Middle East
Iranian opposition group urges protection
Political wing of Mujahideen-e-Khalq calls for base in Iraq to be protected at rally attended by prominent US figures.
Last Modified: 19 Jun 2011 11:52
Rudy Guliani, the former mayor of New York City, was one of the US leaders supporting the MEK at the rally [Reuters]

The leader of an Iranian opposition group has called for the United Nations to protect a camp of its disarmed fighters in Ashraf, Iraq, after as many as 35 people were killed there in an Iraqi army attack in April.

During a rally attended by thousands in the French town of Villepinte on Saturday, Marjam Rajavi, the leader of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq's (MEK) political wing, said that the UN should send monitors to the camp in order to protect the 3,400 people living there.

The Iraqi government has repeatedly called for the group to shut down the camp and move to another country. The camp, located north of Baghdad, was initially set up while Iraq was still ruled by former president Saddam Hussein, and served as a based for the MEK in its battle against the Iranian government.

The MEK is also known as the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), and its political wing is referred to as the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

It has been labelled a "terrorist group" by the US since 1997, but several prominent US political figures present at the rally have called for their government to reverse that decision.

The US politicians present included Tom Ridge, who served as secretary of homeland security under president George W Bush; Andrew Card, who was chief of staff of the Bush White House' and Rudy Guliani, the former mayor of New York City.

Sadegh Zibakalam, a professor of politics at Tehran University, discusses the Mujahideen-e-Khalq issue

"The terrorist organisation that the United States should be worried about is Iran, not the MEK ... When I think of Iran, I think of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic jihad. I think about their advance towards a nuclear state," Ridge said.

"The reason that the MEK is such a thorn in their side is simply because they are looking to lead a different Iran, a peaceful Iran, a tolerant Iran, a non-nuclear Iran, and it's for that reason that I'm here in strong support, with a lot of other people, and have been for the past couple of years, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives in the United States and elsewhere, to delist the MEK and protect the inhabitants as we find a safer havens for them to live and raise their families, and one time, hopefully, to replace the tyrannical regime in Tehran."

Card said at the rally that he hoped his government would act to delist the MEK as a "terrorist group" and would protect its members.

"We ... know that the United States promised to protect the people of the MEK who are in Camp Ashraf," he said.

"I hope that the United States government will keep that commitment and I hope that they will recognise that they are allies in the 'war on terror', and that they are not a terrorist group, and they should be delisted from the terrorist group in the United States, and enjoy the full support of the United States as they become an example for democracy in Iraq and a better democracy for people inside Iran."

'Very fragile'

Rajavi, the MEK leader, said that the international community must protect its base in Iraq in order to support an "uprising" in Iran.

"I think that the mullahs' regime [in Iran] is very fragile, very fragile, as before. And we are very optimistic of continuing the uprising in Iran, and I also think that the protection of the residents of Ashraf is necessary for the Iranian people because they are a symbol of perseverance, hope and tenacity. We must protect the residents of Ashraf in order to continue the uprising in Iran," she said.

The MEK was listed as a banned organisation by the European Union in 2002, but the ban was rolled back in 2009 after a string of court cases went in its favour.

The group, which has opposed Iranian governments since the 1960s, says it is dedicated to forming a democratic, secular government in Iran.

Members of the group were involved in the overthrow of the US-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.

After the revolution, however, the group fell out with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and thousands of its members were killed, imprisoned or forced into exile.

In response, it launched a campaign of bombings and targeted killings against the Iranian government.

It also fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

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