|US risks miscalculation on
Part of a calculated policy or a game, the
decision by the US State Department to outlaw the
National Council of the Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the
political front of the outlawed Mujahideen-e-Khalq
Organization (MKO), has been cold-shouldered by many
Iranian political analysts, as well as by opponents of
the Islamic Republic of Iran, both inside and outside
"For the first time in their
tortuous relationship with Iran, the Americans have a
real capital of sympathy with the Iranian people, mostly
with the young generation, the only one in the whole of
the Arab and the Muslim worlds to really like and
appreciate the Americans. They should not deceive the
Iranian people by comforting a regime that has no
future," Ali Keshtgar, a seasoned political analyst and
editor of the Paris-based monthly Mihan (Homeland) told
Asia Times Online.
In his view, Washington would
make a "terrible mistake" if it really was looking to
appease the Iranian mullahs by banning the NCRI. The
State Department said on Friday that it had placed the
NCRI on its list of terrorist organizations.
closure, under terms of a 2001 anti-terrorism executive
order by President George W Bush, came after an
inter-agency debate within the administration and
strongly supported by Secretary of State Colin Powell,
"determining" that the NCRI is an alias for the MKO and
therefore all its banking accounts would be closed and
its members in the US would be informed that their
activities would be regarded as harmful to the interests
of the US.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation
immediately proceeded to close down the council's
offices in Washington DC and other major American
cities, including New York and Los Angeles. The MKO had
already been declared a terrorist organization by both
the US and the European Union, but the NCRI was allowed
to operate, arousing bitter criticism from Tehran,
accusing the Bush administration of "duplicity".
However, and as expected, Iran, proclaimed by
Bush as an "evil" state, has now welcomed the move.
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on Saturday that
the US action in closing down the office of the
"terrorist" NCRI "is a positive step that conforms to
its international responsibilities. To root out
terrorism, all countries, including the US, should
confront the menace in all its forms decisively, and
uniformly," he stated, adding that the US should have
acted sooner in shutting down the NCRI's activities,
according to the Iranian official news agency IRNA.
Also, one should not forget that the head of the
terrorist group is in Iraq, under US control, Kharrazi
said, referring to Mas'oud Rajavi, the leader of both
the MKO and the NCRI and whose whereabouts have not been
known since the occupation of Baghdad by the Americans.
A semi-military organization, the MKO obeys a
strict Marxist-Islamist ideology and is the only armed
group fighting Iran. When the allies occupied Iraq some
100 days ago, they also attacked and occupied the
military bases the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein
had placed at the disposal of the MKO for their
operations against Iran.
But American officers
on the field, faced with the menace from the thousands
of Iranian agents and Iraqi soldiers of the Badr Corps,
the military wing of the Tehran-backed Supreme Assembly
of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SAIRI) who had been
infiltrated into Iraq in the early days of the allied
occupation of Iraq, decided to use the MKO's potential
for the identification of the infiltrators and allowed
its members to keep their light weapons.
idea, though blessed by the Pentagon, was abandoned
after the State Department opposed it, arguing that due
to Iran's huge influence over the Iraqi Shi'ites Muslims
who make the majority of the Iraqi population, it would
create more trouble for the allied forces in a country
ravaged by chaos.
On June 17, more than 1,000
French crack policemen and gendarmerie forces raided the
MKO's international headquarters in the small town of
Auvers Sur Oise near Paris, arrested 13 leaders of the
group, including Maryam Rajavi, wife of Rajavi and
co-leader of the NCRI, and seized "very sophisticated"
communications and computer equipment, as well as more
than US$9 million and 200,000 euros, all in cash.
Though it is difficult to find any Iranians
sympathetic to the cause defended by the MKO outside of
the organization, yet, for the first time, few political
observers welcomed the American decision to ban the
NCRI, fearing that not only would it encourage the
ruling Iranian ayatollahs to increase their crackdown on
dissidents in the country, but further isolate the
powerless President Mohammad Khatami and his reformist
allies in the Iranian leadership.
