In 1996 Maryam Rajavi finally gave up on her attempt to re-emerge in the politial scene of Europe. She packed her bags to fly back to Iraq. Months previously, it had become clear that she would have to go. So in a last ditch attempt to rescue her mission and in order to save what little face was left for her and the Mojahedin, she spent huge amounts of money on a visit to Norway and the Earl’s Court concert. But this had little effect and she was forced to return to Rajavi empty handed. Rajavi was furious and severely humiliated and criticised her. Of course, that is something he always does to his followers when they make mistakes, which might cost him his reputation. To stem the flow of members who had begun to leave in disillusion, Rajavi recalled nearly all the Mojahedin members to Iraq, leaving only the close supporters in the European offices to continue with the diplomacy and PR work and the personnel work. Rather than cashing in on the gains made during Maryam’s visit, it was all they could do to keep as many supporters or sympathisers as possible loyal.
During June 1996, shortly after the Earl’s Court concert, Maryam in a pre-arranged private gathering made a speech to British parliamentarians about acts of terrorism committed by the Iranian regime. The issue of women was now replaced by the terrorist nature of the regime. A few months before that in February 1996 Zahra Rajabi, a leading woman member of the Mojahedin, had been assassinated in Turkey along with a male Mojahedin supporter, in an appartment they both occupied. The regime denied any involvement in this action. Many began to question; was this organised by Rajavi in a hideous attempt to get Maryam’s mission back on track? So tainted had the Mojahedin’s reputation become among Iranians that they could easily believe that this was part of a plan to put aside the issue of women and get Maryam back on the political track, talking about the crimes of the regime. Of course among the Mojahedin’s close supporters other speculation was rife, and all kinds of rumours began circulating. The most popular was that Zahra was involved with the man and was pregnant, something totally unacceptable to Rajavi and his vision for women. People thought they had to be killed because they would not co-operate with what was required of them.
The Mojahedin were facing their worst ever political disaster. Rajavi had fielded the NCRI with Maryam as President elect, to create a new 'brand' image for the Mojahedin, which was rapidly being sidelined by the West in their approaches to Iran. The experiment had been a dismal failure. Maryam failed to gain any political support, whether Iranian or Western. She had almost destroyed the image of the Iranian Resistance by pushing her ideological message at the expense of a political one. Worse than this, her trip had resulted in the loss of around a third of the members she had taken with her from Iraq. Disillusioned with her approach, those brave enough to face the truth, had seen through the hollow facade of the NCRI and left.
The long-suffering supporters living in the West could only stand aside and wait for the dust to settle to see what directive they were to follow next. Rajavi began to recall as many members as he could back to Iraq, and tried to trap the few non-Mojahedin NCRI members there too. In a desperate attempt to cut his losses, and stop the haemorrhaging of disaffected members, Rajavi declared that they would stay in Iraq until the overthrow of the regime.
As a diversion from this political failure, Rajavi announced a new wave of armed resistance activity. But this was to have even worse consequences. Around 1998/9 the Mojahedin began to send operational units of three to five people into Iran, to carry out various military attacks. But this went horribly wrong. The organisation was so heavily infiltrated by now, that four out of every five units were arrested once they were barely over the border. Any unit which did manage to penetrate into Iran and perform an attack was arrested soon after. What was most surprising about this situation was that their captors did not kill the invaders. This was a new development in the regime’s response to the Mojahedin. Those units who had not performed any military action were, after interrogation, eventually returned to their families inside Iran after giving guarantees that they would not continue their military activities. Those who did manage to perform any military action were arrested, imprisoned and charged accordingly. They were put on trial for the crime they had committed and required to serve any resulting prison sentence.
This version of events was completely new, and was clearly a result of President Khatami’s new approach to the threat of the Mojahedin. He had decided to deal with these people not as had previously been the case, as deadly enemies of the country who should de facto be sentenced to death. Rather he treated them as the victims of Rajavi’s ambitions, except where they had actually performed a crime in which case the courts dealt with the crime. Khatami was true to his word. The rule of law must prevail.
But this is not what Rajavi had planned or expected. He believed and so did the people who volunteered for the operations, that they would not survive. They went on these missions believing that either they would be killed in the action, or killed by enemy fire or that they would be required to kill themselves with cyanide, should they be in danger of capture. Yet none of the dreadful things which they imagined would happen, did happen.
