Patrick Cockburn: I think the government would have liked to have done it earlier, but the Mojahedin-e Khalq, these dissidents, were protected by the Americans in Iraq really since 2003 because the Americans, one way or another, saw them as an ally against the Iranian government.
Marco Chown Oved: And does this mean that the Iraq-Iran relations are warming in the wake of Saddam’s removal and moreover in the wake of the slow withdrawal of the American troops?
PC: Yes. They’ve always been fairly warm between the Iraqi government, which is primarily Shia, and Iran, but the Iraqi government has had to walk a delicate line between its two main allies, the US and Iran, who have been uniformly hostile to each other. So, the Iraqi government has always been supportive of getting rid of these dissidents.
MCO: Perhaps the most interesting reaction we’ve seen so far is that of the Iranian government itself. Their parliamentary speaker said what amounted to “well, better late than never.”
PC: Yeah, it’s a strange story. The Mojahedin-e Khalq were originally an anti-Shah movement. Then, they split with Ayatollah Khomeini, there were a very bloody fighting and many assassinations, and then they moved to Iraq and based themselves there and allied themselves to Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s war with Iran.
MCO: Are they a real threat to the Iranian government?
PC: I wouldn’t have thought so. The Iranian government has, in many ways I think, taken them more seriously than they deserve. They are organized along a sort of cult-like basis and very tightly disciplined. And I’m sure that they do have people within Iran who can probably provide information.
MCO: What do you think will happen to these people now that their camp has been taken over by Iraqi police?
PC: Well, it’s a question of where they’ll go, you know. . . . The US has been sort of at one remove, close to them. My understanding is it’s been using sort of former US intelligence officers as contractors who are now in private enterprise to maintain their contact with them.
MCO: Representatives from the People’s Mojahedin here in Paris accused the Iraqi government of collaborating with the Iranian government to distract from the post-election situation in that country. Is there any truth to this?
PC: I would say none whatsoever, really. You know, it’s not something that is just that serious. I think that the Mojahedin are very unpopular with many Iraqis, particularly with the Shia and the Sunnis, two main elements of the Iraqi government, because they were allied to Saddam Hussein. So, it’s not too surprising that they’ve always been eager to get rid of them, and as the US withdraws, the Mojahedin didn’t really have any protector.
Patrick Cockburn is an Irish journalist, currently a Middle East correspondent for The Independent. He won the Martha Gellhorn Prize in 2005, the James Cameron Prize in 2006, and the Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2009. His most recent books are The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq and Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq. Marco Chown Oved is a correspondent for Radio France Internationale. This interview was brought online by RFI on 29 July 2009. The text above is a partial transcript of the interview.