... Camp Ashraf was a heavily armed encampment under Saddam Hussein from which Mujahedeen fighters attempted to invade Iran at the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. They were driven off. Today they enjoy little support in their home country, in spite of Mrs. Rajavi’s claims to lead the main resistance to the Islamic Republic, apparently because their efforts were seen as treacherous by many Iranians. In the 2003 war that unseated Saddam Hussein, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked Mujahedeen military units but subsequently a ceasefire was arranged. Before the conflict, the Rajavis had repaired to their long-time base in the Paris ...
PARIS — As the European Union prepared to consider tough new sanctions against Iran on Monday, a group of eminent Americans was cozying up here to an exiled Iranian opposition group that the United States classifies as terrorists.
Even undeclared war makes strange bedfellows, and none more so than the former politicians, generals and spooks on the panel at a conference in Paris on Friday evening and their hosts, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran.
In its checkered history, the P.M.O.I. has been accused of murdering American servicemen, was involved in not one but two invasions of the U.S. embassy in Tehran during the Iranian revolution, and allied itself with the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein.
More recently it claims to have provided information exposing details of Tehran’s attempts to produce a nuclear weapon, while vigorously denying widespread speculation that it might have assisted in recent unexplained assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Western governments, including that of France where the group’s leadership is based, regard the Mujahedeen as more of a cult than a political movement.
Presiding over Friday’s conference in the old Bourse building in Paris was Mariam Rajavi, the movement’s leader and wife of its founder, Masoud Rajavi. He has disappeared from public view, perhaps emulating the Hidden Imam of the Shia Muslims whose legend figured in the creation of the Rajavi personality cult.
Dressed in a familiar outfit of a modest but brightly colored suit and matching headscarf, she was greeted with chants of “Mariam, Mariam,” from the almost exclusively Iranian audience.
Americans on the international panel included General Hugh Shelton, former Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff; Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor; and Michael Mukasey, former U.S. Attorney General. Other panelists included Philippe Douste-Blazy, a former French foreign minister.
Gen. Shelton told Rendezvous he believed the U.S. had a sworn obligation to protect Mujahedeen refugees being evicted from Camp Ashraf in Iraq by a hostile government in Baghdad.
Camp Ashraf was a heavily armed encampment under Saddam Hussein from which Mujahedeen fighters attempted to invade Iran at the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. They were driven off. Today they enjoy little support in their home country, in spite of Mrs. Rajavi’s claims to lead the main resistance to the Islamic Republic, apparently because their efforts were seen as treacherous by many Iranians.
In the 2003 war that unseated Saddam Hussein, U.S.-led coalition forces attacked Mujahedeen military units but subsequently a ceasefire was arranged. Before the conflict, the Rajavis had repaired to their long-time base in the Paris suburb of Auvers-sur-Oise, which French anti-terrorism police raided in 2003, seizing millions of euros.
“There’s no longer any reason to keep these people on the terrorist list,” said Gen. Shelton, expressing an opinion that has won widespread bipartisan support in Washington, as my colleague Scott Shane has reported.
The P.M.O.I. — also known by its Persian title Mujahedeen-e-Khalq — has used a seemingly bottomless budget to push its case in the corridors of the U.S. Congress and to finance international meetings to maintain its profile.
Despite that, the State Department has adamantly refused to remove the group from its list of foreign terrorist organizations. A U.S court ruled in 2010 that the government must allow the PMOI a chance to rebut unclassified information the government used to justify its designation, Legal Times reported at the time.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has the matter under consideration.
The Mujahedeen fears the administration wants to keep a diplomatic line open to Iran in the escalating nuclear dispute. “Did you see those reports of Obama sending a secret letter to Tehran,” said a Mujahedeen insider knowingly.
Listing the P.M.O.I. as terrorists is the one thing on which Washington and Tehran agree and a delisting would be certain to derail any diplomatic initiative that might be under way.
As things stand, U.S. and European policy is to squeeze Iran economically until sanctions force it to yield on the nuclear issue.
The next step in that campaign will focus on Brussels, where European foreign ministers are moving toward a phased embargo of Iranian oil.
... Mr. Dean’s speech stunned me. But then came Rudolph W. Giuliani saying virtually the same thing. At a conference in Paris last December, an emotional Mr. Giuliani told Ms. Rajavi, “These are the most important yearnings of the human soul that you support, and for your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just simply a disgrace.” I thought I was watching The Onion News Network. Did Mr. Giuliani know whom he was talking about? Evidently not. In fact, an unlikely chorus of the group’s backers — some of whom have received speaking fees, others of whom are inspired by their conviction that ...
A version of this op-ed appeared in print on August 14, 2011, on page SR5 of the New York edition with the headline: An Iranian Cult and Its American Friends, Elizabeth Rubin is a contributor to The New York Times Magazine, where her article "The Cult of Rajavi" appeared in July 2003.
A FEW weeks ago I received an e-mail from an acquaintance with the subject line: Have you seen the video everyone is talking about?
I clicked play, and there was Howard Dean, on March 19 in Berlin, at his most impassioned, extolling the virtues of a woman named Maryam Rajavi and insisting that America should recognize her as the president of Iran.
Ms. Rajavi and her husband, Massoud, are the leaders of a militant Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedeen Khalq, or Warriors of God. The group’s forces have been based for the last 25 years in Iraq, where I visited them shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003.
Mr. Dean’s speech stunned me. But then came Rudolph W. Giuliani saying virtually the same thing. At a conference in Paris last December, an emotional Mr. Giuliani told Ms. Rajavi, “These are the most important yearnings of the human soul that you support, and for your organization to be described as a terrorist organization is just simply a disgrace.” I thought I was watching The Onion News Network. Did Mr. Giuliani know whom he was talking about?
Evidently not. In fact, an unlikely chorus of the group’s backers — some of whom have received speaking fees, others of whom are inspired by their conviction that the Iranian government must fall at any cost — have gathered around Mujahedeen Khalq at conferences in capitals across the globe.
