Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The People's Mujahedin of Iran and their friends in the west

The BBC World Service has a remarkable documentary available currently on the People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI). Most non-Iranians will have not heard of the group, but in short they were anti-the Shah and supported the revolution against him - it's important to remember that it's only really subsequently become labelled the 'Islamic Revolution'. At the time there was a considerable radical left-wing and secular dimension to the uprising alongside the later to be dominant Islamists. The Islamists under Khomeini subsequently turned on their previous leftist allies, including the PMOI, and the group went into exile in Iraq where they allied with Saddam Hussein against the regime in Tehran. The documentary does a pretty good job of explaining the general weirdness of the group, leaving aside their politics. It would appear to resemble a cult more than a political party now, with at least hard to dismiss claims of mistreating its members who wish to leave.

Nevertheless the most noteworthy dimension to the documentary is the reporting on the PMOI's lobbying within the United States. The group was listed as a terrorist organisation in the 1990s by the US government and remains so to today. In Europe it has been de-listed as a terrorist group, although its fund raising within Europe appears to be dubious to say the least. The BBC interviews numerous prominent Americans who are now part of the PMOI's campaign in the States to be taken off the terrorist group list; they include Republicans and Democrats, and many former senior officials and soldiers. It gives a fascinating insight into this world: some of those interviewed openly admit to not knowing anything about the PMOI before being approached to speak at their events in return for (considerable) payment. Nevertheless, these personalities seems to have taken their duties seriously and are openly pushing for the PMOI to be brought in from the cold - believing clearly that their position against the current regime in Iran* means their past sins (including involvement in the hostage taking of the American diplomats in Iran all those years ago) can be forgiven.

Perhaps the enthusiastic cynicism of some in the American political world should be no surprise to us, but it's always interesting to see how this sort of lobbying for non-domestic interests works. What is far more alarming is listening to the non-mercenary supporter of the PMOI - a former US colonel who dealt with them in Iraq when the US took over their camp there - who seems to be seriously suggesting that this exile group, who have not been in Iran for nearly 30 years and that has its own cultish leanings, could be the core of a future Iranian regime when the current leaders in Tehran fall or are deposed. I expect I'm not the only one for whom, on hearing this, the name Ahmed Chalabi immediately springs to mind. People really don't learn from their mistakes do they?

*Incidentally, some reporting links the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists to Israel via the PMOI. This has a certain attractive logic to it - if Israel is behind the assassinations as seems likely presumably they would need some sort of proxy in Iran, plus the PMOI has been responsible for bring to light some of Iran's secret nuclear facilities. Nevertheless, the PMOI has denied any linkages to Israel, there is little hard evidence linking Israel to the attacks so far, and the PMOI are far from being the only Iranian domestic insurgents/terrorist groups - there Baluch and Arab separatist groups in Iran for example as well.