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analysis and background on the people’s Mojahedin Organization of Iran
CHAPTER 17 /The Failure of “Eternal Light” The most ringing defeat suffered by the PMOI was suffered during “Operation Eternal Light”. However, keeping to their propaganda techniques, the Mojahedin have changed it - through the magic of their triumphant press releases -from an objective and obvious loss to an “historic victory”: “On Monday 25 July 1988, the National Liberation Army of Iran launched its greatest offensive under the code name “Eternal Light “. The attack carried the Liberation Army 170 kilometres inside Iran, to the gates of Kermanshah, the largest city in Western Iran. In four days of intense combat, the Liberation Army took on 200,000 members of Khomeini’s forces and all of the regime‘s material reserves and war materiel. The National Liberation Army of Iran liberated the towns of Kerend and Islamabad, destroying enemy bases and fortifications. After having inflicted 55, 000 casualties on the regime including a large number of Corps Commanders of the Revolutionary Guards — the soldiers of the Liberation Army returned their bases along the Iranian frontier. The rapid advance of the National Liberation Army deep into Iranian territory and the resulting battles profoundly shook the regime. Three years later, the mullahs are still talking about its profound impact on society”. (149) In fact, poorly prepared, botched in its execution by militants without real military experience or serious training, the attack died out quickly. Contrary to the self congratulation of the PMOI leaders, the Iranian people never greeted the Mojahedin as liberators and soldiers under Teheran’s orders had little difficulty in pushing them back over the Iraqi border. This is confirmed by the French newsweekly Marianne: “Following the normalisation of relations between Paris and Teheran, the accursed couple, declared persona non grata on French territory, moved to Iraq in June 1986. They were with Iran’s worst enemy, Saddam Hussein. Three years before, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq War, Tariq Aziz, then Vice Prime Minister to Baghdad’s dictator was discreetly invited to Auvers-sur-Oise. The two men raised the issue of their future cooperation. Now it has been concluded. In a few months, Massoud organised his movement militarily, to the point of creating a small army of 15,000 lost soldiers. ‘Advanced bases’ like Camp Al-Ashraf on the Iranian border have been granted by his new allies. They have heavy armaments, armored vehicles and missiles. In exchange for this they collaborate closely with the Iraqi Army’s intelligence services and take part, as well, in the dirty work of the Baathist regime. After the ceasefire between Iran and Iraq in June 1988, Rajavi launched Operation Eternal Light against the Iranian armies, worn out by 8 years of terrible combat. The fiasco is enormous! After having gone 50 kilometers into Iranian territory, the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLAI) was stopped in its advance and cut to pieces. The balance sheet: more than 1500 dead in the Mojahedin forces. This route did not, however, dampen their desire for revenge on the ‘hypocrites’. (150) Washington drew its own conclusions: “The military background of the Mojahedin is limited. The group mounted its most significant incursion in June-July 1988. They participated in an advance coordinated inside Iran with Iraqi forces. During the same offensive, Iraqi units on other fronts used chemical weapons against Iran. The National Liberation Army briefly held the Iranian border towns of Mehran, Karand and I slamabad-e-Gharb. The Mojahedin claimed that they had killed 40,000 Iranians, but other military observers simply confirmed that the Liberation Army had to retreat as soon as Iranian reinforcements arrived”. (151) At this time, the PMOI had seemed to have reached its optimal military strength. But it threw it away by its lack of clarity, failures in planning and in errors that withered the ranks of its supporters. Once again, and forever since, these missed chances have marked the Rajavis’ historical saga. Liberation concluded: “The couple built a system of military camps housing an Army of about 10,000 troops, equipped with heavy armaments, well disciplined and ready for self sacrifice. This was done with financial aid from Saddam and the ‘voluntary’ contributions of thousands of supporters spread throughout the world. Women are half the force and hold most of the positions of command. When the Iraq-Iran War ended, the National Liberation Army of Iran unleashed its own attack. The ‘Eternal Light’ offensive would be a disaster...” (152) Who Is Correct? Certain members of the Mojahedin who participated in this deadly enterprise bear witness, each in their own way: Ali Akbar Rastgou, now living in Germany was an early recruit who worked in the movement’s structure. He was a specialist on activities inside Iran: “I first heard of the PMOI in 1974 when I was a student at Teheran University. I heard of it again in 1976, when I was studying in Germany. There was, at that time, a big confederation of Iranian students abroad. It brought Islamists and Communists under the same