Iran's Opposition Groups are Preparing for the Regime's Collapse. Is Anyone Ready?
...The MEK has been the leading opposition voice against the Islamic Republic for years. For the past decade, MEK leaders and their supporters have presented the group as a secular, democratic and nonviolent organization with widespread popular support inside Iran.
It is also the most controversial group. Many former U.S. officials and Iran experts question the MEK's democratic credentials, as well as the depth of its support base inside Iran. Indeed, virtually every claim made by the MEK draws denials and counter-narratives.
Founded in 1965 by Iranian students who opposed the U.S.-installed monarchy of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the MEK espoused an odd hybrid of Marxism and Islam. It was the first opposition group to take up arms against the shah and his supporters in the west. In the 1970s, according to U.S. intelligence, the MEK assassinated three U.S. Army colonels, murdered another three American contractors and bombed the facilities of numerous U.S. companies, earning it a place on Washington's list of foreign terrorist organizations.
The MEK also backed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the Islamic revolution that deposed the shah in 1979. The group supported the takeover of the U.S. embassy, but it broke with Khomeini over his decision to release the American hostages. In 1981, after launching an abortive uprising against the Khomeini regime, the MEK was forced underground while its top leaders, the husband and wife team of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, fled to Paris to avoid arrest.
But the Iraq-Iran war, which had begun in 1980, provided the MEK with another opportunity to fight the regime. The group aligned with Saddam Hussein and sent some 7,000 MEK members to Iraq for military training. Equipped by Saddam, the MEK fought numerous battles against Iranian forces during the war. In 1988, the group launched an armored invasion to topple the regime but suffered a major defeat, losing more than 3,000 soldiers. The invasion also prompted Iran to execute thousands of MEK political prisoners. Once the war ended later that year, Saddam prevented the group from conducting further cross-border attacks.
Many independent scholars say the MEK's alliance with Saddam in that long and bloody war turned the group into traitors in the eyes of most Iranians. In the 1990s, the Rajavis instituted a number of cult-like measures to prevent defections. According to a 2005 Human Rights Watch report based on interviews with several defectors, members were required, among other things, to divorce their spouses and send their children abroad for adoption, lest family obligations divert their attention from the struggle against the Islamic Republic.
After U.S. forces toppled Saddam and occupied Iraq in 2003, they disarmed the MEK and placed its remaining 3,400 MEK members under U.S. protection. That same year, Massoud Rajavi mysteriously disappeared, and Maryam assumed sole leadership of the group...