WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has decided to remove the Iranian dissident group Mujahadin-e Khalq (MEK) from its list of terrorist organizations, two U.S. officials said on Friday, handing a political victory to a group once sheltered by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that says it has abandoned its violent past.
The officials said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made the decision to remove MEK from the list, and that it was expected to be formally announced early next week.
The U.S. decision comes after years of intense lobbying by the MEK, which had seen many of its members stranded in Iraq even as the group fell out of Baghdad’s favour following Saddam’s downfall.
The United States had repeatedly said its decision on the MEK’s terrorist designation hinged partly on the group’s remaining members leaving Camp Ashraf, an Iraqi base where they had lived for decades, and moving to a former U.S. military base in Baghdad from which they were expected to be resettled overseas.
Officials said this week that the final large group of dissidents had moved from Camp Ashraf to the new location, ending a long standoff with Iraqi authorities.
The group, also known as the People’s Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), calls for the overthrow of Iran’s clerical leaders and fought alongside Saddam’s forces in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. It also led a guerrilla campaign against the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran during the 1970s, including attacks on U.S. targets.
The United States added the MEK to its list of foreign terrorist organizations in 1997. But the group has since said it renounced violence and mounted a vigorous legal and public relations campaign to have the designation dropped.
The MEK surrendered weapons to U.S. forces after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
The fate of its remaining members in the country has been in question since Iraq took over the Camp Ashraf from U.S. forces in 2009 under a bilateral security pact. Clashes between Camp Ashraf residents and Iraqi security forces last year killed 34 people.
Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen