Families of MKO members protest against the group in Tehran (July 2008)
Iranians hardly ever agree on anything. But there's at least one thing on which most Iranians share a common view, and that is their dislike of the Iranian opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO).
For this reason, talk of removing the group's designation as a terrorist organization, which the United States is currently considering and which the European Union did in 2009, is sure to spark protests from Tehran.
But the issue also draws protests from a less likely source -- members of Iran's Green Movement who themselves are critical of the exiled group and are wary of attempts by the MKO and by the Iranian government to portray them as allies in opposition.
And Green Movement members also warn that removing the MKO's terrorist designation could inadvertently send a negative signal to people in Iran and tarnish their view of the United States.
Labeled As Traitors Among Iranians
The MKO's involvement in a series of violent acts in the 1970s and 1980s in Iran, and its decision to side with Iraq during the bloody 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, led to the group being labeled as traitors among Iranians.
So much so, that opposition member and former lawmaker Ali Mazrouei believes removing the MKO from the State Department's terror list would not be well-received.
"It will be definitely viewed very negatively by the people," he says. "This group is one of the most-hated political groups among Iranians, because during the difficult time of the war it joined the enemy that had attacked Iran's territory and fought against the Iranian nation."
Protesters in Tehran condemn Britain and EU for their policy on MKO (January 2009)
In the international arena, the group has proven to be a sticking point for decades. Following its founding in 1965, MKO members took up arms against the Iranian shah and were involved in the killings of several US citizens working in Iran in the 1970s.
After initially supporting the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the MKO went underground when an uprising against the new regime failed. The United States put the group on the list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997 in what was widely considered to be a goodwill gesture to former president Mohammad Khatami.
Nevertheless, following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, coalition forces considered MKO members on Iraqi soil a "protected people," in keeping with the Geneva Conventions.
MKO members were provided refuge at "Camp Ashraf," where their numbers today stand at around 3,000. But the handover of control to the Iraqi government clearly exposed the controversy over their presence on Iraqi soil, with Iraqi officials openly suggesting that Iran's extradition requests be heeded, while the UN reminded the Iraqi government of the MKO members' rights as minorities.
The MKO, as the State Department reviews their status, has argued that it has renounced violence and claims to be working for democracy in Iran. It has also launched an extensive campaign to push for its reclassification.
According to Tehran-based political analyst Nejat Bahrami, the delisting of the MKO would make average Iranians frustrated with the United States.
"The messages [President Barack] Obama has sent to the Iranian people on several occasions, including for Nouruz, have been very encouraging," he says. "But I think [the delisting of the MKO] would neutralize those positive statements. And it might lead to frustration with U.S. policies and even hatred."
Current Regime 'Preferable' To MKO
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