This group of luminaries includes two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Gens. Hugh H. Shelton and Peter Pace; Wesley K. Clark, the former NATO commander; Gen. James L. Jones, who was President Obama’s national security adviser; Louis J. Freeh, the former F.B.I. director; the former intelligence officials Dennis C. Blair and Michael V. Hayden; the former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson; the former attorney general Michael B. Mukasey, and Lee H. Hamilton, a former congressman who was co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
Indeed, the Rajavis and Mujahedeen Khalq are spending millions in an attempt to persuade the Obama administration, and in particular Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to take them off the national list of terrorist groups, where the group was listed in 1997. Delisting the group would enable it to lobby Congress for support in the same way that the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 allowed the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi to do.
Mrs. Clinton should ignore their P.R. campaign. Mujahedeen Khalq is not only irrelevant to the cause of Iran’s democratic activists, but a totalitarian cult that will come back to haunt us.
When I arrived at Camp Ashraf, the base of the group’s operations, in April 2003, I thought I’d entered a fictional world of female worker bees. Everywhere I saw women dressed exactly alike, in khaki uniforms and mud-colored head scarves, driving back and forth in white pickup trucks, staring ahead in a daze as if they were working at a factory in Maoist China. I met dozens of young women buried in the mouths of tanks, busily tinkering with the engines. One by one, the girls bounded up to me and my two minders to recite their transformations from human beings to acolytes of Ms. Rajavi. One said she had been suicidal in Iran until she found Ms. Rajavi on the Internet.
At Camp Ashraf, 40 miles north of Baghdad, near the Iranian border, 3,400 members of the militant group reside in total isolation on a 14-square-mile tract of harsh desert land. Access to the Internet, phones and information about the outside world is prohibited. Posters of Ms. Rajavi and her smiling green eyes abound. Meanwhile, she lives in luxury in France; her husband has remained in hiding since the United States occupied Iraq in 2003.
During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the group served as Mr. Hussein’s own private militia opposing the theocratic government in Tehran. For two decades, he gave the group money, weapons, jeeps and military bases along the border with Iran. In return, the Rajavis pledged their fealty.
In 1991, when Mr. Hussein crushed a Shiite uprising in the south and attempted to carry out a genocide against the Kurds in the north, the Rajavis and their army joined his forces in mowing down fleeing Kurds.
Ms. Rajavi told her disciples, “Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.” Many followers escaped in disgust.
So the Rajavis then began preying on Iranian refugees and asylum seekers in Europe to fill their ranks. The Rajavis promise them salaries, marriage, family, freedom and a great cause — fighting the Iranian government. Then the unwitting youths arrive in Iraq.
What is most disturbing is how the group treats its members. After the Iran-Iraq war, Mr. Rajavi orchestrated an ill-planned offensive, deploying thousands of young men and women into Iran on a mass martyrdom operation. Instead of capturing Iran, as they believed they would, thousands of them were slaughtered, including parents, husbands and wives of those I met in Iraq in 2003.
After my visit, I met and spoke to men and women who had escaped from the group’s clutches. Many had to be deprogrammed. They recounted how people were locked up if they disagreed with the leadership or tried to escape; some were even killed.
Friendships and all emotional relationships are forbidden. From the time they are toddlers, boys and girls are not allowed to speak to each other. Each day at Camp Ashraf you had to report your dreams and thoughts.
If a man was turned on by the scent of a woman or a whiff of perfume, he had to confess. Members had to attend weekly ideological cleansings in which they publicly confessed their sexual desires. Members were even forced to divorce and take a vow of lifelong celibacy to ensure that all their energy and love would be directed toward Maryam and Massoud.
Mr. Hamilton and Generals Jones and Clark have been paid speakers’ fees by front groups for Mujahedeen Khalq and have spoken in support of the group in public conferences. They claimed ignorance of how the group treated its members.
“I don’t know a lot about the group,” Mr. Hamilton told me over the phone last week. But in 1994, when he was chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Hamilton received a report describing the group as a violent cult with a distinct ideology synthesizing Marxism and messianic Shiism.
At a February conference in Paris, Mr. Dean praised the group’s extraordinary “bill of rights.” And General Jones said to Ms. Rajavi: “It is time for those of us from the United States who have come to know and admire you and your colleagues and your goals to do what is required to recognize the legitimacy of your movement and your ideals.” When I asked General Jones last week if he knew that some considered the group a totalitarian cult, he replied, “This is the first time I’ve heard anything about this.”
He said he’d checked with military and F.B.I. officials. “I wanted to make sure we weren’t supporting a group that was doing nefarious things that I don’t know about,” he said. “Nobody brought it up, so I didn’t know what questions to ask.”
IN fact, a 2004 F.B.I. report on the group detailed a joint investigation by the American and German police, which revealed that the group’s cell in Cologne, Germany, had used money from a complex fraud scheme to buy military equipment. The group used children with multiple identities to claim multiple benefit checks from the German government. Evidence also showed that the group had obtained money in Los Angeles to purchase GPS units to increase the accuracy of planned mortar attacks on Tehran.
It is possible that such plots do not bother General Jones and other supporters of the group. But Iraq will no longer tolerate its presence. Its government wants the Mujahedeen Khalq out of the country by the end of the year. In April, Iraqi forces attacked Camp Ashraf. General Jones and other supporters of the group were outraged.
They are right that we should have compassion for those trapped inside the camp. A 2009 RAND Corporation study found that at least 70 percent of the group’s members there were being held against their will. If the group’s American cheerleaders cared for those at the camp half as much as they did for the Rajavis, they would be insisting on private Red Cross visits with each man and woman at Camp Ashraf.
American officials who support the group like to quote the saying, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” By this logic, the group’s opposition to the Tehran theocracy justifies American backing. But there is another saying to consider: “The means are the ends.”
By using the Mujahedeen Khalq to provoke Tehran, we will end up damaging our integrity and reputation, and weaken the legitimate democracy movement within Iran.
As a senior State Department official told me, “They are the best financed and organized, but they are so despised inside Iran that they have no traction.” Iranian democracy activists say the group, if it had had the chance, could have become the Khmer Rouge of Iran.
