A former head of the Democratic Party called the prime minister of Iraq a “mass murderer” on Tuesday and accused him of ordering a bloody attack on disarmed Iranian dissidents under international protection.
“The truth is the prime minister of Iraq is a mass murderer,” said Howard Dean, denouncing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for an April 8 attack that killed 35 civilians in Camp Ashraf, a refugee settlement in northeast Iraq.
The compound is home to about 3,400 members of the People’s Mojahedin of Iran, formerly an armed rebel group. The United States disarmed the Mojahedin in 2003 and turned the refugees over to the Iraqi government two years ago. They are considered “protected persons” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, a designation that is supposed to give them the rights of refugees and protection against attacks or deportation.
Mr. Dean has long been a critic of Mr. al-Maliki and called him an “anti-Semite” in 2006 for refusing to condemn the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon.
His latest attack on Mr. al-Maliki came in a barnburning speech in Washington to supporters who want the Mojahedin removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The State Department placed them on the terrorist list in 1997, as President Bill Clinton met a key Iranian demand in an attempt to open relations with the Iranian government. At the time, the Mojahedin staged violent attacks against Iranian government targets from their camp inside Iraq and with support from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Removal from the terrorist list would allow the Mojahedin and its umbrella organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, to reopen an office in the United States.
Mr. Dean read parts of the group’s platform that declares its commitment to democracy, free speech and sexual equality as well as opposition to the death penalty.
“Explain to me how this is a terrorist group!” he screamed, as he continued reading from the platform.
” ‘We recognize private property, private investment and market economy.’ I’m afraid they may be Republicans, for heaven’s sake!”
Prominent Republicans - including former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and former Chief of Staff Andy Card - also addressed the meeting.
In an interview, Mr. Dean told The Washington Times that he became an advocate of the Mojahedin by happenstance.
“I got asked by my agent to go over to Paris to speak to a group I knew nothing about. I spent a lot of time on the Internet learning about them, and then I met them,” he said.
Mr. Dean acknowledged that he is sometimes paid to speak on behalf of the Mojahedin but also does much free work to promote the cause of the Iranian opposition.
He also said he has talked to some members of the Obama administration about removing them from the terrorist list.
Mr. Dean cited a long list of former U.S. officials who had become vocal supporters of the Mojahedin, naming Jim Jones, a former director of the National Security Council, and Louis Freeh, a former FBI director.
“These are people who are extraordinarily patriotic Americans … and I thought to myself, ‘This is something that’s important from a humanitarian point of view,’ ” he said.
The European Union removed the Mojahedin from its own terrorist list in 2009 and has urged the United States to do the same.