Operation Forouq-e Javidan
The West was on the whole, extremely supportive of the Mojahedin's struggle. But this all went wrong in 1988. This was the defeat, which was never admitted to and Rajavi tried to carry on afterwards as though nothing had happened. But although he could use his propaganda machine to convince his own supporters who had no access to the media in the Iraqi camps, the Western political scene was a different matter. They quickly assessed the failure of Forouq in their own plans, and the failure of Saddam Hussein to prevail in the war and defeat Khomeini.
Of course, Saddam knew that better than anyone else. Very soon after he accepted the cease-fire and soon after giving up his ambition to defeat the Persians, he settled for less, that is the invasion of Kuwait. Accepting the cease-fire with Iran prompted those countries which had given him money and arms, to reclaim the debt. It was deeply humiliating for Saddam, who regarded himself as leader of all the Arabs fighting the Persians and Israel, to have a small insignificant country like Kuwait ask for its money back!
In line with the strategy of destabilising the Iranian regime, in June 1988, the NLA undertook a military operation, Chelcheraq or 'Forty Stars', which, with the backing of Iraqi forces, penetrated deeper than ever into Iranian territory. Rajavi was determined to use the NLA to push a path for himself and Maryam into Tehran. In this operation, they reached Mehran, a small sized town in the direction of Hammedan. The Mojahedin managed to capture Mehran with the help of some of the townsfolk, who, with typical pragmatism, welcomed the invading force. The Mojahedin held Mehran for a few days, before retreating with a handful of new members who had decided to join them. So much for their popular support, only around fifteen young people joined them despite their clear success in this operation. After all, they were going back to Iraq in wartime.
The Mojahedin have only ever undertaken military operations into Iran with full liaison with the Iraqi military, commanded by Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi military provided training and logistical support, and maps from reconnaissance flights over the proposed route. The Iraqis agreed to bomb Iranian positions twenty-four hours before the start of any Mojahedin operation in order to put the Iranian forces on the defensive and to create disarray. Only with all this support would the Mojahedin start their offensive. In the case of Chelcheraq, the Mojahedin agreed with the Iraqis that they would advance and the Iraqis would follow on behind to capture any spoils of war, such as artillery. Instead, however, the Iraqis built trenches and dug-in on the captured territory, making military gains on the back of the Mojahedin's idealism.
But then without warning, in July 1988, the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq came to an end when Saddam Hussein gave up on his strategy and sued for peace. Khomeini reluctantly accepted to end the war and accept Iran's victory. By this time Iraq had not only been pushed back from all the Iranian territory which it had invaded, but had suffered major defeats on his own territory in Fab and Basra. In spite of this, Khomeini likened accepting the peace agreement to drinking from the ‘poisoned chalice’, even on Iran’s terms as victor. So useful was the war to his regime in maintaining its hold on power.
As far as the Mojahedin were concerned, they had also analysed the benefits of war to Khomeini and firmly bet on its continuation. This sudden cease-fire now heralded what might be the last chance they had to launch an all out attack across the border into Iran. With the two countries at peace and the borders under dispute or at least under intense scrutiny, it would be impossible for the foreseeable future to cross with an army, especially because they would have to rely on Iraqi air force support which was essential to any such incursion. Rajavi ordered his organisation to ready themselves in two weeks for their triumphant march on Tehran. He assessed that the country was ready. After years of war and repression, surely the people would welcome the Mojahedin as the liberating force it purported to be. However, the real reason that Rajavi acted so quickly, was simply that he could not leave it any longer.
He asked Saddam Hussein for support, which was unwillingly granted. It was clear to the Iraqi military, that Rajavi's plan was an impossible task. They agreed to give air and missile support up to a certain range. This was performed. The Iraqi Air Force flew overhead and long range missiles were used.
Once the ground attack commenced the Mojahedin traversed just as far as this support went and not a metre beyond it. 150 kilometres into Iranian territory, they passed a gorge and crossed a large plain before entering a second gorge, Chahar Zabar. The Iranian army, which had intelligence of their plans, arranged a simple ambush, surrounding them between the two gorges. They stopped the Mojahedin in their tracks, killing over 2,000 of them. Those who were bringing up the rear immediately retreated back to Iraq. Of those who were caught in the trap, some managed to escape and went forward into Iran, some eventually making their way out via Pakistan. Some moved off toward Kurdistan, and made their way back from there. Others simply wandered lost and hungry for several days before being able to get help from local villagers or tribes people. The operation was a debacle.
