Opinion

Iran's three decades of battling Western state-sponsored terrorism within its borders is an illuminating example of Washington's real connection to international terrorism, and how that relationship has been obscured by Western media. Washington's relationship to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State is wholly consistent with Washington's support for the MEK in Iran.

Finian Cunningham, Strategic Culture Foundation

Some 33 years ago, Masoumeh's nightmare began. It began when she awoke from her sleep. One morning in her family home in the Iranian capital, Tehran, she wakened to find that gunmen had forced their way into the household. She was only six years old at the time.

Barely mustered from her night sleep and still dressed in pyjamas, the little girl saw the killers shooting her young mother dead. The gunmen then also shot dead an uncle and an 18-year-old cousin. The adults had been in the kitchen preparing breakfast for the household when the assassins struck.

Masoumeh and the other children in the house were spared in the massacre. But every day of her life ever since that horror, she lives with the nightmare encountered that morning when she awoke as a young girl. "My mother was innocent," she recounts with an abiding, heartrending disbelief that her beloved was so cruelly torn from her life.

That was in 1982. Over the next three decades, thousands of other Iranian families have been devastated by similar acts of terrorism. A variety of secretive organizations have claimed responsibility for the long campaign of violence. These groups include Jundallah and, perhaps the most notorious, the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK, also known as MKO). The organizations are comprised of Iranian nationals who profess opposition to the revolution of 1979 and subsequent governments of the Islamic Republic of Iran. But one thing seems certain: such counter-revolutionary paramilitaries are operating inside Iran with the covert support of foreign powers, in particular the American Central Intelligence Agency and Israel's Mossad secret service.

The Iranian authorities claim to have compiled records of 17,000 victims of terrorism committed by such groups as MEK and Jundallah since the 1979 revolution. Details were presented at a recent international conference held in Tehran.

As well as ordinary citizens, such as Masoumeh's mother mentioned above, the targets of assassination have included high-profile public figures: Iranian members of parliament, attorneys, government ministers, army generals and newspaper editors. In one of the most audacious attacks, in 1981, Iran's prime minister Mohammad Javad Bahonar and the country's president Modhammad Ali Rajai were both killed in a bomb blast carried out on the premier's residence in the capital, Tehran.

The current supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, was also a victim of a MEK assassination bid in 1981 when a bomb exploded in the mosque where he was leading Friday prayers. To this day, one of his arms is paralysed from the blast.

More recent victims include four of Iran's top nuclear scientists. In January 2012, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a director at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, was murdered when a magnetic bomb was attached to his car as he drove from his home in Tehran. The assassins were riding a motorbike. Roshan's driver was also killed in the attack. Following the murder, American Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and other Washington hawks gloated over the slaying, calling for much such assassinations against the Iranian government.

Iranians claim, with credibility, that the high-profile nature of terror targets is strong evidence, alone, that the MEK and other paramilitary groups operating inside Iran must have specialized foreign support to carry out such actions. Logistics, information, planning and execution techniques would require the input of governmental agencies. Captured MEK operatives have also confessed to recruitment and training by the CIA and Mossad. Some former agents have even said that they acted under coercion from threats of assassination against their own families if they did not comply with the "kill orders".

This month, an Iranian non-governmental organization, the Association for Defense of Victims of Terrorism (ADVT), is presenting documents to the UN human rights council in Geneva, attesting to the foreign-backed nature of the terror campaign in Iran.

If we were to compute the 17,000 Iranian victims of terrorism as proportionate to population the death toll would be equivalent to some 65,000 American lives. We can be sure that Western news media would devote much coverage to the issue if a foreign power were implicated in sponsoring a bombing and shooting campaign that resulted in 65,000 American deaths. Much more than this, we can be sure that Washington would have launched an all-out war on whatever foreign country was implicated in such a hypothetical terror campaign against American citizens.

Further proof of Western state complicity in the terror campaign of MEK inside Iran comes from the fact that the US, Britain and the European Union have all de-listed MEK as a foreign terrorist organization. Washington removed the group in 2012, claiming that it had not been involved in acts of terrorism for over a decade, even though the evidence points to its assassination of Iranian scientists. The US administration's de-listing of MEK followed an intense lobbying campaign in Washington by senior political figures, such as James Woolsey, the former CIA director, Rudy Giuliani, the ex-mayor of New York, and John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN under the George W Bush presidency.

Advocates of the MEK in the US and Europe claim that the group represents a legitimate political opposition to the Iranian government. In 2009, the Washington-based Brookings Institute cited the MEK as a "potential US proxy" for regime change in Iran. But it advised: "At the very least, to work more closely with the group (at least in an overt manner), Washington [the US government] would need to remove it from the list of foreign terrorist organizations." Washington duly did so three years later in 2012.

The MEK also maintains offices and fundraising networks in Paris and London. Much of its funding originated from the patronage of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, when the MEK was used as a proxy military force during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.

