The controversial Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq(MEK), held their annual “Free Iran” conference at their headquarters Ashraf 3 in Tirana, Albania on Saturday. They call their Iranian opposition coalition the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI). The NCRI’s “president elect” is the MEK’s leader Maryam Rajavi. Among the many speakers were several former US politicians, most notably former mayor of New York City and one of President Trump’s personal lawyers Rudy Giuliani.
The MEK are often referred to as a cult by critics. The group was based out of Iraq for many years and after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US government commissioned a report on the MEK from inside their former headquarters at camp Ashraf, Iraq. The report said, “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.”
Giuliani addressed the accusations of the MEK being a cult, “These are people who are dedicated to freedom, and if you think that’s a cult then there is something wrong with you.” In the video posted to the NCRI’s twitter after Giuliani made these comments, the camera panned to hundreds of women wearing matching outfits and red hijabs, clapping in the audience.
Giuliani called for regime change in Tehran and made it clear he thinks the MEK is the group that should take over. He also expressed his support for Trump’s policy of aggression towards Iran, “I’m proud of my government to tear up that nuclear deal. We don’t put nuclear weapons in the hands of murderers. When you put money in the hands of murderers, you are supporting murderers. When a German company makes business with Iran, they are helping to kill people in Syria, or kill us here in Albania. You are funding murderers. That makes you complicit in murder. We don’t allow people to fund murder. Wake up. When you buy oil from Iran you are funding murder. Face it and stop it.”
Former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman spoke at the event and also expressed his support of Trump’s Iran policy, “I say this as a Democrat. President Trump has been heroic and historic in taking the actions he has to break the Iran nuclear agreement, to impose sanctions on the Iranian government.” Lieberman voiced his support for MEK’s leadership, “Maryam Rajavi is a principled, visionary, selfless leader and cares for every one of you… Ashraf 3 is the best proof that this movement is a viable alternative to the ruling mullahs in Iran.”
Other American politicians who spoke were former Pennsylvanian Governor Tom Ridge, who also served in George W. Bush’s White House in the Department of Homeland Security, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former US House Representative for California Dana Rohrabacher and former US House Representative for Texas Ted Poe. They all called for regime change in Tehran and expressed their support for the MEK.
Current US House Representative for Texas, Lance Gooden, was the only American politician currently in office who spoke. Gooden assumed office in January of this year, after winning the election in November 2018. Gooden said, “The first thing I learned about Iran is that the most respected individual among the Iranian community is Madame Rajavi… We have to have regime change in Iran.”
Despite Gooden’s comments, the MEK have very little support within Iran, if any. The MEK have a violent history and started out as opposition against the US installed Shah, killing scores of his police throughout the 1970’s. When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in Iran, he quickly deemed the MEK a threat to his efforts of turning the country into an Islamic Republic.
After an MEK bombing killed the Iranian president and several other senior leaders of the Islamic Republic, the Ayatollah began to arrest and execute members of the MEK. The remaining members of the group fled to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein gave them refuge in a military base called Camp Ashraf. The MEK took Hussein’s side in the brutal eight-year war between Iran and Iraq, causing them to lose what little support they may have still had in Iran.
Rajavi’s husband was the group’s leader until he disappeared after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Rajavi ran a lavish lobbying campaign inside Washington to get the group removed from the US terror list when she took over. The Obama administration took them off the terror list in 2012.
Security Advisor John Bolton has reportedly received $180,000 from speaking at various MEK events before gaining his position in the Trump administration. Trump has said he is not seeking regime change in Tehran, but the group has money and a lot of influence inside Washington. If Trump does end up going to war with Iran they may be the group the US tries to install in Tehran.