“They are considered traitors and killers of Iranian kids,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the Mujahedeen Khalq’s status on the terrorist list is under review. “They are so unpopular that we think any gesture of support to them would disqualify and discredit us as being interested in democratic reform.”
If the group is taken off the terrorist list, it will be able to freely lobby the American government under the guise of an Iranian democracy movement.
Recent history has shown that the United States often ends up misguidedly supporting not only the wrong exile groups in the Middle East, but the least relevant ones. We cannot afford to be so naïve or misguided again.
Monday July 13, 2003 Elizabeth Rubin The New York Times MAGAZINE For more than 30 years, the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, has survived and operated on the margins of history and the slivers of land that Saddam Hussein and French governments have proffered it. During the 1970's, while it was still an underground Iranian political movement, you could encounter some of its members on the streets of New York, waving pictures of torture victims of the shah's regime. In the 80's and 90's, after its leaders fled Iran, you could see them raising money and petitioning on university campuses around the United States, pumping photographs in the air of women mangled and tortured by the Islamic regime in Tehran. By then, they were also showing off other photographs, photographs that were in some ways more attention-grabbing: Iranian women in military uniforms who brandished guns, drove tanks and were ready to overthrow the Iranian government. Led by a charismatic husband-and-wife duo, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, the Mujahedeen had transformed itself into the only army in the world with a commander corps composed mostly of women.
Until the United States invaded Iraq in March, the Mujahedeen survived for two decades under the patronage of Saddam Hussein. He gave the group money, weapons, jeeps and military bases along the Iran-Iraq border -- a convenient launching ground for its attacks against Iranian government figures. When U.S. forces toppled Saddam's regime, they were not sure how to handle the army of some 5,000 Mujahedeen fighters, many of them female and all of them fanatically loyal to the Rajavis. The U.S soldiers' confusion reflected confusion back home. The Mujahedeen has a sophisticated lobbying apparatus, and it has exploited the notion of female soldiers fighting the Islamic clerical rulers in Tehran to garner the support of dozens in Congress. But the group is also on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations, placed there in 1997 as a goodwill gesture toward Iran's newly elected reform-minded president, Mohammad Khatami.
With the fall of Saddam With the fall of Saddam and with a wave of antigovernment demonstrations across Iran last month, the Mujahedeen suddenly found itself thrown into the middle of Washington's foreign-policy battles over what to do about Iran. And now its fate hangs precariously between extinction and resurrection. A number of Pentagon hawks and policy makers are advocating that the Mujahedeen be removed from the terrorist list and recycled for future use against Iran. But the French have also stepped into the Persian fray on the side of the Iranian government -- who consider the Rajavis and their army a mortal enemy. In the early-morning hours of June 17, some 1,300 French police officers descended upon the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where the Mujahedeen established its political headquarters. After offering the Iranian exiles sanctuary on and off for two decades and providing police protection to Maryam Rajavi, the French mysteriously arrested Rajavi along with 160 of her followers, claiming that the group was planning to move its military base to France and launch terrorist attacks on Iranian targets in Europe. Immediately, zealous Mujahedeen members in Paris, London and Rome staged hunger strikes, demanding the release of Maryam, and several set themselves ablaze.
In Washington, Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas and chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee on South Asia, accused the French of doing the Iranian government's dirty work. Along with other members of Congress, Brownback wrote a letter of protest to President Jacques Chirac, while longtime Mujahedeen champions like Sheila Jackson-Lee, Democrat of Texas, expressed their distress over Maryam's arrest. But few, if any, of these supporters have visited the Mujahedeen's desert encampments in Iraq and know how truly bizarre this revolutionary group is.
Recently, I went to visit Camp Ashraf, the main Mujahedeen base, which lies some 65 miles north of Baghdad in Diala province, near the Iranian border. Ashraf is 14 square miles of ungenerous desert surrounded by aprons of barbed wire, gun towers and guards in trough-like bunkers, shaded by camouflage netting and dehydrated palm trees, their trunks thickened by dust. As you pass the checkpoints and dragons'-teeth tire crunchers into the tidy military town, you feel you've entered a fictional world of female worker bees. Of course, there are men around; about 50 percent of the soldiers are male. But everywhere I turned, I saw women dressed in khaki uniforms and mud-colored head scarves, driving back and forth along the avenues in white pickups or army-green trucks, staring ahead, slightly dazed, or walking purposefully, a slight march to their gaits as at a factory in Maoist China.
Pari Bahshai, a stocky Iranian woman in her mid-40's and the military commander of Ashraf, was my tour guide for the day. We drove through the grounds in her white Land Cruiser out to a dry, burning plain where dozens of young women were buried in the mouths of their tanks -- adjusting, winching, tinkering with the circuits and engines that keep their fighting machines alive. There were neat rows of Brazilian Cascavel tanks, Russian BMP armored vehicles and British Chieftains, most of them captured from Iran at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Some of the women smiled shyly; others were expressionless as Bahshai -- who was tough but indulgent and whom they clearly loved -- made her introductions. ''When they first come here, it's hard for them to deal with these armored vehicles,'' she said. ''They don't believe in themselves. They think only men can do it. But as they see the others, they overcome their insecurity. I went through this process myself.'' Hossein Madani, a Mujahedeen political spokesman who was my minder for the day, said, ''These young women are all new from Iran or countries abroad.''
One by one, the youngest Mujahedeen sprang to life to recite their stories. A dark-haired beauty blurted out fast and robotically in Farsi, with a comrade translating into English: ''I came from Tehran six months ago. I'm 20 years old. I was in a very unstable psychological situation in the last days of my stay in Iran. I wanted to commit suicide. Why? Because we had no right to express dissent. There was no freedom. Even personal things young people wanted to do like go out to parties or wear makeup or just go out freely. Many of my friends were burning themselves to die or becoming addicted to drugs. On the Internet, I came across a saying of Maryam Rajavi, 'You're capable and you must,' and I felt after that, that I was also capable. I got my self-confidence. I always believed women were weak, but when I read Maryam Rajavi's words, I got the self-confidence to come here.''
I asked her a question to slow her down, but she simply pushed the pause button in her mind, released it when my question ended, and the tape rolled on. ''My two brothers were supporters of the Mujahedeen,'' she said, ''and were executed by the Khomeini regime.''
Several months ago, she e-mailed the Mujahedeen, who then facilitated her passage to Turkey, where she was met at the border, put on a train to Ankara and then Iraq. ''I was educated in courses of Mujahedeen history, Iranian history and the current political situation,'' she carried on. ''Now I'm in artillery class.'' She explained what it was like to be in Iraq during the U.S. bombing. ''I was scared, but I reminded myself that I came to struggle against fundamentalism, and the fact that I was a member of the Mujahedeen family gave me strength.'' And then she stopped, said thank you and went away.
There were three more just like her. ''When I was in Iran, I didn't think I could drive a tank and shoot a gun, but when I saw sister Maryam Rajavi, I got hope that I can do everything,'' said Shiva, a 21-year-old tank driver. ''Now that I know Maryam Rajavi, I want other people to know about her too, because the freedom of Iran depends on her.''
After the parade of testimonials, I was whisked onto a tank for a spin around the training ring. The women were giddy, affectionate and proud of their vehicles. They all told me how much self-confidence they had gained through Maryam. I had heard that the Mujahedeen must take a vow of ''eternal divorce,'' that the young ones can never marry or have children and that the older ones had to divorce their spouses sometime in the late 1980's. I asked Sima, a woman in her late 20's, whether she ever regretted making that celibacy commitment. ''When I feel that I'm getting closer to my goal,'' she shouted in English against the wind, ''it's a more beautiful feeling than anything else. It's love.'' And what was her goal? ''I have to teach the women in Iran to feel like I feel inside and rebuild what Khomeini destroyed. He is killing the soul of every person.'' I noticed that everyone, young and old, at Camp Ashraf referred in the same programmed way to the regime of Ayatollah Khomeini as if the charismatic icon of the Iranian revolution hadn't died 14 years ago. Sima said that whenever she lapsed into the ''normal girl dreams'' of marriage and children, she looked around her and said she felt proud. ''In the difficult situations, I see happiness in the faces of my sisters.''
Nadereh, an Iranian woman who had grown up in Toronto, told me she had broken off her engagement to come to Iraq. ''I was living the best life in Toronto,'' she said. ''I was studying physiotherapy and body mechanics. I had friends and family. But I was lacking something.'' Then one day in 1998 she lay on her bed staring at the ceiling, and heard on Iranian TV that Assadollah Lajevardi, known as the butcher of Evin, the political prison in Tehran where thousands of Mujahedeen were tortured and executed, had been assassinated. The Mujahedeen claimed to have carried out the celebrated operation. ''I couldn't stand it anymore. I thought, What are you doing for your people?'' Now she drives a Katyusha rocket truck.
After we stopped and dismounted, I noticed my minder, Madani, asking the girls what words we had exchanged out there in the wind. And when he came back, Bahshai picked up her feminist cant about the ''crimes of the misogynist regime'' in Tehran and how Maryam paved the way for women to ''qualify for a hegemonic role'' in the army's general staff. As she would say later, ''Women under Khomeini commit suicide; women here become responsible.''
Though Maryam Rajavi spends most of her time in France or lobbying in the West, her smiling green eyes stalk Camp Ashraf almost as ubiquitously as the image of Saddam in Iraq or Khomeini in Iran. Her photographs in flowery blouses grace bedsides, dining tables, lecture halls and even tanks. Back in the 1960's, the founders of the Mujahedeen were students who melded revolutionary Islam with Marxism, and they were among the few to battle the shah with weapons. Like other radical students in the 60's, they rejected bourgeois values, spurned individualism and found respite in the militarized life of a cause. They were also vehemently against U.S. involvement in Iran and killed several Americans working in Tehran. Most of the student leaders -- except Massoud Rajavi and a few others who were in prison -- were executed in the 1970's.
After the shah was overthrown in 1979, Rajavi, with his charismatic style, gathered thousands of followers. He initially supported Khomeini, but quickly fell out with him and his ring of clerics. And in 1981, he plotted to bring down the Islamic regime. Rajavi dispatched his people into the streets of Tehran, and many were summarily executed. The Mujahedeen detonated a powerful bomb that killed more than 70 officials in the Iranian theocracy. (Today's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, lost the use of his right arm in one such explosion that year.) In retaliation, thousands of Mujahedeen members were arrested and then executed or tortured inside Evin Prison -- including many of today's Mujahedeen commanders in Iraq.
Rajavi fled to Paris in disguise. There, he established the National Council of Resistance in Iran, the political umbrella of the Mujahedeen. In 1986, the French began forging ties with Khomeini and kicked out Rajavi and his squads of assassins, who ran into the arms of Saddam Hussein. Hussein had been welcoming the Mujahedeen for several years. (Many Mujahedeen political supporters did stay on in France as political refugees.) Rajavi, in return, betrayed his own countrymen, identifying Iranian military targets for Iraq to bomb, a move most Iranians will never forgive. Then, right after the Iran-Iraq cease-fire in 1988, as if orchestrating the tragic turning point in his own Rajavi Opera, he launched thousands of his warriors on ''Operation Eternal Light'' across the border to capture Iranian territory. Two thousand Mujahedeen fighters -- many of them the parents, husbands and wives of those who are now in Iraq -- were killed by the Revolutionary Guard.
The coup de grace that metamorphosed the party into something more like a husband-and-wife-led cult was Massoud's spectacular theft of his colleague's wife, Maryam. Massoud fell in love with her and invented an entire political program to elevate her into a revolutionary queen and to justify her divorce from her husband. Women should be equal to men, Massoud claimed, and Maryam should be an equal leader by his side. But working together without being married would be a violation of Islamic law. So he maneuvered her divorce and called it a ''cultural revolution.''
As Ervand Abrahamian, a historian and author of ''The Iranian Mujahedeen,'' told me: ''Rajavi said he was emulating the prophet'' -- Muhammad -- ''who had married his adopted son's wife to show he could overcome conventional morality. It smacked of blasphemy.''
