August 4, 2009
At the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Coalition forces classified the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a militant organization from Iran with cult-like elements that advocates the overthrow of Iran's current government, as an enemy force.
The MeK had provided security services to Saddam Hussein from camps established in Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War to fight Iran in collaboration with Saddam's forces and resources. A new study from the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization, looks at how coalition forces handled this group following the invasion.
Although the MeK is a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States, coalition forces never had a clear mission on how to deal with it.
After a ceasefire was signed between Coalition forces and the MeK, the U.S. Secretary of Defense designated this group's members as civilian "protected persons" rather than combatant prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions. The coalition's treatment of the MeK leaves it – and the United States in particular – open to charges of hypocrisy, offering security to a terrorist group rather than breaking it up.
Research suggests that most of the MeK rank-and-file are neither terrorists nor freedom fighters, but trapped and brainwashed people who would be willing to return to Iran if they were separated from the MeK leadership. Many members were lured to Iraq from other countries with false promises, only to have their passports confiscated by the MeK leadership, which uses physical abuse, imprisonment, and other methods to keep them from leaving.
Iraq wants to expel the group, but no country other than Iran will accept it. The RAND study suggests the best course of action would have been to repatriate MeK rank-and-file members back to Iran, where they have been granted amnesty since 2003. To date, Iran appears to have upheld its commitment to MeK members in Iran. The study also concludes better guidelines be established for the possible detention of members of designated terrorist organizations.
The study, "The Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum," can be found here. For more information, or to arrange an interview with the authors, contact Lisa Sodders in the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 393-0411, ext. 7139, or firstname.lastname@example.org.