Analysis and background on the People’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran
CHAPTER 11/Hopes dashed
When Mr Massoud Rajavi, Chief of the People’s Mojahedin, became a refugee in France in July 1981, along with former President Bani Sadr, he thought that his stay in Paris would be brief. For him, Teheran’s Islamic regime was close to exhaustion and “the approaching end of the bloody dictatorship” was near, reported the French daily Le Monde. (93)
At the beginning of the 80s, few experts thought that the Islamic Republic of Iran would survive past the century’s close. There were simply too many internal tensions, too many splits and power struggles. Isolated internationally, Iran would have to run into a period of radical change.
The PMOI’s language never varied: the horror reigning in Iran, the regime cornered, Khomeini was finished and the Mojahedin would free the country.
It was essential to keep the movement’s base motivated. To make them believe that it was only a question of time. Next year in Teheran! Yet, nothing happened as it had been ceaselessly repeated that it would.
Worse, as the years passed by, the standing of the Mojahedin fell slowly, but surely. Vincent Huguex looked back in 1994, writing: “Who is threatening the Islamic Republic? Certainly not the armed movement of the People’s Mojahedin, based in Iraq. The danger is within: a slow dilution of the regime’s rhetoric in factional conflict”. (94)
Yet, for its supporters, the PMOI’s struggle would surely succeed, given the Government’s political bankruptcy.
On 24 April 1990, the Iranian secret service assassinated Professor Kazem Rajavi, older brother of Massoud, near the village of Coppet on Lake Léman in Switzerland. He was the representative of the National Resistance Council to the Swiss Confederation.
Nine years before his death he was interviewed by the Geneva daily, La Suisse:
“Two thousand Mojahedin have been executed in Iran. We know that another twelve thousand are rotting in Khomeini ‘s prisons “. Former Ambassador to the U.N. and to Senegal for the Islamic Republic which had overthrown the Shah in January 1979, Mr Kazem Rajavi was now in Geneva. He had left his country for political reasons.
A pair of large eyeglasses framed his regular features, with his sweeping gestures but a truly Oriental self control, speaking in a slightly accented French, Mr Rajavi went on:
“Personally, I am not a Mojahed. I feel very close to my brother Massoud who leads the movement. Together with former President Bani Sadr he is organising the resistance to Khomeini’s regime from Paris.
This is a regime which is failing completely, which does nothing but expand the cemeteries after having turned the country into a gigantic prison.
— Your brother is fighting alongside Bani Sadr. However, the former President was more than compromised in his dealings with the imam...
— Bani Sadr never really had power. He could not even appoint a school teacher. He worked from within to keep Khomeini from going too far, right up until the full scale massacre. He even called for fair trials of the Shah ‘s former dignitaries. But no one listened to Bani Sadr.
— The Iranian Communist Party, the Tudeh, still supports Khomeini.
— First of all, you need to know that the Tudeh Communist Party has very little impact on the Iranian people. I think that this political group is hoping to repair its ‘historical mistake’. It has never completely recovered from not having supported Dr Mossadegh.
— In your view, who holds the real power in Iran?
— Khomeini does. He personally rules in the name of a rather childish Islam. But Khomeini is shrinking as a figure. He loses more and more of his personal power every day. He is an old charlatan... We have reached the apogee of horror in Iran. They are executing pregnant women.
Families who want to reclaim the bodies of the victim must pay a tax for the bullet. For each bullet taken from the corpse of those shot, the relatives must pay the equivalent of 400 Swiss Francs... Khomeini, under these conditions, will not hold on for long “. (95).
Yet, Rajavi and his people underestimated the national consciousness which forged unity around the leaders. The Iraq War was at its height. And that was when the Supreme Leader chose to put himself under Saddam Hussein’s jurisdiction.
The alliance of Massoud Rajavi with former President Bani Sadr had been severely strained as time went by. In July 1981, they
announced the creation of a National Resistance Council (NRC). This was to be a Parliament bringing together all elements of the anti- Khomeini resistance. In fact, very quickly, this organ became a tool only for the People’s Mojahedin. They used purges and took advantage of resignations. They would use it as their ‘political front”.
Yet, the PMOI was incapable of winning the slightest significant victory.
“The movement is no longer that young and the victory over the ‘regime of the mullahs’ still awaits. So what! Their discipline is still iron, but their tongue is tied,” noted the French daily, Liberation’s reporter. (96)
“The hopes for a victory leading to the regime’s fall in the near future have gone away. Most of the leftwing organisations quit the National Resistance Council in 1984. Rajavi reacted to the crisis by a purge of other Council members, by reorganising it and by an ‘ideological revolution’. The result is a structure based on an absolute leader and the bizarre cult of personality around Rajavi and his new wife, Maryam,” wrote Justus Leicht. (97)
Fleeing to Iraq
The PMOI argued that its sudden flight to Baghdad was caused by “complicities” of the French Government with the Teheran regime. Yet this very Government had taken in Rajavi and his people and tolerated the NCR on its territory.
