When the Mojahedin members were released from prison in 1979, they were plunged into a very different scene to that in which they had taken up their struggle. They emerged in the midst of a popular uprising and quickly set about establishing their influence and credentials. Part of this effort was also directed at the outside world. The Mojahedin were aware that they needed to influence world opinion about their cause. This was something they had learned through the campaign, which Kazem Rajavi had organised from Switzerland in 1972 to prevent the execution of the Mojahedin's leaders and his brother. But at the same time, the Mojahedin lacked any political experience. Because of this, they had the naivety to believe that whatever notice the world took of them, was as a result of their own efforts and not, as was the case, because the world had vital strategic and economic interests to protect in that region and needed to know who might be a help or a hindrance in this protection.
Massoud Rajavi's brothers lived in Europe. His brother Saleh Rajavi, was a doctor in Paris. Using his influence, the Mojahedin began sending leading member Abbas Darvari on frequent trips to Paris to make political contacts and explain their position in order to gain support for their struggle against Khomeini. These contacts eventually stood them in good stead when the Mojahedin lost the power struggle after the 30th Khordad demonstration. Relations were sufficient at that point, to allow Rajavi to take refuge there in June 1981. Although Darvari and Saleh Rajavi had made the initial contact to secure French support, Rajavi actually went to Paris at their request. Because they had been in prison for years and had no political experience of any kind, when the Mojahedin were given the green light by France to go there, they thought this was something they had achieved themselves.
The West in general was interested in the Mojahedin because they had armed power and a significant degree of popular support, and this was clearly regarded as the optimal way to confront the might that Khomeini's regime wielded. It was thought that after the Khomeini regime had been toppled, Bani Sadr would become more moderate and could be used to keep Rajavi in check. This strategy soon failed because Rajavi followed his own agenda and his alignment with Saddam Hussein, in effect, forced Bani Sadr to leave the new political coalition, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
In Iran, Khomeini's regime was quickly gaining the kind of notoriety granted to only a handful of dictators throughout history. The killings, which started in earnest after 30th Khordad saw no sign of abating, even after two or three years had passed. The repression was bloody and absolute. The Mojahedin played an important role in exposing the atrocities, publishing photographs of public hangings and accounts of torture, extra-judicial killings and widespread executions. They brought to the world's attention the execution of pregnant women, of children, descriptions of horrific tortures, draining blood from prisoners before execution for use at the war front, and the forced deployment of boys as young as twelve in the war. The savage behaviour of the regime's suppressive agents, made despairing reading. Was it possible for human beings to behave like this in the last quarter of the 20th Century? Fresh boundaries were being set for horror.
In this atmosphere, the Mojahedin found it easy to get support for their cause. Again, in their naivety, they assumed that they had done this. In reality, anyone who was anyone in politics used the Mojahedin to prove their anti-Khomeini credentials. Rajavi's black and white thinking made this easy. Mojahedin members, who indefatigably lobbied every political channel they could find, offered a simple position; if you backed the Mojahedin you were automatically against Khomeini, but you were not against Islam. No other group had such a strongly defined position. No other group ran such a good publicity machine. Governments, opposition parties, unions and NGOs backed them, and not only in words, funding was granted to the Mojahedin on practically any pretext; anything to show opposition to Khomeini.
France itself gave the Mojahedin a base in Auvers sur Oise, a suburb of Paris, with twenty-four hour armed police guard. The expenses at the base were met by the French government, including over 200 dedicated telephone lines to make contact with the organisation’s forces inside Iran. Other governments were as generous, West Germany discreetly allowing the purchase and export of a radio transmitter.
For the press and media however, it was a different matter. From the beginning of his residence in Paris, Rajavi, although he courted publicity for the Mojahedin and their cause (that of overthrowing the regime), personally shunned meetings and interviews with journalists. He was afraid of their questions. The difference between his public persona in Iran as spokesperson of the Mojahedin and his retiring persona in Paris was remarkable. As time elapsed and the regime became more and more entrenched in its bloodthirsty work, it appeared that the Mojahedin were making no headway in altering the situation, having, apart from the assassinations of some significant leading members of the regime, only lists of martyrs to show. The press began to probe more deeply into Rajavi's strategies and intentions.
