Analysis and background on the people’s Mojahedin organization
CHAPTER 5/From rebellion to war
From the outset, the PMOI bet on the newly elected President, Bani Sadr. A certain convergence of points of view brought them together, one that went beyond their shared differences with the religious leaders. Edouard Sablier defines it as an ideology:
"The new President believes in a sort of theological Marxism. He used his stay in Paris to reinterpret the economic teachings of the Koran as part of a social doctrine. He hopes for an egalitarian, practicing the "Tawid", or the community...
In brief, his programme was a mixture of Utopian socialism and Titoism. He took his distance from Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy and therefore he was rejected by the Communists of the Tudeh Party.
Soon, however, he would get the support of the Islamic Left organisations like the Mojahedin and the Fedayeen." (30)
The considerations that pushed the PMOI from its sectarian Leftism toward Bani Sadr are clearly evident in the movement's set of demands.
"The common platform between the two organisations was soon made public. They planned the nationalisation of industry and commerce, the expropriation of the multinationals, the expulsion of foreign experts, the creation of a citizens' army, local autonomy for the different ethnic groups, and land for the peasants and revolu¬tionary justice," wrote Edouard Sabatier. (31)
But everything was not for the best in the best of all possible worlds. The French press reported:
'It is impossible to work in a country in which so-called students form a State within the State," stated an impatient Abdolasam Bani Sadr soon after his election as President of the Islamic republic. (32)
A new event was about to explode like a clap of thunder in the international community. This was to be an event of immense im¬portance since, if it marks the Eighties, its influence reaches down to the beginning of the 21st Century.
On 22 September 1980, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein sent his troops to attack the Islamic Republic.
On 17 September, the tyrant had denounced the Algiers Ac¬cords signed by Baghdad and Teheran on 6 March 1976 for the division of the Shatt-AI-Arab. More than historic and territorial issues, Iraq considered that Iran was weak from internal disorder.
Secular in inspiration, the Baath Party (Resurrection), control¬led as it was by Saddam's Sunnis, feared extremism among the local Shi'ites who account for 62 per cent of the population. In the South, Ali's followers were kept from any decision-making insti¬tutions and kept in intentional misery. Despite this discrimination, these very same Shi'ites -systematically persecuted—would never betray their own country throughout the war against their Iranian coreligionists.
During the first days of fighting, Iraqi soldiers penetrated about 10 kilometres inside their neighbour's territory. Quickly, however, they were surprised by the resistance they ran into. Iran had mobi¬lised and gone to war, forgetting all its internal fights to move, with nationalist fervour, to counterattack the enemy.
After a series of battles, the Iranian "Thamen el Aemenmeh" (The Eighth Iman) counteroffensive retook Abadan and forced the invaders to retreat. Carrying the battle inside Iraq, Teheran's troops in waves of massive assaults - operations like "Kerbala" or the different phases of the one code named "Val Fajr" (Dawn) -kept breaking against the Arab lines without achieving a clear victory. It was necessary to persist until 1988 before Iran accepted a ceasefire Baghdad had been desperately seeking a way to stop the conflict it had started. A few weeks after his failed attack, Saddam Hussein did his best to get out of the trap he had fallen into. Hundreds of thousands of killed, even more seriously wounded and handicapped, economies in shatters: all factors that would continue to weigh on the development of the two belligerents.
The blood bath
In Iran, on the sidelines of this terrifying struggle, the situation was imploding. Another war was developing, inside the country.
Terrorist actions had now led to outright murders. The PMOI had, on its side, a strict, well-trained organization, at ease in' clan¬destine struggle. It pushed the State toward stronger repression, leading the authorities down the road of the totalitarian approach that all violent struggles set off.
On 11 June 1981, the Majlis, Iran's Parliament, controlled by a large majority of the Party of the Islamic Republic, started a proce¬dure to force Bani Sadr out of the Presidency.
The People's Mojahedin considered this the right time for open defiance of the regime. On 17 June, less than a week later, it set off on a new course, issuing their first military press release.
Four days later, a bomb exploded in the PIR's Headquarters, killing Ayatollah Beheshti and the party's leadership. The act, however, was not claimed overtly by the PMOI.
On 30 August, the new President, Ali Radjai and his Prime Minister, Bahonnar, lost their lives in another bombing which the PMOI again refused to "sign". Public opinion, however, saw the People's Mojahedin as the authors of both explosions.
Siavosh Ghazi insists :
At the time, after this show of force and determination, there ^ere many who thought that Rajavi's men would become the country's new masters. Did they miss their chance? In any case, hey would soon be in no position to be serious contenders for power". (33)
Surely the regime had fallen into a very obvious trap. The inex-Perienced Government, reacted hysterically. It met violence with violence in every possible direction. The repression it set off would be ferocious. Thousands if the organisation's sympathizers were arrested, tortured and put to death. The insurrectionary movement was drowned in blood. The complexity of the situation, combined with the tensions which, for weeks had had been tearing the social fabric apart, led to an explosive mix.
