“This group has not
been fighting against the U.S. It’s simply not
true,” she insisted.
Ros-Lehtinen is the chairwoman of the panel’s
Central Asia and Middle East Subcommittee.
The group, known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq
(MEK), is an Iranian opposition group in Iraq. The U.S.
intelligence and diplomatic community argues that the
MEK is funded by Saddam Hussein and has engaged in efforts
by the Iraqi leader to suppress Kurd and Shiite uprisings.
The group killed several Americans during
the 1970s. It also participated in the 1979-1981 U.S.
Embassy seizure in Tehran. In 1997, the MEK and its
various appendages were designated a “foreign
Last week, State Department spokesman
Greg Sullivan told The Hill the MEK is considered “a
combatant” and U.S. officials believe its soldiers
“are undertaking some of the action in the south
[of Iraq] where enemy combatants have disguised themselves
Ros-Lehtinen vehemently disputed State’s
assertion to The Washington Times, calling the spokesman
a “weasel” and a “gutless bureaucrat
who won’t come out of his cave.” Sullivan
did not respond to a request for further comment.
Ros-Lehtinen dismissed the group’s
anti-American actions as “past history.”
She said, “It has no bearing on what is going
on right now in the field.”
“In no meeting or briefing I have
ever attended has anyone called this group an anti-U.S.,
terrorist organization,” she continued, adding
that the group has provided useful intelligence to the
U.S. government on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Ros-Lehtinen further said that there is
“wide support” in Congress for the MEK and
that it will be “one of the leading groups in
establishing secular government in Iran.”
In November, Ros-Lehtinen released a letter
of support for the MEK that she said had the backing
of 150 colleagues, whom she repeatedly refused to identify.
“Because of the [Iranian President Mohammed] Khatami
well-funded campaign on propaganda, lies and misinformation,
I have decided not to release the names of these signers.”
In October, as Ros-Lehtinen’s letter
circulated the House, Reps. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and
Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member
of the House International Relations Committee, respectively,
also wrote to their colleagues. The lawmakers’
letter sought to give colleagues “full”
and “accurate” information on the MEK.
“We are strong opponents of the
current government of Iran but do not believe that it
is necessary to use terrorism or make common cause …
[with] Saddam Hussein to change Iran’s government,”
Hyde and Lantos wrote.
“Particularly in view of the fact
that the MEK is based in Iraq, has taken part in operations
against the Kurds and Shia, has been responsible for
killing Americans in Iran, and has supported the takeover
of the American Embassy in Tehran, we wanted you to
have the full background on this organization as most
recently reported by the Department of State, so that
you may best decide whether to lend your name to this
letter” of support. It further advised: “Some
colleagues have signed similar letters in the past and
then been embarrassed when confronted with accurate
information about the MEK.”
Committee spokesman Sam Stratman acknowledged
the letter was sent in the fall but declined to characterize
its contents. Ylem Poblete, an aide to Ros-Lehtinen,
denied that it suggested the congresswoman had not fully
informed her colleagues about the group.
“I would not venture to speculate
or qualify or attach any assumptions to what Chairman
Hyde or Mr. Lantos may have said,” Poblete said.
“I don’t think anyone should look into or
suggest anything from Chairman Hyde indicating that
our information was inaccurate.”
Ros-Lehtinen further said that, upon her
instigation, “maybe one, two or three” unidentified
lawmakers requested that their names be removed from
the list. “I came up to them and asked if they
wanted to be removed,” she said.
Spokesmen for Reps. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio),
Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Pete Sessions (R-Texas)
told The Hill last week that the lawmakers asked to
have their names removed after learning more about the
Citing an anonymous quote in a 1997 Los
Angeles Times article, Ros-Lehtinen said the MEK was
named a foreign terrorist organization (FTO) “as
a goodwill gesture to Tehran” by the Clinton administration
and that its continued designation was a “holdover
“We’re kowtowing to a regime,”
she said. “We became an apologist for this regime”
Mike Craft, a counterterrorism official
with the State Department, defended the group’s
“The MEK keeps putting out the line
that they were put on the list just as a gesture to
Iran. I can tell you from watching the FTO process that
this is done on a separate, nonpolitical track. This
designation process is very cumbersome. It takes months,
and these things were in preparation for quite a while.”
Middle East scholars widely dispute the
assessment that the MEK is a legitimate democratic alternative
to the Iranian regime. “That’s patently
nonsense,” said Michael Ledeen of the American
“I know about support on Capitol
Hill for this group, and I think it’s atrocious,”
said Dan Brumberg of the Carnegie Endowment for International
Peace. “I think it’s due to total ignorance
and political manipulation.”
He added: “There’s not much
debate [about the MEK] in the academic circles of those
who know Iran and Iraq.”
Elahe Hicks of Human Rights Watch said
that “many, many Iranians resent” the MEK.
“Because this group is so extremely resented inside
Iran, the Iranian government actually benefits from
having an opposition group like this,” she said.
James Phillips of the Heritage Foundation agreed. “When
they sided with Iraq against Iran in the [1980-88] war,
that was the kiss of death for their political future.
Even Iranians who might have sympathized with them were
enraged that they became the junior partner of their
longstanding rival,” he said.
“Some of their representatives are
very articulate,” Phillips continued, “but
they are a terrorist group. They have a longstanding
alliance with Saddam Hussein, and they have gone after
some of the Kurds at the behest of Saddam Hussein.”
Ros-Lehtinen dismissed U.S. intelligence
reports of the group’s involvement in Hussein
campaigns against Kurds and Shiites as “hogwash”
and “part of the Khatami propaganda machine.”
Washington representatives for the MEK’s
political arm, the National Council of Resistance of
Iran, disputed news reports that the MEK is aligned
with Saddam Hussein. “The relationship has been
independent, whether politically, militarily, financially
or ideologically,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh. “We
have never interfered in the internal affairs of Iraq.”