On several levels the operation was a disaster in the making. Firstly, because Rajavi sent many completely untrained and unarmed 'troops' into the battle. These were young Iranian men and women who were living in the West. Some had been recruited as recently as during the Gabon hunger strike just a few months earlier. As many supporters as could be persuaded were hurriedly sent to Iraq, given a few days basic training and then expected to go on a military operation to invade Iran; something the Iraqis had failed to do after eight years. These people were sent as if on a picnic with watermelons, bread and milk and other unlikely foodstuffs to keep them going until they arrived in Tehran.
The people who were sent included old men and women (parents and grandparents of the combatants) and youths under eighteen years of age. Children, old women and foreigners were sent with their passports and documents in their pockets, to confront battle hardened, experienced commandos from Iran, with air force backing. One foreign national, a French nurse and wife of a Mojahedin supporter, was captured by the Iranians and eventually returned to France. Others were not so fortunate. Among those killed were Sue and Samina from Britain.
Even many of the members of the Mojahedin who had been through some military training were individuals totally unsuited to a military campaign. Members of the Mojahedin's 'diplomacy' section, who were Western educated, middle class Iranians, simply hadn't the temperament for fighting. The Iranian army, which they faced, had fought Iraq for eight long years. They were battle hardened. Some were uncouth villagers who had no compunction in killing an enemy with their bare hands, Iraqi or Iranian. Others were ideologically geared up to target and kill the Mojahedin as the enemy of their revered Imam's revolution. From the outset it was a grossly uneven match.
If the operation hadn't been ambushed it is still hard to see how it would have succeeded in capturing city after city and garnering support all the way to Tehran with such a hotchpotch army. However, perhaps this is too harsh a criticism and an underestimation of the readiness of the people of Iran for a change of government. Perhaps, if the Mojahedin had been able to progress further into Iranian territory, events could have gained momentum and the counter-revolution started. This, surely was the only possible time for that to happen.
As it happened, Iran's army ridiculously easily ambushed the operation. It was a massacre, with two thousand people killed because there was nowhere for them to escape.
Examples of incompetence in Forouq
The Iraqi military believed that the plan was foolhardy and almost certain to fail. Their assessment was based on military considerations. However, the Mojahedin had their own internal weaknesses, which also played a large part in the failure of the operation. The most damaging aspect was the command structure of the army. Since the Ideological Revolution, only those who accepted Rajavi's leadership and passed the ideological tests were deemed capable of leadership. This was because they were loyal to Rajavi and would obey his every command. However, in a military operation it meant that those who led most often had no real military training and experience.
An example of the damaging effect of this, was the misuse of troops and equipment. The Mojahedin brought with them a big artillery gun from Kerend (the city which in theory they had captured) and took it to Chahar Zebar to use to fight their way through. They lost many people getting it through the regime's ambushes only to find that the gun was too big to use and that it would only have been useful if it had been left in Kerend. One of the Mojahedin who had previously been a soldier in Iran's army, had told them this, but as the Mojahedin command structure demanded, no one was prepared to listen to an ordinary soldier.
Many survivors later said that when they were confronted with the enemy, they hesitated to shoot. This is a normal civilian mentality and therefore many like them got killed. Others, out of ignorance, took cover under vehicles when they saw enemy aircraft approach and then burned to death when the planes targeted the vehicles. Many were shocked and demoralised when they saw what had been done to the captured Mojahedin, especially the women. Only between ten and twenty percent of the Mojahedin engaged in Chahar Zabar returned to their bases in Iraq defeated and depleted. Many were injured, many very seriously.
When it was over, the Iraqis merely said 'I told you so'. During the whole operation, Rajavi was flying back and forth between Baghdad, and the Iraqi Centre of Command, begging Saddam to engage more of his air force and break the ambush either for a forward advance or a retreat. Saddam and his military knew there was no point in risking more Iraqi lives and planes to rescue the Mojahedin forces and therefore refused his requests. It was too late and they had warned Rajavi in advance how much air support they were willing to give.