Rajavi liked having women around him and overhauled the command structure to replace the men with women -- this time calling it a ''constitutional revolution.'' It was also politically astute and added alluring spice for their public-relations campaign in the West.
"Rajavi, Rajavi, Iran, Iran, Maryam, Maryam, Iran, Iran,'' shouted a dozen young women commandos, trotting with their Kalashnikovs on a scrubby field, camouflage leaves and twigs bouncing on their helmets, their faces blurred by green paint. ''Run, run, fire, fire.'' They rolled, crouched, crept, fired and regrouped around their commander. One stepped forward: ''We weren't coordinated.'' Another shouted, ''The distance between us was too much.'' Another shouted, ''Our speed wasn't adequate.'' They were given a rest and then, spotting me, skipped up on cue, sweating and out of breath. Nineteen-year-old Sahar began: ''My mother was pregnant with me when she was arrested, and I was born in Evin Prison in 1983. When I was 1 year old, my father was executed for supporting the Mujahedeen. Now I drive a Cascavel. My mother is at another base. It's one of the reasons I decided to join the army.''
As the leaders like to boast, the Mujahedeen is a family affair. (''We have three generations of martyrs: grandmothers, mothers, daughters.'') Most of the girls I was meeting had grown up in Mujahedeen schools in Ashraf, where they lived separated from their parents. Family visits were allowed on Thursday nights and Fridays. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, many of these girls were transported to Jordan and then smuggled to various countries -- Germany, France, Canada, Denmark, England, the United States -- where they were raised by guardians who were usually Mujahedeen supporters. When they were 18 or 19, many of them decided to come back to Iraq and fill the ranks of the youngest Mujahedeen generation. Though ''decided'' is probably not the right word, since from the day they were born, these girls and boys were not taught to think for themselves but to blindly follow their leaders. ''Every morning and night, the kids, beginning as young as 1 and 2, had to stand before a poster of Massoud and Maryam, salute them and shout praises to them,'' Nadereh Afshari, a former Mujahedeen deep-believer, told me. Afshari, who was posted in Germany and was responsible for receiving Mujahedeen children during the gulf war, said that when the German government tried to absorb Mujahedeen children into their education system, the Mujahedeen refused. Many of the children were sent to Mujahedeen schools, particularly in France. The Rajavis, Afshari went on to say, ''saw these kids as the next generation's soldiers. They wanted to brainwash them and control them.'' Which may explain the pattern to their stories: a journey to self-empowerment and the enlightenment of self-sacrifice inspired by the light and wisdom of Maryam and Massoud.
As we cruised around the grounds, Hossein Madani said: ''Did you know that they built all this from scratch? That's why the combatants love their base so much.'' And it was true; the Mujahedeen had managed to cultivate out of the desert their own little paradise with vegetable gardens, rows of Eucalyptus and poplar trees, sports fields and Thursday night movies. When I asked about the fact that the land -- along with all clothing, ammunition, gas and the like -- had been donated by Saddam Hussein and that the Mujahedeen was, in effect, fighting one dictatorship under the wings of another, both Madani and Bahshai insisted that the Mujahedeen's precondition for setting up bases in Iraq was independence from Iraq's affairs. ''All we've used is the soil,'' Bahshai insisted. Either she was an adept liar or in deep denial, since everyone I spoke to -- Iraqi intelligence officers, Kurdish commanders and human rights groups -- said that in 1991 Hussein used the Mujahedeen and its tanks as advance forces to crush the Kurdish uprisings in the north and the Shia uprisings in the south. And former Mujahedeen members remember Maryam Rajavi's infamous command at the time: ''Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.''
Though for years the Mujahedeen preached a Marxist-Islamic ideology, it has modernized with the times. Today, one of the standard lines of the Mujahedeen's National Council of Resistance to politicians in Europe and America is that it is advocating a secular, democratic government in Iran, and that when it overthrows the regime, it will set up a six-month interim government with Maryam as president and then hold free elections. But despite its rhetoric, the Mujahedeen operates like any other dictatorship. Mujahedeen members have no access to newspapers or radio or television, other than what is fed them. As the historian Abrahamian told me, ''No one can criticize Rajavi.'' And everyone must go through routine self-criticism sessions. ''It's all done on tape, so they have records of what you say. If there's sign of resistance, you're considered not revolutionary enough, and you need more ideological training. Either people break away or succumb.''
Salahaddin Mukhtadi, an Iranian historian in exile who still maintains communications with the Mujahedeen because it is the strongest armed opposition to the Iranian regime, told me that Mujahedeen members ''are locked up if they disagree with anything. And sometimes killed.''
Afshari, who fled the group 10 years ago, told me how friendship was forbidden. No two people could sit alone and talk together, especially about their former lives. Informants were planted everywhere. It was Maryam's idea to kill emotional relationships. ''She called it 'drying the base,''' Afshari said. ''They kept telling us every one of your emotions should be channeled toward Massoud, and Massoud equals leadership, and leadership equals Iran.'' The segregation of the sexes began almost from toddlerhood. ''Girls were not allowed to speak to boys. If they were caught mingling, they were severely punished.''
Though Maryam and Massoud finagled it so they could be together, they forced everyone else into celibacy. ''They told us, 'We are at war, and soldiers cannot have wives and husbands,''' Afshari said. ''You had to report every single day and confess your thoughts and dreams. They made men say they got erections when they smelled the perfume of a woman.'' Men and women had to participate in ''weekly ideological cleansings,'' in which they would publicly confess their sexual desires. It was not only a form of control but also a means to delete all remnants of individual thought.
One of the most disturbing encounters I had in Ashraf was with Mahnaz Bazazi, a commander who had been with the Mujahedeen for 25 years. I met her in the Ashraf hospital. Bazazi was probably on drugs, but that didn't explain the natural intoxication she was radiating, despite -- or perhaps because -- she had just had her legs amputated after an American missile slammed into the warehouse she was guarding. The doctor told me he never heard her complain. ''Even in this way, she's confronting the Mullahs,'' he said. Bazazi interrupted him. ''This is not me personally,'' she said in a soft high voice. ''These are the ideas of the Mujahedeen. It's true I lost my legs, but my struggle will continue because I have a wish -- the freedom of my country.'' At the foot of her bed, surrounded by candles, stood a large framed photograph of Maryam in a white dress and blue flowered head scarf.