umbrella. Until the revolution, the Mojahedin had no real influence. But their support for Khomeini won them a lot of support. We joined up... From then on, I was in charge of liaison with groups on the Left to support the Palestinians and the Nicaraguans. One of the big final attacks had been planned for 1988. Everyone was sent to Iraq. I wanted to liberate my country more than fighting for the Mojahedin. In 1986-87, I ran into the Pasdaran, the Revolutionary Guardians, who captured us. They were peasants, poor people who knew that the country was in peril and that they had to defend it. They were quite correct since we were the ones attacking it. Our tactic was to kill without any discrimination. All you had to do was wear a beard and you were a target for us. Whom was I going to kill? These same poor people... Who was in the right? This a big question I have asked myself and so have many others. We had no right to speak. They told me: ‘You are not yet ‘cleansed’. You do not have Massoud and Maryam in your head”. The offensive did indeed take place and it was a disaster for us. There were many deaths in our ranks. What can you do against airplanes? Some of the young fighters had not been in Iraq for more than a week. Two days before the attack, they gave them a machine gun, even if they had never before seen a weapon. No experience at all. They were confronting Pasdarans who had been tempered in a real war. Our people didn’t have a chance... Given the losses, the leaders needed some of us to go abroad. Since I had experience in Germany, they sent me there. And then I burned my bridges to them. Of course, I am regularly cited as a counter-revolutionary...” (153) Another former member of the PMOI who opted for freedom speaks in the same way: “Haqqe Mani joined the People’s Mojahedin 22 years ago... He criticises Rajavi for having tolerated an unacceptable casualty rate among the Mojahedin in order ‘to attain very limited objectives which, in no way, justified the number of lost lives’. Rajavi, according to this dissident, explained his line as follows: The liquidation of a single supporter of the regime is worth the lives of eight of you. It is a useful sacrifice and good publicity for our movement’. (154) By Moscow and By Baghdad Throughout its presence in Iraq, the PMOI continually denied receiving arms from Saddam Hussein. However, once again, facts are there to show that only the now fallen Raiis could have given his “friends” the materiel and logistical support for their struggle. The American Government is categorical: “Many of the weapons they received were purchased in the Soviet Union. In 1993, a journalist reporting from a Mojahedin base in Iraq saw ‘about’ 35 aging tanks, armoured personnel carriers, Chinese automatic rifles, and Russian multiple rocket launchers”. In May 1988, the New York Times described the Mojahedin forces as “basically a light infantry unit, with Soviet armoured personnel carriers and artillery”. The Mojahedin Army follows Soviet-style tactics. This is a protocol that puts it on the same footing as the Iraqi Army. During the Summer of 1988, while the attack inside Iran was going on, the Iraqis gave the Mojahedin major war booty, including small caliber weapons, motorized artillery, tanks and other arms taken from the Iranian forces. Another reporter who visited the Mojahedin in August 1994 noted that “the arms deployed were... mainly of Russian origin”. He indicated that it was possible that they came from the Iraqi stockpile. That was at the time that the National Liberation Army of Iran claimed that its materiel had all been captured in Iran. However, their limited military means would not have been adequate to such a large seizure. (155) On this subject, a documentary on the France 2 television network is very clear on the origins of the war materiel used by the Mojahedin. In Glowing Coals, a film by Michel Honorin, the camera fully recorded the PMOI bases on the Iranian border. In camouflage uniform, the fighters were training for the final, general offensive, one that never came. They were rolling under barbed wire mesh. “The spikes,” added the narrator, “are a bit masochistic... Men and women, with weapons slung on their backs, parade by, drive tanks and fire cannon...”. (156) The helmets worn are standard Iraqi Army issue. The rest of the materiel shown on the screen is Soviet-made. While the United States provided the Shah with his arms, Moscow sold much of its military production to its ally, Saddam Hussein. The sausage like helmets of the tank crews, the AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, Dashaka machine guns, RPG-7 rocket launchers, the pickup trucks mounted with double-barreled antiaircraft cannon, the BTR troop carriers, Katyusha truck-mounted multiple rocket launchers, the T-72 assault tanks, the MI combat helicopters all came from the USSR. But they certainly came over the Iraqi border. It is hard to imagine that Saddam Hussein would tolerate a parallel arms market in his own country. These are the same kinds of weapons found all over Afghanistan where the resistance used them after taking them from their enemy: the Soviets. Repressing the Kurds Another chapter in their history is no less than a permanent stain on the