When political people did question what the Mojahedin actually stood for, they were mostly interested in their anti-imperialist stance and how this would impact on Iran if they toppled the regime. Little was known about the internal structure of the organisation. Little attention, therefore, was being paid to Rajavi's internal power struggle. The Mojahedin were still optimistically regarded as an armed, revolutionary and council-led organisation, which was part of a broad coalition, the NCRI. In this respect, the West saw nothing to fear from them.
Later on, after the failure of the Forouq-e Javidan operation in 1988 and when the Mojahedin had since crushed any other viable opposition force, the West began to withdraw its support. This was exacerbated in 1991, when Rajavi chose to stay in Iraq with Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War. It was a clear choice of ally, which made it impossible for the West to continue their overt support. However, the West retained its interest in the Mojahedin as a bargaining chip to be used against Iran. Much in the same way that Saddam Hussein uses them still.
During the past fifteen years of their stay in Iraq, Saddam Hussein has supported them when he has not been under pressure and then, in a reversal of approach, stopped them using the border to attack Iran in order to gain Iranian support for lifting international pressure on Iraq. Meanwhile they have been very useful for him in intelligence gathering against Iran as well as undertaking some activities in Europe and the USA which Iraq could not do under her own name. The Mojahedin have always provided intelligence to the West about Iran, which was mostly re-worked information from the Iranian media. However, because of their close relationship with Saddam Hussein, the Mojahedin have never divulged one iota of intelligence to the West concerning Iraq.
Exiled from Iran, Rajavi was offered a great deal of help from the international community. France gave him refuge and funding. For years the Mojahedin were funded by Western governments and through countries like Saudi Arabia, which used the Muslim Iranian Students' Society in the USA or charities like Iran Aid in Europe, to send their transactions from disguised bank accounts.
In the beginning, the Mojahedin claimed anti-imperialist credentials. However, in the end it was Khomeini who remained faithful to a purely anti-imperialist stance, while Rajavi opportunistically allied himself to all and sundry for his ambitions. The NCRI was a good idea at the time and some important people were involved, such as Bani Sadr, Ghasemlou and Hedayat Matine Daftary along with a few others who separated early on. It could have been a way forward, but for Rajavi, the others were never radical enough, and for the others, Rajavi was too independent and willing to follow his own agenda. Bani Sadr left over the issue of going to Iraq. He refused to go to the country which was attacking Iran and be seen to be siding with Iran's enemy. In many respects this was a correct position, most importantly because of public opinion inside Iran which did not tolerate the action and still refuses to accept it. And also, it placed the main focus of the resistance movement irrevocably outside Iran's borders rather than where it should have been, which is inside the country.
Relations with the Iranian opposition
The phase which led up to the Ideological Revolution in 1985 was called the 'anti-liberalism revolution'. This meant that the organisation worked hard to retain its revolutionary identity. This was to the extent of not even modernising its stationery, except for that of Rajavi of course. The message was ‘total opposition to the Khomeini regime’. Any compromise was denounced as a betrayal of the people’s struggle. This paved the way for the Mojahedin to destroy any liberal opposition to the regime. Ninety percent of the Mojahedin's time and effort was now spent in finishing off well-known personalities outside Iran. The way this worked was that they either accepted Rajavi's conditions and joined the NCRI, or they were targeted politically by propaganda, by slander and libel. Some were physically targeted and had their meetings disrupted with violent attacks by Mojahedin supporters. This treatment of other Iranian opposition groups and personalities continues to this day, and is the only reason they are able to make the claim as the sole alternative to the regime.
The list of those groups and personalities subjected to Mojahedin propaganda excludes nobody, except the few who had accepted his leadership (and only while they accepted it). Over seventy personalities have been labelled as working for the Iranian Intelligence Ministry because of their outspoken criticism of the Mojahedin, as over 350 of their ex-members have likewise been labelled. Although for a time this had some effect on Iranians outside Iran, as the Mojahedin have become an anachronism in the politics of Iran, these attacks no longer carry any weight. Their carping cannot be taken seriously now. Indeed, their claim accounts for about one recruitment by the Intelligence Ministry of Iran every twenty days over the last twenty years!