The Foreign Ministry certainly demanded that its guests promise discretion during their exile. This was never respected and several strong warnings were issued.
Resolved to “frustrate the conspiracies of the regime and the pressures” brought to bear, Massoud Rajavi left France on 7 June 1986. He moved to Iraq with about a thousand members.
This is how the People’s Mojahedin Organisation blandly explained, in a press release, that “the residence of Mr Rajavi in Iraq is necessary in order to neutralise, on the one hand, the plots of the Khomeini regime and, on the other hand, to meet the needs of a new phase of the resistance”. (98)
The press release concludes: “The National Resistance Council considers this move as indispensable for the deployment and organisation of the revolution’s armed forces and as a final step before returning to the soil of our Fatherland,” noted Le Monde.
This date, however, only marks the end of a process of rapprochement between Saddam and the PMOI. It had been going on for several years. Moreover, it was this alliance, strongly criticised by Bani Sadr, former Commander in Chief of the Iranian Army, which would be the cause of the explosive split between the former President and the Mojahedin leader.
Three years earlier, Tariq Aziz’s visit had not gone unnoticed:
“The Headquarters in exile of the National Council of Resistance for the Independence and Freedom of the (future?) Democratic and Islamic Republic of Iran, chaired by Massoud Rajavi in a fortress-like house in Auvers-sur-Oise, was the scene, last Sunday, of an unexpected and very important visitor: Iraqi Vice Prime Minister Tariq Aziz. The very fact that the Baghdad’s Number Two Man took the trouble to use an official visit to Paris to visit the Val d’Oise and meet with the Mojahedin leader (in the midst of full scale war between Iraq and Iran) certainly underscores the importance of this Party within the Opposition to Khomeini’s regime,” reported Le Point in January 1983. (99)
What had pushed the People’s Mojahedin into Saddam Hussein’s arms? This is especially interesting since it happened during the most intense period of a terrible war between the Baghdad dictator’s troops and the Iranian Army?
Whatever the case, the welcome organised for Rajavi when he arrived in Iraq looked significantly like the honours given a ruling Chief of State:
‘4t Baghdad airport, Mr Taha Rassin Rainazan, the Prime minister’s principal assistant, represented the Iraqi President. He led a delegation of senior officials, including members of the Command Council of the Revolution to greet the leader,” trumpeted the Mojahedin in their publication. (100)
On 15 June, the Dictator in person welcomed his guest.
“Massoud Rajavi met with Saddam Hussein in June 1986. This was at time when he was fully aware that Iraq was using poison gas on Iranian soldiers and was receiving direct aid from the United States. For the Iranian people, that meeting discredited the Mojahedin, despite their claims that they remained politically independent,” writes Justus Leicht. (101)
Several factors combined to bring about what was seen as clear treason.
Iraq and the PMOI had everything to reach an understanding. Masscud Rajavi, above all, needed a base on the Iranian border. It was difficult to carry out military action from Paris, London or Washington. To win over supporters and recruit fighters, he had to win victories on the ground. He hoped, no doubt, that an Iraqi victory would be the death knell for the ayatollahs’ regime and lead to his own taking power in Tehran.
From Saddam’s side, he needed to finish the war against Iran. It was not going according to his initial plans. He knew that he could not win on the battlefield and that the conflict could cost him his throne. the war had put the spotlight on certain Generals who were very popular with the Iraqi troops. These were actors who could eclipse the Rais. When peace was concluded in 1988, he quickly had them executed as potential rivals.
There was also a clear convergence of sensibilities between the two men. They were each Moslem, even if Saddam was a Sunni and Rajavi was a Shi’ia. They were, above all, united in their hatred of International capitalism.
They both demanded total loyalty from their subordinates and had a preference for personality cults.
“The inevitable portraits of Massoud Rajavi as leader—looking like a Younger, chubbier, more jovial Saddam Hussein — and of Maryam Rajavi, the Madonna-Matron of the movement are on the wall. They are everywhere in person, but invisible ‘for security reasons’,” reported Liberation’s journalist, after he visited the Al-Ashraf Camp in May 2003. (102)
Each of the partners surely hoped to use the other in the pursuit of his own interests.
Finally, in Iraq, the Baath Party, which held the reins of power between the Tigris and the Euphrates, was clearly part of the proletarian Left movement:
‘The Baath Party has defined the general rules governing the construction of socialism as follows:
The need to adopt socialist planning and to name to responsible positions cadres with a high political consciousness and are convinced of the ways and means.
Avoid the danger of deviating toward State Capitalism. Consolidate socialist democracy. Resist the danger of bureaucracy. Put the accent on popular control.
Place the most important sectors of production, the national wealth, foreign and domestic commerce under the people’s control.
The socialist transformation of the countryside is accomplished by the creation of collective farms, the objective and framework for applying socialism in rural areas.
Consider nationalization as the first revolutionary step toward socialism.” (103)
This political promise was written by Saddam Hussein when he was Vice Chairman of the Command Council of the Revolution and, most importantly, Chairman of the Planning Council. It was published in 1978: the tenth anniversary of the Iraqi Revolution.
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