A bipartisan group of House members last week unveiled a resolution in support of the Iranian “resistance,” a code word for an opposition group known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) that has been on the State Department’s list of international terrorist organizations since its inception in the late 1980s.
The MEK has a long record of carrying out violent attacks inside Iran. During the period leading up to the 1979 revolution, the group proudly murdered U.S. military officers and civilians working in Iran. And while the group’s current leadership and its apologists claim that those attacks were carried out by a splinter group no longer associated with the MEK, eyewitnesses tell me that the MEK continued to celebrate the anniversary of those murders in ceremonies and song in their training camps inside Iraq all through the 1980s.
In the power struggle that followed the 1979 revolution, the MEK actively promoted the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and planted a bomb that wiped out the leadership of the Islamic Republican Party led by Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, arguably the last of the “moderate” leaders of the revolution.
More recently, MEK operatives inside Iran have carried out hit-and-run terrorist attacks on regime officials and have planted bombs in urban areas that have randomly killed civilians. The MEK and its supporters call these attacks acts of “resistance” against the regime.
Senior State Department officials have stated that their condemnation of the MEK’s use of random violence against civilians stems from a desire not to use a “double standard” when it comes to terrorism. The MEK and its supporters claim that keeping the MEK on the State Department’s list of international terrorist organizations benefits the Iranian regime. Some even argue, incorrectly, that the group was placed on the list in 1994 by the Clinton administration as a sop to the regime. (While the Clinton folks kept the MEK on the list in hopes it would encourage a rapprochement with Tehran, the MEK was placed on the list years earlier).
Contrast the MEK’s record of random violence against civilians with the use of violence by the Free Life Party of Iranian Kurdistan, PJAK, a group that was designated by the Treasury Department as a terrorist organization in February 2009.
PJAK guerrillas operate inside Iran in trained groups. Their primary mission is political: That is, they seek to spread a message that Iranian Kurds must abandon tribalism and traditional politics if they want to aspire to democratic self-governance.
Indeed, at PJAK camps I visited in northern Iraq in October 2007, the emphasis was on the political indoctrination of new members, not military training. PJAK prides itself on its inclusiveness: More than 30 percent of its guerrilla fighters and leadership are women.
PJAK makes no bones about its use of violence. Indeed, a Google search of the terms “PJAK attack” results in dozens of incidents in which PJAK guerrillas have attacked Iranian military targets and bases inside Iran. Almost all of these attacks have targeted the Revolutionary Guard Corps.
But PJAK uses violence in defense of the Kurdish population, not as an instrument of terror against civilians. In contrast to the MEK, PJAK has never planted bombs in public areas or targeted regime officials for assassination.
In an interview in Europe, PJAK Secretary General Abdulrahman Haj Ahmadi dismissed a recent claim by the Iranian regime to have captured a PJAK guerrilla fighter and dragged him through the streets of a Kurdish town. “This could not have happened because our fighters always operate in groups. They never go out alone,” he said. In other words, when PJAK does engage in violence, it operates as an organized militia, not as a terrorist organization.
PJAK suspended its military operations after last year’s disputed presidential election in Iran, “to give the United States and Israel time to convince Turkey to end its growing strategic alliance with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Mr. Ahmadi told me.
But after the execution of five Kurdish political prisoners by the regime on May 9, the group reluctantly resumed military operations, and in a single week, it claimed to have killed more than 100 Revolutionary Guards, many of them senior officers, in a series of coordinated military attacks against IRGC bases and outposts.
Scores of PJAK political operatives are awaiting death sentences in Iranian jails for their role in organizing nonviolent protests over the past year. PJAK’s effectiveness as a political organization and its selective use of violence in defense of the Kurdish population have prompted the Iranian regime to deem the group its main enemy.
Through its Turkish ally, Tehran continues to insist that PJAK be banned in the United States and Europe and has received assistance from Interpol in arresting PJAK leaders in Europe.
U.S. lawmakers would be wiser to demand that the Treasury Department drop its restrictions on PJAK, which is dedicated to a secular, democratic Iran, than to waste time on the MEK, a Marxist Islamist organization that not only uses terrorism as a political tactic but is widely discredited among ordinary Iranians because of its support for Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
Removing PJAK from Treasury’s list of “specially designated nationals” would not demonstrate a double standard toward terror, as some Obama administration officials claim. It would strike a blow at the very heart of the Iranian regime, which has never hesitated to use terror to achieve its ends at home and abroad.
Kenneth R. Timmerman is a contributing editor for Newsmax Media and president of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.