Democratic congressman Bob Filner ranks as one of the most liberal members of the House, frequently castigating the Bush administration about everything from its economic policies to its invasion of Iraq. Yet Filner and some of the Bushies have at least one cause peculiarly in common: their support for a group of Iranian exiles that the U.S. government labeled a "Foreign Terrorist Organization" in 1997 but that some of Bush's conservative backers are now heralding as a key ally in the U.S.'s rapidly escalating conflict with Iran.
Members of the socialist People's Mujahedin of Iran, also known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK), helped oust the Shah in Iran's 1979 revolution, then turned against the successor government of Ayatollah Khomeini, setting off a series of bombs that killed dozens of high-ranking officials. After moving to France in the early 1980s, the group hooked up with Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the mid-'80s, during the Iran-Iraq War; among other alleged crimes, it has been accused of playing a role in Saddam's 1991 slaughtering of the Kurds in northern Iraq.
During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, 6000 MEK fighters were reportedly captured by U.S. troops. Since then, however, as tensions with Iran have grown, a number of American politicians have become MEK supporters, arguing that the Clinton-era terrorist designation, which remains in place, was made as part of a failed rapprochement with the Iranian leadership. In addition to Filner, other high-profile MEK backers in Congress have included Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado and Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, both Republicans.
This past June, Filner and Tancredo coauthored an op-ed piece in the ultraconservative Washington Times arguing that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should lift the terrorist label from the MEK. "From its base in Iraq, where 3,800 MEK members live under the protection of coalition forces, the organization has provided intelligence on Iran's support for terrorism in Iraq," the pair wrote. "Listing the MEK as 'terrorists' is both an injustice and manifestly contrary to U.S. interests."
That same month, Filner flew to Paris to address a gathering billed as the "Rally for Iranian Human Rights." "The Iranian Resistance has brought the world to a true understanding of the Iranian regime," Filner told the rally, according to a transcript of his speech posted on a sponsor's website. "We have seen reports of what the regime is doing now [in Iran]; we have seen pictures of violence. The world is coming to understand this Iranian regime, and the world will rejoice when you end this menace."
The $7949 cost of Filner's trip -- from June 29 through July 1, according to House disclosure records -- was paid for by "Colorado's Iranian-American Community." The group's website, featuring links to Filner's Paris speech and his Washington Times op-ed with Tancredo, does not list any names of officers or supporters. A January 2004 Denver Post story about a Washington fund-raiser held by the Colorado organization identified Tim Mehdi Ghaemi of Colorado as its president. Tancredo did not attend the fund-raiser, purportedly because the American Red Cross had pulled its cosponsorship. The paper quoted Ghaemi as saying that proceeds of the event would go to support "regime change" in Iran. He added that MEK would not be a beneficiary, though its supporters would "absolutely" be present.
Records list Ghaemi as the owner of Arborz Real Estate in Greenwood Village, Colorado. In a semiannual report to Congress dated March 31 of this year, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that Ghaemi and Hamidullah Sarwary, a former Littleton Housing Authority (LHA) Section 8 (subsidized housing) tenant, and two others "allegedly conspired to assist Sarwary in obtaining an FHA-insured mortgage and concealing his property ownership from LHA. HUD realized a loss of $46,988 after Sarwary defaulted on his FHA-insured mortgage and $3,760 in LHA housing assistance Sarwary obtained but was not entitled to receive."
Reached on his cell phone last week, Ghaemi said that the allegations against him made in the auditor general's report were inaccurate and that he had had no direct involvement in the deal. "We managed the property for 60 days after the transaction, and then we dropped it after we learned of the fraud." The state real estate commission has cleared him, and his attorney is seeking a correction from HUD, he said. Regarding the source of funds for Filner's trip, Ghaemi said that the money had come from "Iranian-American community members in Colorado." He added his group is not incorporated but has registered as a political organization with the State of Colorado since 2001; it is not required to disclose its donor list, he said. (Filner did not respond to a query about the trip and its finances.)
The organization, which has a "few hundred" members, Ghaemi said, is dedicated to a "third way" between what he called the current "appeasement" of Iran and an all-out U.S. attack on the country. "Iranians are more than capable of regime change on their own," with MEK help, if its terrorist designation is removed, he said. He asserted that stories of MEK's involvement in crimes such as Saddam's suppression of the Kurds were made up by the Iranian intelligence services.