The departure and the loss
Yet, before the final break, the People's Mojahedin tried very hard to create a link to the High Command, hoping that the Army would tilt toward an alliance for a coup d'etat.
The soldiers who did their duty on the Iraq front still remem¬bered, that the PMOI had targeted their officers under the Shah.
They therefore heard these suggestions torn between their for¬mer loyalty to the Shah, their feeling of national responsibility and distrust for the Mojahedin.
In the end, the soldiers would not move. Siavosh Ghazi notes:
"By betting on the Army's intervention, the Mojahedin commit¬ted an enormous political mistake. In their view, the trial of strength with the authorities could not be settled without a general, violent confrontation. In this approach, they had provoked combat with the Revolutionary Guards. Suddenly, most of the Iranian people who had been leaning their way, showed its rejection of armed struggle and took on the role of simple observers. And the Army had not moved to join with the PMOI. (34)
A final appeal to the crowd to take to the streets met with no res¬ponse. The wheel had turned and only the religious leadership was still standing.
Finally, removed from office by his political foes on 21 June, ex-President Bani Sadr went underground. On 29 July 1981, he arrived in France accompanied by Massoud Rajavi. The weekly Le Point was there:
"Last Tuesday at dawn (04:30) an Iranian air force supply plane which had left from a Teheran base for what was claimed to be a 'routine flight', landed at Evreux, the military airbase clearly dedicated to celebrity exiles. Bani Sadr was luckier than Bokassa. Dressed in a sport shirt, he had come back to Normandy. For others on board, it was discovery: Colonel Behzad Moezi, without doubt the plane's pilot, a fjiends of the former Chief of State and Massoud Rajavi, Chief of the People's Mojahedin: the organisation which, between Marx and Mohammed, opposes and opposed the Revolutionary Guards". (35)
A refugee in France, Bani Sadr would end by breaking with the Moiahedin Chief. The unity of the "resistance" abroad did not sur¬vive the differences of opinions and unilateral exclusions practised bv its leading members. The former President could not accept Massoud Rajavi's relations with the Iraqi enemy. The war, after all was still going on and the Rajavi-Tariq Aziz (Iraq's Vice Prime Minister) meeting convinced Bani Sadr to break. This was a loss that of course, the PMOI would try to turn to its own advantage, claiming that they had purged Bani Sadr. For the PMOI, any means are useful to reach their goals.
The weekly Nouvel Observateur had foreseen this exclusion of the former President:
"Only a month ago, at the time of his firing, Bani Sadr swore that he would never leave Iran. If he decided to do so, it was to follow the example of Khomeini in the time of the Shah. Their aim is to organize the resistance outside the country while, inside the country, the clandestine organizations, notably the People's Moja¬hedin carry on the guerrilla struggle.
This is a risky bet. Experience has shown that Iranian leaders who have left the country - whether it was the Shah or Bakhtiar -were quickly forgotten. But did Bani Sadr have any choice?
Recently, thousands of the regime's opponents have been arrested and the cord - was tightening around him. If he had been taken there would have been a trial and, in all probability, an execution. Of course he could have stayed in Iran and died a martyr. But the former President has never been a guerrilla fighter. For the underground groups which were protecting him, he had become more a burden than an asset. Realists, the Mojahedin and he decided to share out responsibilities among themselves, creating last 18 July a National Resistance Council directed from outside by Bani Sadr and inside by the ^01 Chief, Massoud Rajavi". (36)
For the People's Mojahedin, a new phase would again occur when, in 1986, Massoud Rajavi and his leadership left France and Titled in Iraq. Siavosh Ghazi concludes:
"The Mojahedin would never again find their popular support. Despite some attempts to build alliances with other progressive movements in the country, especially in the early years of exile they would sink into an incurable isolation. Then they would opt for the unnatural alliance with Iraq. In setting up their HQ in Bagh¬dad... they would lose, step by step, all their credibility. Marginalized, those who believed they could change the course of Iran's history would become a mere support force for the Iraqi Army, on probation from Saddam Hussein ». (37)
30.- Sablier, op. cit.
32.- Les etudiants guident le Guide - by Alain Louyot - Le Point, 17 march 1980
33.- Siavosh Ghazi, op. cit.
34.- Siavosh Ghazi, op.cit.
35.- "Cachan-Teheran: aller-retour" - by Eugene Mannoni - Le Point, August 1981
36.- "Le "vol numero deux" de Bani Sadr"- by Kenize Mourad -Le Nouvel Observateur, 1e August 1981.
37.- Siavosh Ghazi, op. cit.
Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli called for tougher measures against the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO, also known as the MEK, PMOI and NCRI) terrorist group by the European Union...