But Rajavi would not show that he thought it had been a failure or a mistake. His publicity machine went into overdrive about how afraid the regime had been of this attack. How it had shaken the regime to its roots. In fact, it was a surprise for the regime in Iran; they could not accept it or believe it, but not in the way that Rajavi depicted. During the ambush operation and for some time afterwards, they were still waiting for the real attack, for something major to happen. They couldn't believe that this incompetent incursion was all the Mojahedin had to offer and that nothing else happened. They were expecting an attack by Iraq in some other part of the country, or for some other foreign power to attack, or even for an internal coup d'etat to be staged. But nothing further happened.
Seeing that he couldn't challenge the truth, Rajavi later changed the goal posts and began to use ideological arguments to explain the operation, carefully avoiding any hint that he regarded it as a failure. Using Maryam as his mouthpiece, he claimed that the Mojahedin were not pure enough and didn't deserve a victory. The leader, Maryam said, had done the maximum he could, but his followers, except Maryam of course, had betrayed him because their minds were immersed in other things, such as their spouse, their children and their families. Rajavi began his usual round of meetings to manipulate the members' perception. Starting from the top people, he had everyone confess that they had betrayed him, going as far as to say that they didn't actually want to be victorious.
More reactions to Forouq
Inside Iran, the reaction was severe. In fact the regime had been shaken by the surprise attack and its response was to kill many of the political prisoners who were languishing in the country's jails, just for good measure. So Rajavi was responsible not only for the deaths of the 2,000 who were directly involved in Forouq, but also for the deaths of tens of hundreds of political prisoners who might otherwise have been released after a few years. Rajavi characteristically claimed that all these people had died for him, in order for him to come to power in Iran. This, by any calculation, is untrue. These individuals were killed because they believed that they were fighting for the freedom of their country and their people from the despotic rule of Khomeini. The trust they had in their leader was that he was struggling for the same ends.
Rajavi had his own agenda. He claimed that those killed in Forouq-e Javidan, were not sufficiently devoted to him and were fighting for their own goals and aims, for nationalistic or personal motives, out of love or hate or whatever. Therefore, in his mind, those who died had not passed the phase of Ideological Revolution in order to be considered as fighting for him. This is heinous hypocrisy. On one hand Rajavi claims that the political prisoners who were executed in Iran died for him, but on the other hand, he accuses his members in Iraq of not being considered as having fought for him.
It is surely true to say that the Mojahedin as a cult is presently in a position to claim that its remaining members really do believe in this so-called ideology and are fighting simply for love of Rajavi. Also that they do not accept any personal or social responsibility for what they are doing. These people are capable of performing suicide bombing or any other task they could be called upon by the leader. However, Rajavi isn't interested in the freedom of people, he only wants power. If Iran had a freely elected democratic and secular government, Rajavi would still go on fighting. The devoted members have long said that and as a religious cult they see democracy as a means, not an end in itself. Only if something is useful for their purposes will they pursue it, particularly for their foreign relations with the West. Rajavi wants to be the only leader of Iran, or anywhere. So he claims that these people have died for him in order to gain credit.
Forouq-e Javidan is another example of Rajavi misusing the resources of the organisation for his own benefit. In this case again, the resources were its people. Of course, if people accept the concept of an ideological leader, that is, if they reject democracy, then it is Rajavi's right to use every resource for his goal. In his own analysis, Rajavi applies his own version of the evolution of animals to the political scene. For him it is as simple as sacrificing a chicken or a sheep for the more evolved species, human beings. What he means is that it is okay for those lower down the ideological chain to be sacrificed for those higher up. Rajavi says 'the rules of leadership differ from the rules for followers'.
After Forouq, Rajavi stated that 'the blood of those martyred has insured the future of the Mojahedin'. This means that so many new killings are insurance against Iran moving towards liberalism or democracy for some time. It was also true after 30th Khordad and on other occasions, that by radicalising the atmosphere, both the Mojahedin and the hardliners in Iran have gained, and the democratic and liberal forces have suffered most. No room will be left for them and their ideas, as people cry for blood and vengeance. The problem is that this path has to be kept hot and once they have started, they have to continue and shed more blood in order to keep the atmosphere hot.