At one point, the Mojahedin were so certain that one of the women sent on a mission into Iran had been killed, that they printed her obituary in their newpaper. It was only several months later that they discovered she had been captured alive and was serving a prison sentence for her activities. The Mojahedin quickly recalled all the copies of the newpaper and reprinted a new version with exactly the same date and content apart from the obituary. They deleted the woman from the organisational memory.
The other problem Rajavi faced was that he remained totally under the control of Saddam Hussein. In 1999, Iraq and Iran began a series of communications, which was to lead to a tentative truce between them. As a result, Iraq allowed carefully selected Iranians to visit Iraq’s holy Shiite shrines for pilgrimage. Iran in turn gave some covert help to sell Iraqi oil outside the United Nations sanctions. Also in the agreement was the exchange of some POWs from both sides. This rapprochement put an end to Rajavi’s plans to increase his military activities, after all, Saddam Hussein controlled the borders not he.
After 11th September 2001, Rajavi refused to make any public statement concerning the tragedy in New York. Quoting from a Persian proverb, he told his followers in a meeting, ‘do not ask me to comment upon or analyse the event, the wall has a hole and in that hole is a mouse and the mouse has two ears.’ He knew that anything he said in relation to the event would be made public, and so he said nothing. But for those who were in the meeting, his expression made clear his delight. In public, in the Mojahedin’s newspapers and other media, there was silence. But Rajavi was too shrewd to miss the import of this terrorist act and the US and international response to it. When the lines were drawn – either you are with us or against us – and when the US liberated Afghanistan, Rajavi must have understood that he personally had no future in Iraq, and that the Mojahedin would be crushed or torn apart in the future if they stayed.
Rajavi is nothing if not pragmatic. Just the opposite of the ideological image he uses to control his members. He sees no contradiction in his followers singing the old Mojahedin song ‘war with America’ after 9/11, and at the same time sending his envoys to court political support in the USA and Europe. This of course, is in an attempt to broker a deal for his eventual resettlement in one of these countries. He wants to save his own life and he does this by saving the life of the organisation. The two are indivisible.
Since 11th September 2001, Rajavi has made deliberate moves toward rapprochment with the West. He needs to have Western support even though ideologically Rajavi rejects the West’s position. Yet Rajavi is faced with what might appear an unsurmountable difficulty in his quest for Western support.
Western relations with the Mojahedin have been deterioratinig since 1991 when Rajavi chose to remain in Iraq during the allied bombing of Iraq. In spite of the clear defiance of the West’s position implicit in this decision, and not forgetting that the Mojahedin acted as apologists for Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war by denying that he had used chemical weapons against Iranian forces at the battle front, Rajavi tried to brazen his way out of the situation. Even when Human Rights Watch revealed that Mojahedin forces had been deployed to crush a Kurdish rebellion in the north of Iraq, Rajavi was unrepentant.
In October 1991 a military parade was held in Ashraf camp, sixty kilometres north of Baghdad. This parade purported to be a show of strength by the Mojahedin. It was Rajavi’s way of keeping himself in the game. He needed the West to continue needing a miltary threat to the Iranian regime. In an unusual step, journalists were invited and were granted access to question Rajavi as he walked from his car to the platform where he would oversee the parade. For the first time in several years, journalists were able to ask ‘when will the regime be overthrown’, Rajavi’s reply ‘sooner than you think’ was as cryptic as it was evasive. (Previously, when Rajavi left Iran he told a journalist in Paris they would return in two years. Maryam too, when she left London and returned to Baghdad said the overthrow of the regime would occur within two years.)
In April 1992, the Iranian regime sent fighter jets over the Mojahedin’s bases in Iraq and launched several bombs into them. Rajavi’s response was instantaneous. Within hours, Mojahedin personnel launched simultaneous arson attacks on Iranian embassies in thirteen Western countries. It was the same tactic as had been used in the early 1980s when the Mojahedin occupied the Iranian embassies in several capitals. In both instances, Mojahedin personnel were sent to prison for up to three months and then deported to the country, which had originally granted them refugee status. In both instances, these personnel were immediately back in action, undaunted and using false documentation to continue their activities.
