November 15, 2018

THE lEFT IS THE rIGHT:

Terrorists, cultists - or champions of Iranian democracy? The wild wild story of the MEK (Arron Merat, 9 Nov 2018, The Guardian)

Since its exile from Iran in the early 1980s, the MEK has been committed to the overthrow of the Islamic republic. But it began in the 1960s as an Islamist-Marxist student militia, which played a decisive role in helping to topple the Shah during the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist and anti-American, MEK fighters killed scores of the Shah's police in often suicidal street battles during the 1970s. The group targeted US-owned hotels, airlines and oil companies, and was responsible for the deaths of six Americans in Iran. "Death to America by blood and bonfire on the lips of every Muslim is the cry of the Iranian people," went one of its most famous songs. "May America be annihilated."

Such attacks helped pave the way for the return of the exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who quickly identified the MEK as a serious threat to his plan to turn Iran into an Islamic republic under the control of the clergy. The well-armed middle-class guerrillas, although popular among religious students and intellectuals, would prove to be no match for Khomeini's organisation and ruthlessness.

Following the revolution, Khomeini used the security services, the courts and the media to choke off the MEK's political support and then crush it entirely. After it fought back, killing more than 70 senior leaders of the Islamic republic - including the president and Iran's chief justice - in audacious bomb attacks, Khomeini ordered a violent crackdown on MEK members and sympathisers. The survivors fled the country.

Saddam Hussein, who was fighting a bloody war against Iran with the backing of the UK and the US, saw an opportunity to deploy the exiled MEK fighters against the Islamic republic. In 1986, he offered the group weapons, cash and a vast military base named Camp Ashraf, only 50 miles from the border with Iran.

For almost two decades, under their embittered leader Massoud Rajavi, the MEK staged attacks against civilian and military targets across the border in Iran and helped Saddam suppress his own domestic enemies. But after siding with Saddam - who indiscriminately bombed Iranian cities and routinely used chemical weapons in a war that cost a million lives - the MEK lost nearly all the support it had retained inside Iran. Members were now widely regarded as traitors.

Isolated inside its Iraqi base, under Rajavi's tightening grip, the MEK became cult-like. A report commissioned by the US government, based on interviews within Camp Ashraf, later concluded that the MEK had "many of the typical characteristics of a cult, such as authoritarian control, confiscation of assets, sexual control (including mandatory divorce and celibacy), emotional isolation, forced labour, sleep deprivation, physical abuse and limited exit options".

After the US invasion of Iraq, the MEK launched a lavish lobbying campaign to reverse its designation as a terrorist organisation - despite reports implicating the group in assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists as recently as 2012. Rajavi has not been seen since 2003 - most analysts assume he is dead - but under the leadership of his wife, Maryam Rajavi, the MEK has won considerable support from sections of the US and European right, eager for allies in the fight against Tehran.



Posted by at November 15, 2018 6:52 PM

  

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