Republican Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida is perhaps the M.E.K.’s leading sympathizer on Capitol Hill, though the organization’s appeal evidently cuts across party lines: California Democrat Brad Sherman has also been vocal in its defense.
Ms. Ros-Lehtinen has claimed that the group “loves the United States. They’re assisting us in the war on terrorism. They’re pro-U.S.,” and has also insisted that a petition she organized in sympathy with the M.E.K. in 2002 was signed by around 150 members of Congress. She has, however, never released the names of the colleagues she contends signed the petition.
The Iran Policy Committee’s president, Professor Raymond Tanter, served on the National Security Council during the Reagan administration. Mr. Tanter, like Representatives Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman, has long been known as an especially vigorous advocate of pro-Israel causes. He has previously said, “Regime change is not our policy toward Iran, but it should be.”
He said that his group at one point analyzed Iranian government pronouncements on opposition groups with a view to creating “an antipathy scale,” rated from zero to five. “The NCRI and M.E.K. received about 4.0,” he said.
“Antipathy is not the same as fear,” Mr. Tanter continued. “We can’t really say the regime fears groups, but the regime pays attention to and hates the NCRI and M.E.K.”
But it’s not just the Iranian government that has a low opinion of the Mojahedin.
“They are not a reliable group,” said Judith Kipper of the Council on Foreign Relations. “It has never been precisely clear to me who they are or what they believe. I don’t think they should be an ally of the United States, because I don’t think they are trustworthy.”
“They are a very hated group here,” said Salome Abtahi, a Tehran-based journalist with the reformist newspaper Shargh. “Many people believe they are like a cult.”
Mr. Abrahamian, who described Mr. Jafarzadeh as “a typical member of the Mojahedin,” said that the M.E.K. is the object of “major revulsion” in Iran despite having had “a lot of support” around the time of the Iranian Revolution. (Mr. Jafarzadeh, citing the M.E.K.’s and NCRI’s presence on the terrorism list, noted that he is no longer an official spokesman for either group.)
The two key factors behind the M.E.K.’s hemorrhaging support since then, he contended, were the group’s decision to base itself in Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War, at which time it came to be seen as a proxy of Saddam Hussein’s regime, and the increasingly cultish leadership of M.E.K. leader Massoud Rajavi and his wife Maryam.
Mr. Jafarzadeh shot back that the M.E.K. was merely interested in ending a war it had come to consider unnecessary, and that “Mr. Rajavi went to Iraq only after the French government forced him out of France.” He also made the credulity-stretching assertion that the M.E.K. was permitted to exist as a wholly independent entity inside Iraq under Saddam.