"I hope the
decision to ban the Council of Mujahideen [NCRI] does
not mean that Washington wants normalize relations with
the Islamic Republic of Iran, a regime that is the
mother of all terrorists, but that it wants to enter
into a bargain over the suspected al-Qaeda people
believed to be in the custody of the Iranians," Keshtgar
Though the State Department offered no
reason for its somehow surprise decision, some Iranian
and Western sources said that it might be part of the
ongoing Tehran-Washington secret negotiations aimed at
encouraging Tehran to hand over to the US some of the
high-ranking al-Qaeda officials believed to be in
According to the Americans, one
of Osama Bin Laden's sons, Sa'd, his second man in
command, the Egyptian Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri , al-Qaeda's
spokesman, Soleyman Abou Qaith, the network's present
coordinator, Seyf al-Adl, as well as Imad Muqniyeh, the
head of the Iran-backed and supported Lebanese Hezbollah
intelligence, are also hiding in Iran.
Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily al-Sharq al-Awsat said last
week that all of them had left Iran, probably for safer
places along the Iranian-Afghanistan-Pakistan borders.
As usual, Tehran immediately denied the information,
reiterating that none of the men had ever been in Iran.
But since Iranian official spokesmen have
insisted forcefully that Iran has not been able to
identify all of the 500 al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives
it detains, the denial lacks credibility.
Confirming the al-Sharq al-Awsat story, some
informed Iranian sources explained that the Iranian
authorities, fearing that some of the men had been
officially pinpointed by the Americans, had ordered them
to leave their sanctuaries in Iran.
happened before. Months after the American intervention
in Afghanistan, American media, tipped by the Central
Intelligence Agency, reported the presence in Iran of
several high-ranking al-Qaeda and Taliban members. At
first, Tehran vehemently denied the reports, but two
weeks later an unidentified intelligence source told the
state-run, leader-controlled television that some 250
al-Qaeda operatives had been arrested while entering
Iran from Pakistan.
"The Americans are well
aware of the activities of the MKO. At the same time,
they have also branded the Islamic Republic as an evil
and terrorist state. It is therefore possible that
Washington, by placing the NCRI on their list of
terrorist organizations, wants to encourage Iran in
handing over leading al-Qaeda members it detains,"
Hooshang Amir Ahmadi, a professor
at New Jersey's Rutgers University and chairman of the
Iranian-American Council, agrees, but at the same time
he says that the idea of exchanging top al-Qaeda
officials against MKO leaders will not work.
his view, on the one hand the ruling Iranian ayatollahs
are no more interested in the exchange for the simple
reason that they consider the group as already finished,
while on the other, Washington has abandoned the idea of
coalescing the MKO and the monarchists into a powerful
pressure force against Tehran.
ruling conservatives, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ,
the leader of the Islamic Republic, have reached the
conclusion that it is better and safer to calm the
Americans by continuing the ongoing secret negotiations
rather than reconcile with the reformists at home," he
told the Persian service of Radio France International
In a recent statement, officials at
the State Department indicated that they were ready to
go to Iran and interrogate the suspected al-Qaeda
terrorists, a proposal immediately rejected by the
According to Amir Ahmadi, the
State Department, at odds with the Defense Department
over Iran, has decided that the presence and activities
of the NCRI in the US is a serious obstacle in the
secret talks it started with Iran early this year in
Geneva and at the United Nations in New York.
is interesting to note that Powell strongly criticized
his defense counterpart for having authorized secret
meetings a year ago, and more recently between mid-level
defense officials with Manichur Ghorbanifar, an Iranian
arms dealer-wheeler involved in the notorious
Iran-Contra deal better known as the Irangate scandal of
the Ronald Reagan administration.
(In order to
free American hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian
militias, senior members of the Reagan government
secretly sold weapons to Iran in 1985 and traded the
profits to supply right-wing Contra guerrillas in
Nicaragua with arms).
Keshtgar says that it
would make a "terrible mistake" if Washington was really
looking to appease the Iranian mullahs in the
"chimerical" hope of getting al-Qaeda leaders. Asked by
Asia Times Online if, anyhow, Iran is in a position to
reciprocate the American decision by handing over to
them some of the senior al-Qaeda people, Keshtgar ruled
this out, observing that not only Iran would be
discredited in Arab and Islamic worlds, it would also
face rebellion from its own base, the Basij
volunteers, the revolutionary guards, the judiciary, the
lumpen religious and the masses of uneducated people
that still support Khamenei and the conservatives.
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