In the chaotic days after the fall of Baghdad, several Mujahedeen members managed to flee the military camps and were in Kurdish custody in northern Iraq. Kurdish officials told me they weren't sure what to do with them. One was Mohammad, a gaunt 19-year-old Iranian from Tehran with sad chestnut eyes. He hadn't heard of the Mujahedeen until one day last year when he was in Istanbul desperately looking for work. A Mujahedeen recruiter spotted him and a friend sleeping on the streets, so hungry they couldn't think anymore. The recruiter gave them a bed and food for the night, and the next day showed them videos of the Mujahedeen struggle. He enticed them to join with an offer to earn money in Iraq while simultaneously fighting the cruel Iranian regime. What's more, he said, you can marry Mujahedeen girls and start your own family. The Mujahedeen seemed like salvation. Mohammad was told to inform his family that he was going to work in Germany and given an Iraqi passport.
The first month at Ashraf, he said, wasn't so bad. Then came the indoctrination in the reception department and the weird self-criticism sessions. He quickly realized there would be no wives, no pay, no communication with his parents, no friendships, no freedom. The place was a nightmare, and he wanted out. But there was no leaving. When he refused to pledge the oath to struggle forever, he was subjected to relentless psychological pressure. One night, he couldn't take it anymore. He swallowed 80 diazepam pills. His friend, he said, slit his wrists. The friend died, but to Mohammad's chagrin, he woke up in a solitary room. After days of intense prodding to embrace the Mujahedeen way, he finally relented to the oath. He trundled along numbly until the Americans invaded Iraq, when he and another friend managed to slip out into the desert. They were helped out by Arabs, and then turned themselves over to the Kurds, hoping for mercy. Mohammad fell ill, and the next thing he knew he was in prison. ''The Mujahedeen has a good appearance to the outside world, but anyone who has lived among them knows how rotten and dirty they are,'' he said.
Another Iranian whom I met at the Kurdish prison told me that he had been a zealous Mujahedeen supporter for years in Iran, and when he finally made it to the Iraqi camps, he was horrified to discover that his dream was a totalitarian mini-state.
Before I left Camp Ashraf, Massoud Farschi, one of the Mujahedeen spokesmen who was educated in the United States, told me that he thought the Mujahedeen was in the best position it had ever been in. ''We've said all along that the real threat in the world is fundamentalism, and now the world has finally seen that.'' The Mujahedeen, he said, is the barrier to that fundamentalism. Nevertheless, two days later, in early May, Gen. Ray Odierno of the Fourth Infantry Division was dispatched to the camp to negotiate the Mujahedeen's surrender. American tanks were posted outside Ashraf's gates, and two B-52's were circling the skies above. After a day of discussion, the Mujahedeen commanders reached a capitulation agreement in which they would consolidate their weapons and personnel into two separate camps. Lt. Col. John Miller, also with the Fourth, attended a ceremony in which the men and women bid farewell to their tanks. ''We saw folks kissing their vehicles, hugging them,'' he said. One 50-year-old man broke down in front of them, wailing. The women, he said, were much more controlled. Not so the women in Europe, who until recently were crying on the streets for the release of their beloved Maryam. They got their wish; a court ordered her released on bail. As for Massoud Rajavi, he has not uttered a peep. In fact, he seems to have disappeared. Some Iraqis claim to have seen him a few days before Baghdad fell boarding a helicopter south of the capital.
After the negotiations with the Mujahedeen, it was reported that Odierno said he thought that the group's commitment to democracy in Iran meant its status as a terrorist organization should be reviewed. There are also Senate staff members, Pentagon officials and even some people in the State Department who have said that if all the Mujahedeen is doing is fighting the ''evil regime'' in Iran, it quite likely that it will be removed from the State Department's terrorist list. ''There is a move afoot among Pentagon hard-liners,'' one administration official said, ''to use them as an opposition in the future.'' Recently Brownback submitted an Iran Democracy Act modeled on the Iraqi Liberation Act, which would set aside $50 million to help opposition groups overthrow the regime. The Mujahedeen, their U.S. supporters say, has provided the United States with key intelligence on Iran's nuclear program. One Congressional staff member working close to the issue said that there was a national security directive circulating ''that includes a proposal for limited surgical strikes against the Iranian regime's nuclear facilities. We would be remiss if we did not use the Mujahedeen to identify exactly what the Iranians have and in the longer term, to facilitate regime change.''
Meanwhile, inside Iran, the street protesters risking their lives and disappearing inside the regime's prisons consider the Mujahedeen a plague -- as toxic, if not more so, than the ruling clerics. After all, the Rajavis sold out their fellow Iranians to Saddam Hussein, trading intelligence about their home country for a place to house their Marxist-Islamist Rajavi sect. While Mujahedeen press releases were pouring out last month, taking undue credit for the nightly demonstrations, many antigovernment Iranians were rejoicing over the arrest of Maryam Rajavi and wondering where Massoud was hiding and why he, too, hadn't been apprehended. This past winter in Iran, when such a popular outburst among students and others was still just a dream, if you mentioned the Mujahedeen, those who knew and remembered the group laughed at the notion of it spearheading a democracy movement. Instead, they said, the Rajavis, given the chance, would have been the Pol Pot of Iran. The Pentagon has seen the fatal flaw of hitching itself to volatile groups like the Islamists who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and, more recently, the Iraqi exile groups who had no popular base at home. It seems dangerously myopic that the U.S. is even considering resurrecting the Rajavis and their army of Stepford wives.
Elizabeth Rubin is a frequent contributor to the magazine. Her last article was about political reformers in Iran.
