- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 29, 2008

PARIS | Some Iraqi tribal leaders have reached out to an Iranian dissident group blacklisted by the United States and the European Union as a bulwark against Tehran’s interference in their country’s affairs.

The Iraqi leaders were among supporters from Europe and the Middle East who joined a thousands-strong rally organized by the group, the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, outside Paris on Saturday.

The rally comes days after the British Parliament voted to remove the group, which has many allies in Congress, from its list of terrorist organizations. The group’s leaders urged similar action from the European Union.

“The People’s Mujahedeen is the true friend of the Iraqi people. It is the bulwark against Iranian meddling in Iraq. This is a fact,” said Sheik Matlab Ali Abbas al-Massari, president of the National Council of Tribes of Iraq, speaking by phone in the French capital ahead of the rally.

Both Iraq and Iran have Shi’ite-majority populations. Washington accuses Iran of training and arming Shi’ite militias that fight U.S. troops in Iraq. The Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad, however, has been growing closer to the Islamic regime in Tehran that the People’s Mujahedeen has been fighting.

On June 17, the Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki banned any dealings with the Mujahedeen, accusing the organization of interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs. Those who violate the order will face charges under the country’s anti-terror law.

“The Cabinet decided to ban any dealings with this organization by any Iraqi or foreign individual, organization or party,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said.

The discussion in parliament on the order broke down along ethnic and sectarian lines. Shi’ite and Kurdish lawmakers described the group as a threat to Iraq’s national security, while Sunni lawmakers said the group was not involved in any terrorist acts.

A prominent Sunni lawmaker, Saleh al-Mutlaq, said the government decision shows how much influence Iran wields over the al-Maliki government.

Mr. al-Mutlaq, who heads an 11-member bloc in parliament, said the People’s Mujahedeen should be used to counter Iran’s “destructive role” in Iraq.

“It is an organization that opposes a regime that interferes in our affairs and wants to settle old scores with America on our soil,” he said.

The People’s Mujahedeen was formed in the 1960s to oppose the shah of Iran and originally supported Iran’s 1979 revolution, before turning against the Islamic regime. It threw its weight behind Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and earned protection from the Iraqi dictator. But observers say its attacks petered out in the 1990s. It renounced violence in 2000, calling instead for a peaceful, democratic overthrow of the Iranian regime.

Today, its political branch periodically hosts press conferences, usually to announce new information it claims to have gathered about Iran’s nuclear activities. In 2002, it claimed Tehran was pursuing a secret uranium-enrichment program, which proved to be true.

Its supporters are lobbying the U.S. and the European Union to follow Britain’s example and remove it from their lists of terrorist organizations - a move that would unfreeze its apparently considerable assets. The EU is expected to re-examine its terrorist list in the coming weeks.

“Once these restrictions are removed, there will be a tremendous outpouring of support,” said Ali Safavi, a member of the foreign-affairs committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCRI, the Mujahedeen’s political arm, which is based in France.

“In a sense, this will energize the Iranian people, both inside and outside of Iran, but it will also send out a very important message to the mullahs in Tehran that the international community, including Europe, is not willing to do Tehran’s bidding,” Mr. Safavi said.

Sheik al-Massari suggested the People’s Mujahedeen could prove effective in battling the Iranian presence in Iraq, particularly if the group was removed from Western terrorist lists.

“They have a lot of restrictions because of this list,” he said, speaking through an NCRI interpreter. “That’s why we want this list to be revised so they’ll have more direct impact against Iranians in Iraq.”

“We have a common interest against Islamic fundamentalism and against Iran,” said Hawas Showkat Hassan, head of an anti-terrorist association in central Iraq, who is also in Paris for the Mujahedeen rally.

On Saturday, thousands of young and old supporters packed a vast exhibition hall near the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris, demanding the European Union remove the group from its terrorist list.

By labelling the group as terrorists, Western governments “have helped the world’s most powerful supporter of terrorism,” the group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, told supporters.

“Remove this chain with which you have bound the hands and feet of the resistance against the religious dictatorship” in Tehran, Agence France-Presse quoted her as saying.

Those present at the rally included first- and second-generation Iranians and Western politicians, such as Robin Corbett of Britain’s Labor Party.

“The sole reason [the People’s Mujahedeen] was on the terrorist list was because the mullahs made it the price of opening talks with Britain and the EU over their nuclear deceit,” Mr. Corbett said. “It’s not a terrorist organization, and it has never done any harm in Britain.”

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