Forouq signalled another wave of dissenters who left the organisation shortly afterwards. Nothing could be done to prevent this. The organisation was at its lowest ebb since 1972 when all of the leaders were executed.
Even though it had always been assumed that the death of Khomeini would be a positive turning point in the Mojahedin's strategy for gaining power, when Ayatollah Khomeini eventually died on 3rd June 1989, the Mojahedin were badly placed to react. They were massively depleted in terms of members, resources and morale. For Rajavi, it looked as though the way was blocked for him to get to Tehran. Yet another bid for power had failed, and no explanation was given. But the West were still prepared to bank on the Mojahedin - there was no one else and at least they had proved themselves willing to try whatever their motives.
Rajavi was faced with a dilemma after the failure of Forouq. Even his most ardent of supporters could barely pretend to themselves after this, that there would be a revolution in Iran and that the Mojahedin would be able to lead it. Events simply moved too fast for this to be a real possibility. Although Khomeini hated the idea of peace because he feared it would expose the internal repression, in fact the peace brought with it a sense of stability, which did more than anything else to rob the Resistance of its impetus. But, faced with this lack of impetus, and the changes on the political scene once Khomeini had died, what was Rajavi to do? He wasn't inside the country to take part in the political process no matter how unlikely this might have been in reality.
It was still keenly felt by political observers, that the Mojahedin as a political force, was being sidelined by the power struggle taking place inside the country. In some way, Rajavi had to change the nature of the Mojahedin in order to challenge the changing scene inside Iran. On the other hand, faced with peace and stability, he had to ensure that the regime did not settle its debts and begin to make progress. The only way he could stop progress inside Iran was to start a terrorist campaign. He probably hoped that this would be the same as the guerrilla warfare, which ensued after 20 June 1980. But following the abortive military campaigns of the NLA, and the growing stability of the regime, this kind of local armed resistance activity could only take the shape of terrorist activities.
This became more obvious after the failure of Maryam to make or remake any ties with the West, when Rajavi deployed her in Europe in 1993 as 'President elect for the future Iran'. Rajavi, seeing the failure of the NLA on the horizon, tried to go back to the past and the old strategy of killing ordinary officials, placing bombs here and there. A policy he had described in Paris before the formation of the NLA as 'cutting the fingertips of the regime'. But this was a strategy, which had already failed and he had moved to Iraq to create the NLA in response.
This latest attempt at armed struggle failed and is failing for obvious reasons. The most obvious reason is because the average age of the Mojahedin's members is forty years and over. These members who left Iran in the early 80s or before, cannot even remember the streets of their cities or towns. They cannot survive in a hostile environment for even a few hours. Even though they declare willing, they do not really expect Rajavi to send them inside Iran after twenty years, and they are not really willing to go. So Rajavi must rely on people who have been newly recruited, such as one young man who had done his military service in Iran before escaping as a refugee in 1996. When the Mojahedin recruited him and took him to Iraq after only a few months, he was almost immediately sent into Iran on a terrorist mission because of his up to date knowledge of the city where he had served as a soldier.
From the other side, the regime was now established and would not allow them to build on these attacks. Also, more importantly, the help from ordinary people which they could count on before, had, since the Ideological Revolution and Rajavi's move to Iraq, diminished to practically nothing.
Another problem for the Mojahedin has been infiltration. The military attempts are failing due to the desperation of their recruitment policy, which has led to heavy infiltration of their ranks. The organisation is now so thoroughly infiltrated, that out of four recent terrorist attempts, three teams were immediately arrested at the border and the other one before they were able to undertake any action, because of intelligence that reached the regime via these infiltrators.
The Mojahedin claimed the assassination of Sarhang Shirazi, a retired general, but later, the killers were discovered to be from a hard-line group within the regime. It is still not clear whether the Mojahedin were in co-operation with this group or whether they were simply being opportunist in claiming responsibility. One mortar was launched into a teachers' residence in Tehran instead of the supposed military target. One bomb was left in a rubbish bin outside the High Court in Tehran injuring passers by. Another mortar landed in a public park, injuring a young woman.
From a political point of view, time has changed and the Mojahedin no longer have the international support or legitimacy for carrying out these acts against Iran from Iraq.