Paul Sheldon Foote: Terrorist groups exist because someone wants them to
(US, UK, Israel use Mojahedin Khalq, PJAK terrorists)
... They have existed throughout those regions for a number of reasons: one is strong American support. Even though the American government denies it, it's been reported by Seymour Hirsch in The New Yorker; it's been reported by Laura Rosen in the War and Peace Blog. They can deny it all they want, but we do strongly support it -- independent journalists have gone through the region and videotaped all these communist terrorist groups and they all admit they are working with the American government. They also of course have strong support from Israel. What the American media doesn't bother to report is ...
Terrorist groups exist because someone wants them to. The US, England, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia finance, train, house and protect them.
Press TV talks with Paul Sheldon Foote, Professor of California State University from Irvine who provides an outline of the extent of involvement both the US, Israeli and Saudi Arabian governments and intelligence services have with terrorist group PJAK that targets Iran, Turkey and Syria. Following is a transcript of the interview.
Press TV: Would you please explain who PJAK is and what their goals are?
Paul Sheldon Foote:PJAK as was mentioned in your report is a branch of communist terrorists that includes the PKK -- same leadership; the only difference is one attacks Iran, one attacks Turkey and one attacks Syria.
They have existed throughout those regions for a number of reasons: one is strong American support. Even though the American government denies it, it's been reported by Seymour Hirsch in The New Yorker; it's been reported by Laura Rosen in the War and Peace Blog. They can deny it all they want, but we do strongly support it -- independent journalists have gone through the region and videotaped all these communist terrorist groups and they all admit they are working with the American government.
They also of course have strong support from Israel. What the American media doesn't bother to report is that one of the two branches of the Kurdish groups is a Jewish branch. There is a large Jewish population of Kurds both in Iraq and in Israel. There used to be a pipeline that went from Iraq to Israel.
And so the Israelis have had Mossad members on the ground in Kurdistan. They have even tried to create a central bank in Kurdistan and they have been manning the terrorist attacks and directing the terrorist workers and providing weapons. And so there's a very strong Israeli element in all of this.
Press TV: Can you describe the strength of the MKO inside Iraq? The Iraqi government doesn't appear to be doing what should be done to counter the MKO in many respects. And how does PJAK have complete control of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which is almost autonomous?
Paul Sheldon Foote: This goes back to December of 2002 when former US President Bush spoke at the UN and they issued a background paper specifically mentioning the Mujahidin-e Khalq (MKO) as a pretext for whenever we needed to go to war with Iraq. In 2003 American coalition forces attacked Camp Ashraf Iraq and killed some of the terrorists there. They quickly settled and they turned around and started using them to go inside Iran to kill Iranians.
We have been using them as terrorist tools -- the only question is who they work for. Terrorists exist because someone wants them to exist. Their headquarters is in Paris, France because the French government wants them to exist. They have broadcasting facilities in England because England wants them to exist.
Terrorism only exists because someone's paying the bills and that includes America, France and England.
Press TV: We have the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia -- all are trying to push, through financing and training, this group to militarily get engaged and cause instability inside Iran. Does not Iran therefore have the right to defend itself?
Paul Sheldon Foote: Yes of course. I can give you an example of this Saudi financing. You could get Massoud Khodabandeh on a future show -- he owns a website called www.iran-interlink.org. Last time I was in London he told me that when he was at Camp Ashraf, Iraq in a very high position in the Mujahidin-e Khalq he personally supervised the receipt of a large shipment of gold bars from Saudi Arabia to the MKO.
The agreement they made with the Saudis is that they had to shave off the insignia and markings on the gold bars so no one could know where the gold came from. You can verify he was there at their head quarters at Camp Ashraf Iraq and a large shipment of gold came in. The Saudis fund every terrorist organization they can imagine in the region.
Press TV: Do you think if there wasn't this interference by the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia that this problem would perhaps have been resolved regionally along with the neighbors of Iran, let's say Turkey and Syria along with the local governments there in Baghdad?
Paul Sheldon Foote: Absolutely. There is no reason for these problems. A large percentage of Iraqis are actually Iranians who have been living in Iraq for more than 100 years.
The borders of the Middle East were imposed on the Middle East after WWI by France, England and the rest of the world. These are artificial lines. My wife has relatives buried in Iraq and she is from Iran. Who's to say that anyone outside the region should be defining the lines and imposing these kinds of conflicts on the region? The only objection to Iran is that Iran finally has a government independent; that stands up and will not tolerate having its oil stolen as it was under the Shah.
Iran exile group should stay on terror list, say experts
(Joint Experts’ Statement on the Mujahedin-e Khalq)
... “Removing the MEK from the foreign terrorist organisation list and misconstruing its lack of democratic bona fides and support inside Iran will have harmful consequences on the legitimate, indigenous Iranian opposition,” the 37 experts say in the letter. “By attempting to claim credit for Iran’s democracy movement, the MEK has aided the Iranian government’s attempts to discredit the green movement and justify its crackdown on peaceful protesters by associating them with this widely detested group.” The signatories include ...
The letter is an attempt to counter an aggressive lobbying campaign by supporters of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or People’s Mujahideen of Iran, to be taken off the list a decade after it renounced violence.
The experts contend that delisting the MEK would be a huge blow to the pro-democracy “green movement” that formed in Iran during the 2009 presidential election, which Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is widely viewed as having stolen. Months of protests followed but the movement has since lost its momentum.
“Removing the MEK from the foreign terrorist organisation list and misconstruing its lack of democratic bona fides and support inside Iran will have harmful consequences on the legitimate, indigenous Iranian opposition,” the 37 experts say in the letter.
“By attempting to claim credit for Iran’s democracy movement, the MEK has aided the Iranian government’s attempts to discredit the green movement and justify its crackdown on peaceful protesters by associating them with this widely detested group.”
The signatories include John Limbert, head of Iranian affairs in the state department until recently and one of the diplomats held hostage during the 1979 siege of the US embassy in Tehran; Paul Pillar, a former US intelligence agent now at Georgetown University; Trita Parsi, head of the National Iranian American Council; and Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Defender.
The state department is expected to rule this month on whether the MEK will be removed from the list, which also includes al-Qaeda and Hizbollah.
