Stop Treating Iranian Opposition Groups as Enemies
by RYAN MAURO
November 21, 2011
Logo of Mujahideen-e-Khalq.
For far too long, the West has ignored and even blacklisted Iranian opposition groups fighting the regime as terrorists. These groups are the regime’s biggest fear but they have yet to see the West standing by their side. The IAEA report disclosing Iran’s work on a nuclear missile shows time is running low, and Russia opposes further sanctions. The U.S. must do something now and delisting three groups from the terrorist lists of the State and Treasury Departments is a fitting measure.
The Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), a mostly Shiite group that has been non-violent since 2001, has been listed as a terrorist group since the list’s creation in 1997. The Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK), a Kurdish militant group, was added in the second month of the Obama Administration. Jundullah, a Baluchi militant group, was added on November 3, 2010.
The MEK is arguably the most controversial of the three. Some proponents of regime change in Iran, like Ken Timmerman, Michael Rubin and Michael Ledeen, oppose the group. Some prominent Iranian activists say it has no support within Iran. Other respected experts and Iranians argue that the group is a democratic entity with significant support. The arguments and facts of the case are complex and it is hard to discern the truth (you can read about both sides’ stances here). However, MEK has scored multiple court victories in recent years.
On June 24, 2009, the British government delisted MEK on court order. In October 2008, the European Union Court of First Instance ruled that the evidence justifying the label was “manifestly insufficient.” After a lengthy legal battle, the European Union was forced to delist the MEK in 2009. The EU parliament has since passed a resolution calling on the U.S. to do the same.
On July 16, 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. sided with the MEK over the State Department, ruling that the MEK was having its rights violated by not having access to unclassified evidence against it and the opportunity to respond. The State Department was ordered to review the designation. The court has about the classified reports that the Department introduced as evidence, noting that some of the reports “on their face express reservations about the accuracy of the information contained therein.”
A huge list of bi-partisan officials now supporting delisting MEK—from Democrats like Howard Dean, Bill Richardson, General Wesley Clark and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell to Republicans like Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Michele Bachmann and Tom Ridge. Former CIA directors Michael Hayden and James Woolsey, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Generals Peter Pace and Hugh Shelton and President Obama’s former National Security Advisor, General James Jones, all agree.
PJAK is accused of being essentially the same group as the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist group. It is true that PJAK was founded by members of the PKK after its military branch was dissolved in 2000, but it is still a new group. Iran expert Ken Timmerman spent extensive time with the group in Iraq. The PJAK camps are in an entirely different location than PKK and he found no evidence that the two are linked.
PJAK’s acts of violence are always targeted at the Iranian regime’s security forces that oppress and brutalize the Kurdish minority. Interestingly, about 40 percent of the group is female. The group is fighting for a democratic Iran, not the dissolution of the country. It has carried out countless successful attacks. The Iranian military launched an offensive against it on July 16. Two weeks later, the PJAK claimed to have killed about 300 Revolutionary Guards, including three generals. On September 4, it announced a ceasefire and Iran responded with large-scale attacks that killed PJAK’s deputy commander. These numbers cannot be verified and may be exaggerated.
Jundullah is a similarly effective militant group. There are two groups with the same name, one in Iran and one in Pakistan. The one in Pakistan is tied to Al-Qaeda. The Iranian regime tries to make it sound like the two are the same. The group does carry out suicide bombings, but they are reflexively called terrorist attacks by the media and condemned by the U.S. The State Department justified its move by mentioning its use of “terrorist tactics” and listing several attacks, without mentioning the rationale for them.
For example, on December 15, 2010, Jundullah carried out a huge bombing of a Shiite mosque in Iran, killing at least 41 people. The U.S. condemned it and the media described it as a terrorist attack. It was not mentioned that Jundullah believed there was a high-level Revolutionary Guards meeting at the mosque. Reports out of Iran indicated they were right and that the IRGC suffered heavy casualties.
Delisting these groups would allow the U.S. to maintain contact with them and influence them to address any concerns we may have. They would be allowed to organize and fundraise in America. MEK has obtained important intelligence, including the discovery of secret nuclear sites. Jundullah kidnapped an alleged Iranian nuclear scientist last year and he disclosed the supposed location of a secret enrichment site. If these groups can obtain more support, they will be able to get more intelligence that can be used to derail Iranian-sponsored terror plots and nuclear activities.
If there is some incriminating evidence that justifies these groups’ placement on the terrorist lists, then the government is obliged to make that case. If the government cannot prove that these groups qualify as terrorists, then they should be exonerated and free to fight the Iranian regime that we commonly fear.