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But for Iraqi authorities the camp remained a no-go zone. In effect, the MEK attempted to defend a sovereign zone inside the post-Hussein Iraq, which U.S. officials say contributed to violence.

An Iraqi raid last year left 34 exiles dead.

The MEK has shown footage of the atrocities and gained U.S. support. But it said it needed the administration to act because the terrorist label helped Iraqi authorities justify mistreatment of its members and made it harder for residents to find permanent homes in other nations.

Most of its members are now in Camp Liberty, a former U.S. base designed as a compromise way-station for the United Nations to speed them out of Iraq peacefully. Several governments are weighing whether to accept them. Washington could allow the immigration of some, but none that were actively involved in terrorist attacks from the 1970s-1990s, officials have said.

After suffering a crackdown under Iran’s monarchy, the MEK helped Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini overthrow U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

It then quickly fell out with Khomeini, and thousands of its followers were killed, imprisoned or forced into exile. It launched its campaign of assassinations and bombings against Iran’s government in retaliation. The U.S. declared it a terrorist organization in 1997 at a time when Washington sought warmer relations with Tehran under the reformist presidency of Mohammad Khatami.

Yet the group also has provided the Americans with intelligence on Iran and convinced many governments that it has abandoned terrorism. In 2002, it revealed Iran’s secret work on uranium enrichment near the city of Natanz — intelligence that many speculated came from Israel’s Mossad.

And it claims to have a strong network of sympathizers and informants inside Iran. But would-be reformers have distanced themselves from the movement. And the Green Movement that protested after the 2009 fraud-riddled re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly shunned the MEK.

Still, the group presses on with its goal of replacing the Iranian regime with a democratic, secular government. It says its parliament in exile includes Kurds, Baluchis, Armenians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Since the MEK cannot operate legally in the U.S., it lobbies its cause through several front organizations. Maryam Rajavi is the ostensible head of the whole movement from the France headquarters of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Her husband, Massoud, was the MEK’s leader before he disappeared in Baghdad nine years ago. He is presumed dead.