As reports of these activities reached the Intelligence Services of Western countries, concerns began to grow about the true nature of the Mojahedin’s relations with the Iraqi regime. Also about whether the organisation could be trusted to remain within the sphere of influence of those who wanted to protect Western interests in the Middle East. Recent activities of the Mojahedin pointed to the emergence of a very different pattern.
In 1994 the United States Foreign Affairs Committee commissioned the State Department to make a report on the Mojahedin. The results were damning. Far from defining the organisation as the benign friend of America and democracy, it was described in the report as terrorist in nature and operating as a personality cult based around Massoud Rajavi’s leadership. The Mojahedin were typically scathing in response. Without addressing the concerns highlighted by the report the Mojahedin vilifyed it as ‘whitewashing the mullahs’ crimes’.
By 1997 the US government had made its decision on the Mojahedin. They were not to be trusted. In October, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, designated the Mojahedin as a terrorist organisation according to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1997. The Mojahedin immediately began a legal appeal against the designation. Again, they accused the Americans of appeasing the Iranian government, but this completely ignored the consistent American position, which was working to maintain sanctions against Iran. Despite the Mojahedin accusations, it is clear that the USA has made no real efforts to mend relations with Iran.
The Mojahedin argued that the so-called terrorist attacks on Iran were legitimate because they only targetted military bodies, and that their actions were confined to Iran as part of a legitimate resistance against the regime’s repression. The Americans, however, had clear evidence that civilians had been killed and injured in the attacks. As though believing their own propaganda, the Mojahedin ignored world opinion and launched ‘Operation Great Bahman’ in February 2000 with a dozen military attacks against Iran. In 2000 and 2001, the Mojahedin was involved regularly in mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military and law enforcement units and government buildings near the Iran-Iraq border.
By 2000, the United Kingdom had also listed the Mojahedin as a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act 2000. In May 2002, the European Union also placed the Mojahedin on its list of terrorist entities. The situation for Rajavi looked bleak.
Undaunted, the Mojahedin continued to operate in the West as the National Council of Resistance of Iran. This is where Rajavi’s idea to expand the NCRI with ideologically loyal Mojahedin members began to pay dividends. If Maryam’s trip to Europe had been a failure, no matter. He could continue without her to court political support. Rajavi was desperate for a way out of the impasse he found himself in. On one side, his armed resistance activities were failing because of infiltration and because Saddam Hussein controls his military activities from Iraq. On the other side, the Mojahedin was labelled as terrorist. As Western pressure began to build against Saddam Hussein and the accusations of support for renegade terrorist organisations began to fill newspaper columns Rajavi realised that if he stayed in Iraq, he and the Mojahedin would be finished. In November 2001, in a gathering of around 500 top Mojahedin members, he announced his plan, appropriately called the ‘Black Phase’.
According to Rajavi, if the United States of America, with or without allies, attacked Iraq, the Mojahedin would have no choice but to launch their biggest ever operation and attack Iran. This would be the best opportunity since Forouq-e Javidan in 1988, for such an attack. Of course, he said that, as usual, they would need the permission of the Iraqi government. After years of promises and no sign of progress, this is also Rajavi’s best plan to silence any criticism which might be beginning to emerge in spite of the internal repression imposed on all of the members. He will be able to blame external events, that is a war in Iraq, for the necessity of such an action. The vital difference, however, between this and Rajavi’s previous attempts to grasp power in Iran, is that this time he knows it will be a futile and suicidal mission. Because of this, Rajavi has also announced that he and his wife Maryam, along with around 300 carefully chosen members, will leave Iraq and make a new base in the West. From there they will be able to reorganise the Mojahedin and maintain their activites beyond the hindrances of the war. Surely no one, but the brainwashed members of the Mojahedin could interpret this in any other way than as a desperate bid on Rajavi’s part to escape and save himself, leaving the body of the organisation to be killed or captured by the Iranians.
In 2002, Rajavi started to put his plan into action. He plied the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Iraq, to allow selected Mojahedin members to be transferred to Europe and the USA as refugees. Once there, they began their activities. The most important for Rajavi was that they lobby political opinion back in their favour. In spite of obeying directives from Rajavi, this not being a NCRI issue, these loyal followers began to lobby parliaments and Congress as NCRI members.