The UK removed the MEK from its list in 2008 and the European Union in 2009 after courts found no evidence of terrorist actions since the MEK renounced violence in 2001. It won more than 20 battles in courts across Europe as it sought to be delisted there.
A Washington DC court last year ruled that the MEK had been denied due process during its last appeal to the Bush administration to be taken off the list and ordered the state department to reconsider the request.
But many US analysts agree with the signatories that delisting the MEK would be a setback for Iran’s grassroots opposition.
The MEK presents itself as Iran’s main opposition group but is widely reviled in the country for supporting Saddam Hussein during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and his crackdowns on the Shia population in Iraq.
“The MEK has halted all military activity since 2001, renounced violence and condemned terrorism in all its forms in 2004, handed over all its weapons voluntarily to the United States in 2003,” said Ahmad Moein, executive director of the Iranian American Community of Northern California, a group that supports the MEK.
The MEK could now lead a viable alternative to the current Iranian regime, he said. “We support the aims of MEK for the establishment, through the electoral process of a democratic, secular, non-nuclear republic that is at peace with all its neighbours,” Mr Moein said.
We the undersigned would like to convey our concern regarding the potential delisting of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) from the U.S. Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and its false claims to be “Iran’s main opposition” with a base of popular support in Iran.
The MEK has no political base inside Iran and no genuinesupport among the Iranian population. The MEK, an organization based in Iraq that enjoyed the support of Saddam Hussein, lost any following it had in Iran when it fought on Iraq’s behalf during the 1980-1988 war. Widespread Iranian distaste for the MEK has been cemented by its numerous terrorist attacks against innocent Iranian civilians. Since Saddam Hussein’s ouster, the MEK’s ability to maneuver in Washington and Iraq now depends almost entirely on the uneven enforcement of existing U.S. laws concerning Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Prominent human rights organizations – including Human Rights Watch – have determined the MEK to be a cult-like organization with a structure and modus operandi that belies its claim to be a vehicle for democratic change. When Iran’s post-election turbulence commenced in 2009, the MEK quickly sought to associate itself with the wave of popular opposition inside Iran. By attempting to claim credit for Iran’s democracy movement, the MEK has aided the Iranian government’s attempts to discredit the Green Movement and justify its crackdown on peaceful protesters by associating them with this widely detested group. When the MEK began its efforts to claim the mantle of being “Iran’s main opposition,” genuine Iranian opposition leaders such as Mehdi Karroubi and Zahra Rahnavard immediately pushed back. Karroubi pointedly said, “The Iranian Government is trying to connect those who truly love their country (the Green Movement) with the MEK to revive this hypocritical dead organization.”
Removing the MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organization list and misconstruing its lack of democratic bona fides and support inside Iran will have harmful consequences on the legitimate, indigenous Iranian opposition. We urge the U.S. government to avoid conflating a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization with Iran’s Green Movement as the Iranian people continue their struggle for democracy and human rights.
1. Prof. Ervand Abrahamian, Author of The Iranian Mojahedin
2. Prof. Ali Ansari, University of St Andrews
3. Reza Aslan, Author of No God but God
4. Prof. Shaul Bakhash, George Mason University, author of Reign of the Ayatollahs
5. Prof. Mehrzad Boroujerdi, Syracuse University
6. Prof. Juan Cole, University of Michigan
7. James Dobbins, former Assistant Secretary of State
8. Prof. Farideh Farhi, University of Hawaii at Manoa
9. Dokhi Fassihian, Human Rights Defender
10. Hadi Ghaemi, Human Rights Defender
11. Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, former reformist member of Parliament
12. Kevan Harris, Johns Hopkins University
13. Prof. Nader Hashemi, University of Denver
14. Prof. Ramin Jahanbegloo, former political prisoner in Iran
15. Prof. Mohsen Kadivar, Duke University
16. Prof. Mehran Kamrava, Georgetown University
17. Prof. Stephen Kinzer, Author of All the Shah’s Men
18. Amb. John Limbert, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and hostage in Iran
19. Prof. Scott Lucas, University of Birmingham
20. Firuzeh Mahmoudi, United4Iran
21. Reza Marashi, Former Iran Desk officer, US Department of State, NIAC Research Director
22. Azadeh Moaveni, Author of Lipstick Jihad
23. Prof. Rasool Nafisi, Strayer University
24. Sahar Namazikhah, Journalist
25. Dr. Trita Parsi, Author of Treacherous Alliance - The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US
26. Prof. Paul Pillar, Georgetown University
27. Prof. Nasrin Rahimieh, University of California, Irvine
28. Prof. R. K. Ramazani, University of Virginia
29. Jason Rezaian, Iran-based journalist
30. Prof. Ahmad Sadri, Lake Forest College
31. Prof. Mahmoud Sadri, Texas Woman’s University
32. Prof. Muhammad Sahimi, University of Southern California
33. Elaheh Sharifpour-Hicks, Human Rights Expert
34. Sasan Shoamanesh, managing editor of Global Brief, Canada’s leading international affairs magazine
35. Prof. Gary Sick, Columbia University
36. John Tirman, Executive Director, MIT Center for International Studies
37. Wayne White, Middle East Institute, former Deputy Director of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence
RT: Lobbyist in Capital Hill with pockets stuffed with MEK’s money
(aka; Mojahedin Khalq, MKO, Rajavi cult)
... The Alyona Show on RT – Russian English –Language news Channel suggests the US media focus on the “Lobbyist in Capital Hill with pockets stuffed with MEK’s money”, on July 9th. The show criticizes US officials’ hypocrisy and double-standard sell the cause of terrorists. Comparing MEK with Al-Qaida the show poses the question that how a terrorist designated organization can be debated in a hearing held in the US congress ...
The Alyona Show on RT – Russian English –Language news Channel suggests the US media focus on the “Lobbyist in Capital Hill with pockets stuffed with MEK’s money”, on July 9th. The show criticizes US officials’ hypocrisy and double-standard sell the cause of terrorists. Comparing MEK with Al-Qaida the show poses the question that how a terrorist designated organization can be debated in a hearing held in the US congress.