In the Western media, it is a conventional belief that the Iranian state is an international sponsor of terrorism. Washington officially designates the Islamic Republic of Iran as such, along with North Sudan, Syria and formerly Cuba. The recent nuclear accord with Iran has seen both American critics and defenders of the deal as finding common agreement on the allegation that Iran may use proceeds from sanctions relief to step up sponsorship of terrorism in the Middle East. Republicans are apoplectic over the alleged prospect. While President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State John Kerry, although promoting the nuclear deal, have nevertheless reiterated cautionary accusations of Iran's involvement with terrorism. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently said that she would enforce the nuclear accord in such a way as "to change Iran's bad behaviour".

Yet for all this asserted Western perception of Iran as a terror state, hardly any credible evidence is ever presented by Washington to support its claims. Yes, Iran supports Palestinian resistance group Hamas; and yes, Tehran is also close to the Lebanese Hezbollah resistance. Both, however, can arguably be legitimately supported as opponents to illegal Israeli occupation.

Other specific acts of terrorism where Western governments implicate Iran, such as the 1983 mass killing of US marines in Beirut or the 1994 deadly bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires, are largely unproven, if not suspiciously "false flags" terror attacks aimed at demonising Iran. Certainly, the Argentinian government of President Cristina de Kirchner does not seem to place credibility in the allegations against Iran, having dropped a prosecution case over the 1994 bombing.

By contrast, the US sponsorship of MEK and other covert terrorism against Iran is amply documented, if under-reported by Western media. Paradoxically, however, the common Western public perception is the inverse of this reality. Washington politicians in particular are able to wantonly charge Iran with accusations of sponsoring terrorism simply because the Western media have over decades conditioned the public mind to accept this (distorted) portrayal. Whereas US government collusion in terrorism against Iran is scarcely known of, at least by the general Western public.

This cognitive dissonance is part of a bigger problem of dispelling official Western propaganda, as purveyed by the Western mass news media, in order to properly understand the real connection between US governments and international terrorism.

Just like Washington's clandestine involvement with MEK in Iran, US governments are, if we look objectively at the record, equally complicit with the Islamic State and other Al Qaeda-linked terror groups. The systematic connection between US intelligence and Al Qaeda has been traced by eminent authors like Peter Dale Scott and Michel Chossudovsky back to Afghanistan during the late 1970s and 1980s when the organisation was used as a military proxy against the then Soviet Union. The subsequent spawning of various jihadist groups from Al Qaeda, such as Islamic State, is a consequence of illegal US and Western regime-change operations in the Middle East and North Africa. Western client regimes Saudi Arabia and Qatar are documented as having covertly provided both the financing and warped Wahhabi ideology that sustains the jihadist terror groups.

Occasionally, the mask slips, such as when former director of the US Defence Intelligence Agency, Lt General Michael Flynn, admitted in an Al Jazeera interview in July 2015 that Washington made a "wilful decision"back in 2012 to support the formation of the Islamic State terror network in Syria and Iraq. Flynn candidly revealed that the covert US policy was for the purpose of forcing regime change against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. If the IS (also known as ISIS or ISIL) has since got out of control that is no less a manifestation of American complicity in creating this Frankenstein monster in the first place.

Once we step back from the indoctrinated official Western narratives about terrorism, and supposed Western claims of fighting a "war on terror", many seeming conundrums suddenly become clear. The US and its Western allies claim to be bombing Syria and Iraq to defeat the Islamic State and other jihadist terror groups. After more than a year of such bombing, these groups appear stronger than ever. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently commented that the Western campaign against IS does not appear to be genuine. He cited instances of where the US-led coalition has not attacked known bases belonging to the IS. This suggests that the US is more intent on "containing and managing" the terror groups. Which is consistent with the assumption that these groups were created in the first place by Washington and its allies as proxies for clandestine regime-change operations against targeted foreign governments.

Iran's three decades of battling Western state-sponsored terrorism within its borders is an illuminating example of Washington's real connection to international terrorism, and how that relationship has been obscured by Western media. Washington's relationship to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State is wholly consistent with Washington's support for the MEK in Iran. Why this connection appears anomalous or perhaps shocking is simply because of the sanitising role that Western media disinformation, commonly referred to as "news", has played in making the Western public ignorant of such criminal connections.

Russia and Iran have therefore every right to take measures to combat terrorism within their own borders and those of their allies such as Syria and Iraq. Washington's recent remonstrations with Moscow and Tehran over military aid to Syria are, in the light of American state-sponsorship of terrorism, contemptible. Washington's remonstrations are disingenuous, double-think and outrageous hypocrisy.

The least party that deserves to be consulted or listened to about counter-terrorism is the arch-sponsor of terrorism - Washington.

Finian Cunningham, Strategic Culture Foundation

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