reputation of Massoud Rajavi’s People’s Mojahedin. They lost respectability from this. Having participated actively in the repression of the Iraqi Kurds, the PMOI can hardly win the confidence of Iran’s Kurds whom that often cite as supporters. The propaganda machine worked overtime to silence assertions dealing with this black page in the PMOI’s record: ‘Defamatory and absurd statements according to which the Mojahedin participated in the Iraqi Kurdistan liquidations ‘have been repeated for 10 years and thousands of times by the Mullahs’ intelligence services. That is why these assertions have no credibility. Moreover in his official letter to the Dutch judicial authorities of July 1999 the international relations official of the Democratic Party of Iraqi Kurdistan underlined that his political group had investigated ‘rumors concerning Mojahedin units aiding Iraqi troops’. These enquiries concluded that ‘no basis in proof and no document permit any confirmation that the Mojahedin had taken part in any hostility against Iraq’s Kurdish population”. (157) Please note that the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, under Massoud Barzani was Saddam Hussein’s ally. Strangely enough, it is this group that provides the defense for the Mojahedin, despite the established facts. Haqqe Mani, a PMOI dissident, knows the reality: “It was at this time that we began our direct military collaboration with the Iraqi Army and the Mojahedin were turned into support troops helping the in the suppression of popular uprisings against Baghdad. This was to prevent the Kurds from driving all the way to the plains around the capital”. (158) The other leader of Iraqi Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, Chief of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has, for his part, clearly denounced the participation of the PMOI. He declared to reporters that “5,000 members of the Iranian Mojahedin joined forces with Saddam in the battle of Kirkuk”. (159) But, even more clearly, those who took part in the massacres, the soldiers under Massoud Rajavi’s orders have spoken out. They have shared eyewitness accounts: “Mohamed Reza Eskandari, a dissident Mojahedin, now living in Holland as a political refugee was an eyewitness to the movement’s participation in this repression.. .Stationed ill the Sulayman Beg region (near the ‘border’ with Iraqi Kurdistan) where the massacre of civilians took place, he states”: ‘There was an old closed-down rail station which was our base. From this point, we attacked the Kurds, encircling them on three sides. There were eighteen dead Kurds. We buried them right there in a common ditch’. Eskandari also talks about the Mojahedin’s summary executions of unarmed Iraqi deserters and the interrogation of soldiers who had left the front in several Iraqi towns. Eskandari also insists that the People’s Mojahedin handed over to the Iraqi Army and Secret Services all those whose identity papers showed that they were Kurds. The organization had many defectors following these operations: more than 800 fighters became dissidents. This policy was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the apogee of the errors committed since the movement moved to Iraq”. (160) This led Liberation conclude that: “In Iran, the Mojahedin have only the capability to carry out terrorist attacks from time to time. In Iraq, they participate in Sad- dam’s repression, notably against the Kurds. Maryam had to leave her exile in Auvers in 1993 to join Massoud. The fall of the Iraqi dictator made her return to France, with twenty senior officials. Paris agreed to this. Massoud himself has disappeared”. (161) Why be shocked, then, when Yann Richard, researcher at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI), considered a major specialist on Islam and author of Shi’ism and Islam, states that: “This group could probably be compared to the IRA or the PKK in its methods. These are rabid people who, should they actually come to power, would be worse than the present regime. They are bloody and violent madmen”? (162) ---------------------------------------------------------------- 149.- “Operation Eternal Light” — Press Relese on www.iran-eazad.org — 30 July 2002 150.- “Iran, les moudjahidin du peuple fous de Dieu et de Marx” — by Christian Hoche avec Safa Haeri — Marianne, 30 June to 6 July 2003 151.- US State Department, op. cit. 152.- “Un mouvernent fragilisé par Ia chute de Saddam Hossein” — by Jean-Pierre Perrin — Liberation, 18 June 2003 153.- “Au Akbar Rastgou: “Les Etats jouent du MKO pour faire pression sur l’lran” — Interview by Antoine Gessler, Le Nouvelliste, 14 April 1999 154.- IsmaII Zayer, op. cit. 155.- US State Department, op. cit. 156.- Brasiers, by Michel 1-lonorin — France 2 TV, 1994. 157.- M. Hossein Abedini, letter to Le Nouvelliste, 28 feburary 2002 158.- Rapporté by Haqqeh Mani, ancien militant dii MKO interrogé by Imail Zayer, Courrier international, 21-27 october 1999 159.- State Department, op. cit. 160.- Courrier international, 2 1-27 october 1999 161.- Jean-Pierre Perrin, op. cit. 162.- “Les mercenaires de Saddarn Hussein” — by Patrick Klein and Michaëlle Gagnet, <> — ARTE, Franco-German TV, 28 January 2003

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