Saturday, April 28, 2007

Iranian rebel group supports France's Royal

Agence France Presse
Sat Apr 28, 2007

BAGHDAD (AFP) - French presidential candidate Segolene Royal received a campaign endorsement from an unexpected quarter on Saturday when an Iraq-based Iranian rebel movement held a rally to support her.

The People's Mujahedeen of Iran (PMOI), which is listed by the European Union and United States as a terrorist group, claimed that around 4,000 Iranian exiles and Iraqi supporters had gathered in the Iraqi town of Ashraf, northeast of Baghdad.

The guerrilla organisation has a long-standing enmity for the outgoing French President Jacques Chirac and his favoured successor, the Socialist Royal's right-wing opponent Nicholas Sarkozy.

Photographs released by the group appeared to show a crowd of thousands in a hangar-like hall, and a panel of women behind a banner reading "Women of Iraq, Iran and France: with Segolene, for peace, against fundamentalism."

The women sat in front of three flags -- those of Iran, France and Iraq.

PMOI spokesman Shahria Kia said the rally was attended by his group and by Iranian and Iraqi opposition groups who feel Royal would be a better ally than previous French presidents in their battle with the Tehran regime.

A statement from the groups, released to AFP, read: "We ask all of our friends, particularly all the French Muslims, to vote for Ms Royal."

"We are certain that with this choice France will retrieve its values, and will stand beside the oppressed people of Iraq and Iran against fundamentalism and terrorism exported by Iran," it added.

The PMOI, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq Organisation (MKO), was founded in 1965 by leftist students at Tehran university, and fled Iran after clashing with the Islamist government set up in the 1979 revolution.

It was based in exile in France until 1986, when the then prime minister, Chirac, expelled them.

Saddam Hussein's Iraq became the group's new home, and they developed a guerrilla army to launch cross-border attacks into Iran.

The group's bases were bombed by the US military during the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, but after the fall of Saddam a ceasefire was signed with the Americans, who keep the activists under guard in Ashraf.

Nevertheless, the US State Department continues to list the PMOI as a terrorist organisation, as does the European Union despite a ruling last year by the European Court of Justice that this was unfair.

Female activist Ategheh Khorsand, who addressed the gathering on behalf of the PMOI, said: "French policy, during past 20 years, towards Iran and Iraq is not something for France to be proud of.

"The only concern of this policy has been to attract consent of the religious dictatorship in Iran for financial and trade concession by suppressing the members of the Iranian resistance in France," she added.

Socialist Party flag-bearer Royal will face Sarkozy in the final round of France's presidential election, which will choose a successor to the PMOI's original nemesis Chirac.

In June 2003, when Sarkozy was French interior minister, French police raided several alleged PMOI safe houses in France and arrested 160 suspects. Sarkozy warned that the group was trying to make France its rear base.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

U.S. protects Iranian opposition group in Iraq

April 5, 2007

An Iranian opposition group based in Iraq, despite being considered terrorists by the United States, continues to receive protection from the American military in the face of Iraqi pressure to leave the country.

It's a paradox possible only because the United States considers the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, or MEK, a source of valuable intelligence on Iran.

The group also is credited with helping expose Iran's secret nuclear program through spying on Tehran for decades. And the group is considered an ally to America because of its opposition to Tehran.

However, the U.S. State Department officially considers the MEK a terrorist organization -- meaning no American can deal with it; U.S. banks must freeze its assets; and any American giving support to its members is committing a crime.

The U.S. military, though, regularly escorts MEK supply runs between Baghdad and its base, Camp Ashraf.

"The trips for procurement of logistical needs also take place under the control and protection of the MPs," said Mojgan Parsaii, vice president of MEK and leader of Camp Ashraf.

That's because, according to U.S. documents, coalition forces regard MEK as protected people under the Geneva Conventions.

"The coalition remains deeply committed to the security and rights of the protected people of Ashraf," U.S. Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner wrote in March 2006.

The group also enjoys the protection of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"The ICRC has made clear that the residents of Camp Ashraf must not be deported, expelled or repatriated," according to an ICRC letter.

Despite repeated requests, neither Iran's ambassador in Baghdad nor the U.S. military would comment on MEK, also known as Mojahedin Khalq Organization, or MKO.

But former U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said, "What we have here is a policy that described the people here from the MEK as a protected group, and one of our coalition partner countries is actually protecting them in the camp where they mostly are, but there is no change in our policy that the MEK, we still regard them as a terrorist organization."

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Green Berets arrived at Camp Ashraf to find gardens and monuments there, along with more than 2,000 well-maintained tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, anti-aircraft guns and vehicles.

All 3,800 camp residents were questioned by Americans -- including, interestingly, a female tank battalion. No arrests were made, and the camp quickly surrendered under a cease-fire agreement -- an agreement that also guaranteed its safety.

"Everyone's entry to the camp and his departure are controlled by the U.S. military police force," Parsaii said.

The MEK denies it is a terrorist group. Both Iran and the Iraqi government, however, accuse the group of ongoing terrorist attacks, and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government wants it out. For now, however, the United States continues to protect MEK.

"There are counter-pressures, too," Khalilzad said. "There are people who say, 'No, they should be allowed to stay here.' And as you know, around the world there are people with different views toward them."

ROBERTS: Sun's coming up now in Baghdad. And Michael Ware joins us live from there.

Michael, what are the chances that the United States might eventually end up actually arming the Mujahadine e-kulk (ph)?

WARE (on camera): Well, that's something to be seen, John. I mean, in many ways, the Mujahadine e-kulk (ph) are a useful barometer of American intention with regard to Iran. So sensitive is Tehran about their presence here in Iraq, so sensitive are they about the American protection being given to being given to this group, which they see -- which Tehran sees, as its greatest internal threat, that to even put one rifle back in the hands of the Mujahadine e-kulk (ph) would be so inflammatory, it would be like an American declaration of war.

ROBERTS: Well, it will be interesting to see how things go between the United States and Iran. Maybe that becomes a part of the program.

Michael Ware in Baghdad, thanks very much.