September 23, 2013

Iranian Gestures To Obama Weaken Opposition Group

By: Julie Ershadi

A vocal and militant opposition group to the Iranian government, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, has taken some pretty hard hits recently. A Sept. 1 attack on Camp Ashraf in Iraq, where around one hundred MEK members are confined, resulted in the death of 52 residents and the abduction of seven more. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the MEK’s parent organization, posted live updates with graphic images and video from the attack, along with an out-of-the-blue call for the United States government to relocate all residents of the camp to the United States.


Since that date, the MEK has continued attempting to draw attention to the attack, including posts on the NCRI website and tweets from Maryam Rajavi, the organization’s leader, to various news organizations, presumably in the hope that they perk up and write something.

But there are way bigger things at play right now that may strip the MEK of its vaunted status as thorn-in-the-side of the Iranian regime. The group’s main problem, according to one analyst, is that diplomacy is actually going pretty well between Iran and the United States right now.

The cuddlier things get between Presidents Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama, the harder it will be for the MEK to grab anyone’s attention. Geneive Abdo, a fellow and Iran expert in the Stimson Center’s Middle East program, said recent diplomatic progress on key issues the Middle East and the organization’s lack of constituency inside Iran serve to make it an irrelevance for either public or private discussion for leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, which begins Sept. 24.

Rouhani told NBC News Wednesday that his country would not develop nuclear weapons. That vow could mean nothing in the long term, but at least for now, it’s a boost to the U.S.-Iran relationship ahead of the General Assembly. In addition, the plan to dismantle the chemical weapon arsenal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Iran has reportedly aided in his country’s civil war, at least temporarily eases tensions between the United States and Iran.

What’s more, the release Sept. 18 of a handful of political prisoners bolster the Iranian president’s image not only with the U.S., but with various nonprofit human rights organizations that watch Iran.

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran released a statement praising the release of prisoners, including human rights lawyer and journalist Nasrin Sotoudeh, and called for the release of all other prisoners of conscience in the country.

The National Iranian-American Council regarded the event as a further opening for diplomatic relations. “The opportunity that now exists to improve both human rights inside Iran and relations between Iran and the U.S. is clearer than ever, and it is imperative for all sides to seize this moment,” NIAC President Trita Parsi said in a written statement following the prisoners’ release.

“So the MEK, I think through all this, is the loser,” Abdo said.

Julie Ershadi is a writer based on Washington, D.C. Iranian flag image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.