members of the organization had been transferred to Albania, and one month later, the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad announced that all the Mojahedin members would leave Iraq by the end of summer. On August 5, 2016, the last 280 remained members in Liberty were transferred and the base was eventually evacuated. 5
According to the US State Department, the United Nations has managed to transfer more than 3,000 members of the MKO from Iraq. A number of MKO’s leaders have also been transferred to Germany and France. The People’s Mojahedin Khalq of Iran claims losing 141 members during the US attack to Iraq, and 27 members have been killed due to “the siege conditions”.
Earlier, many critics and opponents of the Mojahedin Organization accused the organization of slipping away its members from leaving Ashraf and Liberty in order to attract the attention of Western politicians and media in light of their difficult situation in Iraq. Now, since it seems that maintaining the coherence of the Mojahedin forces in western countries is more complicated than in the Ashraf and Liberty, what would be the policy of the organization in the new situation?
Meanwhile, the organization has launched new movements. As mentioned above, MKO recently held a conference in France, with he presence of a number of international political figures, including Amir Turki Bin Faisal, the son of the former king of Saudi Arabia and former head of the National Intelligence Agency. Then, Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, met with Maryam Rajavi in Paris. The meetings, which were held at the highest tension between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Saudi Arabia and the emergence of disagreements between them, caused a sharp reaction from Iran.
It seems that the complete transfer of the MKO’s members from Iraq shortly after Turki al-Faisal being present in the gathering and the meeting of Mahmoud Abbas with Maryam Rajavi in Paris conveys a meaning: Mojahedin Khalq Organization of Iran has made new decisions that reveal one of those from time to time.
Also Read: HALF A CENTURY WITH MKO PART I
Amir Farshad Ebrahimi
Photojournalist & Documentary Poducer