Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade announced that a controversial Iranian exile opposition figure would be testifying via video uplink at a hearing on the Islamic State, known as ISIS. What does the witness, Maryam Rajavi, a co-leader of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), have to say about the subject at hand?
Rajavi’s written testimony, a copy of which was obtained by The Nation, focuses on an unexpected way of bringing ISIS to heel: by fostering regime change in Iran. “The ultimate solution to this problem” of Islamic extremism, such as ISIS, Rajavi says in the written statement, “is regime change by the Iranian people and Resistance”—a reference to the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the MEK’s political wing.
It sounds counter-intuitive—Iran’s aid to the Iraqi government and various Iraqi militias, after all, is widely credited with stopping ISIS’s advances there—but not when you know about the MEK’s tortuous past. Over the years, the MEK has been nothing if not opportunistic; animated by the twisted logic that the enemy of its enemy is its friend, the group seizes whatever political angle is fashionable at the moment to bring them relevance (Congress is happy to oblige). But more to the point, the MEK has always had only one goal: the overthrow of the Iranian regime. For decades, it has tried to shoehorn regional and geopolitical dynamics into its aim, irrespective of any salient connections.
The plan to bring down ISIS by toppling Iran’s government, then, is little more than the latest chapter of group’s 50-year history of monomaniacally trying to install itself atop the Iranian government. Indeed, Rajavi is testifying at Congress with the title of “president-elect” of the NCRI, which hopes to run a transitional government immediately upon the fall of the Islamic Republic.
Founded as an Islamo-Marxist revolutionary group in the 1960s, the MEK spent its early years pursuing its quixotic aims by opposing the Shah’s government with a vengeance: through student organizing, outright terrorism—including against American targets when the United States was allied with the Shah, helping to earn its 1997 American designation as a terror group—and fighting at the vanguard of the Islamic Revolution. By the 1980s, after the leader of the revolution, Ruhollah Khomeini, kicked the group out of Iran, critics were regularly deriding the MEK as a cult of personality—not least because of its continuing “wacky” behavior, as a former congressional aide put it to me for a feature I wrote this winter with Eli Clifton.