Ali Ansari, head of the Center for Iranian Studies at Durham University in the United Kingdom, told RFE/RL: "Mojahedin used
Ali Ansari, head of the Center for Iranian Studies at Durham University in the United Kingdom, told RFE/RL: "Mojahedin used to get a lot of money from Saddam Hussein. They were based north of Baghdad, and they used to do a lot of the dirty work of the Saddam Hussein regime. They were essentially Iranian mercenaries. They did very little agitating in Iran, and frankly they didn't have the credibility to do it."
Ansari says the movement has evolved into a leadership cult centered around Masud Rajavi and his wife, Maryam. There are reports that members are not allowed to marry -- as well as some older claims that married members were forced to divorce.
"Masud Rajavi takes the role of leader, in an imitation of the leader in
Iran, and then his wife has been sort of 'elected' -- in very thick
inverted commas -- as president," Ansari said. "So they have this dual
structure of husband and wife team, and frankly it's caused quite a bit of discomfort from those Iranian families who find that their young idealistic types have headed off to Iraq to be part of the armed wing of the mujahedin."
Rajavi joined the group early on while he was still a law student at the
University of Tehran. He appears to have taken control of the group while in prison in the 1970s.
RFE/RL tried to contact the National Council of Resistance officials in
France and Britain, but they were unavailable for comment. In previous
interviews, however, they have denied that members of the Mujahedin Khalq are terrorists. And they dismiss other criticism as propaganda put out by their opponents or agents for the Iranian government.
Certainly, the group's talk of women's rights and the need for greater
democracy has earned it support among politicians in Europe and America. Some see it as the best alternative to Iran's current regime. But that support can hardly be described as unwavering.
A few years ago, 30 U.S. senators asked the administration to reconsider its designation of the Mujahedin Khalq as a terrorist group. Some of them later backtracked on that request.
In 1997, London representatives of the National Council of Resistance
associated with top government officials -- but one month later, Maryam Rajavi was banned from the United Kingdom.
Ansari said the current cease-fire is only a temporary measure and is
unlikely to lead to broader backing for the group. "The Americans have made it very clear and the [British] Foreign Office has been quite adamant on this -- and also expressed quite a lot of concern at the initial reports --
This is purely a temporary measure to restore order before they
proceed with the disarming of various groups, not just the Mujahedin Khalq but various militias in Iraq, and then they will sort problems out from there. I think there will be very strong agitation in America both ways, but I think those who have concrete interests in Iran will realize that to back the Mujahedin Khalq in any sort of anti-Iran policy would be a cataclysmic mistake," he said.
Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East analyst with the Congressional Research Service in Washington, said he would be very surprised if Iraq's future government allows Mujahedin Khalq fighters to stay on Iraqi territory, since it's likely to be much more friendly toward Tehran than was Saddam Hussein's regime.
"I would certainly envision some sort of arrangement between Iran and this new Iraqi government to have the NLA expelled from Iraq," Katzman said. "I very much doubt that this cease-fire is going to reflect a permanent situation where the NLA is going to continue to base itself on Iraqi territory and especially if the Shi'ite Islamic parties are dominant in a new Iraqi government, like [SCIRI leader Ayatollah] Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim. He's very close to the Iranian leadership, and it's not a stretch of the imagination to say that he would try to move very quickly to get the People's Mujahedin army out of Iraq."
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