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European MEK Supporters Downplay ISIS Role in Iraq

Some European supporters of the exiled Iranian opposition group MEK have played down the role of ISIS in Iraq, painting the violence plaguing the country as a popular revolution against an Iranian-backed autocrat.

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While the world watched in horror as jihadist extremists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) seized the Iraqi city of Mosul, some members of the European Parliament (MEPs) claimed that these actions were not carried out by ISIS, but were “part of a popular uprising” against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

At the same time that ISIS was reportedly committing mass executions in Mosul, these MEPs “disputed” that Mosul and Tikrit had been taken by ISIS, and announced the creation of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA), a “new NGO with the mission of improving the political and human rights situation in Iraq.”

The comments were made at a June 11 press conference in Brussels, according to a press release for the event.

The ousting of Maliki and the “complete eviction of the Iranian regime from Iraq” are the group’s primary goals, according to the press release of the EIFA, which has no website other than a Facebook page that was created on May 6.

There is no shortage of people arguing that Iran holds excessive influence over Iraq and that Maliki has aggravated many of Iraq’s problems, so why did these MEPs resort to downplaying the horrors of ISIS’ actions in calling for an end to Tehran’s hold on Baghdad?

A clue appears in the EIFA’s emphasis on the security situations of Camps Ashraf and Liberty.

Camp Ashraf became the Iraqi base of the exiled Iranian dissident organization, the Mujahedin-e Khalq, (aka MEK, MKO, PMOI and NCRI), in the 1980s after its exodus from the Islamic Republic following a power struggle and violent regime-orchestrated persecution.

The MEK, frequently described as a “cult”, was classified as a terrorist organization by the EU until 2009 and by the US until 2012, and has been accused of human rights abuses.

Despite its expensive claims to the contrary (MEK op-eds and advertisements regularly appear in Western media outlets), the NCRI, the MEK’s “parliament-in-exile” and political wing, has no popular support in Iran. In fact, the MEK sided with Saddam Hussein during the 1981-88 Iran-Iraq war and even attempted to take Iranian territory. The vast majority of Iranians inside Iran either consider the group insignificant or harmful to reformist efforts. The MEK is also despised by many Iraqis for its role in crushing Shia and Kurdish uprisings against Saddam’s dictatorial rule. Yet thanks to well-funded lobbying and advocacy efforts, the MEK has still been endorsed by some Western politicians in the US and Europe as a legitimate Iranian opposition movement.

Before setting its sights on the United States, the MEK, through the NCRI, embarked on a well-organized campaign to bring European politicians to its side. After years of unchecked lobbying efforts, the MEK has convinced some MEPs to advocate in its favor. In addition to the leftist groups who uncritically support the MEK because it claims to have Marxist beliefs (along with Islamic ones!), right-wing MEPs seem taken in by its fervent anti-Iranian government stance. It is therefore not surprising that the individuals endorsing the EIFA have also endorsed the MEK.

The foremost MEK-EIFA endorser is Struan Stevenson, a British conservative who chaired the European Parliament (EP) delegation for relations with Iraq in 2009-2014. Under his watch, the delegation has devoted disproportionate attention to the security of Camp Ashraf while almost completely neglecting the more relevant economic, social, security and human rights challenges facing Iraq. When the EP negotiated a 2014 resolution addressing the surge of violence in Iraq in February, Stevenson made every effort to downplay the involvement of ISIS, while directing all blame towards Maliki and Iran.

Another notable promoter of the EIFA is Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish conservative. During his tenure as Vice President of the EP (2009-14), he functioned as one of the NCRI’s chief supporters. The EIFA has also been endorsed by former Portuguese socialist MEP Paulo Casaca (2004-09), a self-styled “expert on Iraq” who reportedly employed a MEK member as one of his personal assistants during his parliamentary stint.

Seen in the light of their MEK connections, it’s clear why these MEPs are trying to downplay the role of ISIS as a serious threat to the stability of Iraq and the broader region. The MEK and its supporters view Maliki as an Iranian pawn and believe that if Maliki goes, the Iranian government (which the MEK detests) will suffer. So in following the proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”, the MEK’s supporters and ISIS have found a common cause in pushing for Maliki’s ouster.

Even though Vidal-Quadras, Stevenson and Casaca will not be serving in the incoming European Parliament as of July 1, the MEK will surely try to recruit more MEPs for its cause, including with new tools like the EIFA. Of course, whoever is approached by the MEK — and most MEPs will be approached if they haven’t already — would be wise to think twice about associating with an organization that attempts to minimize the acts of a group so murderous and fanatical that even al-Qaeda has declared it too extreme.

Mamedov is as a political adviser for the social democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and is in charge of the delegation for inter-parliamentary relations between the EP and Iran.

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