They have not been alone in performing this task. The Mojahedin have power and as such they have people who are willing to do their bidding. These include Senators Robert G. Torricelli, Dan Burton, Gary L. Ackerman, James Traficant in the USA, Lord Robin Corbett of Castle Vale, Lord David Alton, Lord Tony Clarke, Lord Archer of Sandwell and Steve McCabe in the UK, as well as Joachim Tapfe and Arne Forman in Germany and Eve Bonet ex-MP in the Assemble Nationale in France. Likewise politicians and parliamentarians in Italy, Luxembourg, Sweden and Norway appear in the list of their active supporters.
In the USA, Senator Torricelli is alleged to have received financial reward from a person associated with the Mojahedin. In the UK, people such as Win Griffiths, MP and Lord Robin Corbett show active support for the Mojahedin’s position. What is behind this discord? Are these members really acting in ignorance of the Mojahedin’s activities? Have the government departments been unable to brief members sufficiently to warn them off such support?
Let us step back a little from politics and look at what actually comprises the Mojahedin’s power. It can be stated with certainty that they have virtually no support from Iranians, either inside Iran or in the West among exiles and emigres. As regards membership, Rajavi has at his disposal, a totally loyal and self-sacrificing force of up to three thousand people who are willing to perform any task or deed he requires without question. One of the most important of these tasks has been a concerted and prolonged fund-raising campaign. For nearly two decades, the Mojahedin have been collecting money under the disguise of charity work for victims of Iranian repression, earthquakes and floods. Everyone who becomes involved with the Mojahedin is required to take part in fund-raising activities. This means standing in the street in all weathers, all day and asking the public for money. In the evening, a door to door collection is also employed. Collectors are urged to make up any deficit in their daytime amount in these evenings by working even harder. So important has this fund-raising become that classes are held to teach newcomers how best to manipulate the ‘subject’. Fund-raising very early on became a litmus test for support. Only those prepared to undergo the hardship and difficulty of this activity, were regarded as ready to move on to the next stage of involvement.
In the UK in 1996, the Charity Commission began an extensive investigation into the charity, Iran Aid. The charity was put into the hands of a receiver and was eventually closed in 1997.
In Germany, the government uncovered the Mojahedin’s financial activities. After a two year investigation, the German High Court on 21st December 2001 closed the Mojahedin 'shop' - twenty-five houses and bases - after evidence was found of misuse of Social Security and fraud. Disturbingly, the Mojahedin had used the members’ children who had been evacuated during the Gulf War of 1991. These children, whilst they lived in the Mojahedin’s bases in Germany, were required to undertake work in the base and take part in fund-raising activities, collecting money in the street. At the same time, the Mojahedin were abusing every possible avenue of Social Security in Germany in order to claim benefits for these children. Documents in Germany showed that ten to twelve million Marks had been used by the Mojahedin to buy weapons. Considering that a Social Security claim of 130 - 260 Marks could be made per child per day, this is a conservative figure of the amount that the Mojahedin collected on account of these children.
The Mojahedin have also brought to Europe some of their more elderly members who can no longer cope with the harsh conditions in Iraq. These people are also used in fund-raising. That is, standing in the streets from morning until night collecting money under the guise of Iran Aid. These elderly people have little other choice considering the pressures on them.
When Maryam came to Europe in 1993, she brought with her a totally dedicated force who undertook any task required. They set about taking over from the supporters’ role of fundraising. With their bullying tactics, their productivity far exceeded anything seen before. Some were able to return up to 1500 pounds sterling, per day. But even before this, in one year alone, Iran Aid charity in the UK had a declared income of 5 million pounds. Its undeclared income has been estimated at over twice this, making a total of over 15 million pounds in one year. If this amount is multiplied for just ten countries: UK, USA, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, then an annual amount of 150 million pounds can be estimated to have made its way to the Mojahedin organisation. If this is multiplied over ten years, then the figure of 1.5 billion pounds gives a rough estimate of the resources which Massoud Rajavi has amassed through the efforts of his devoted followers only in the streets of the West.
Of course, as with any cult, the members are not the beneficiaries of this wealth. It is believed to be under the direct disposal of Rajavi, which would make him one of the world’s richest men. In addition, countries such as Saudi Arabia, have generously funded the Mojahedin’s struggle. Since the beginning of their exile in the West, Rajavi has constantly urged the supporters inside Iran to send help in the form of gold, jewellery, carpets and money. The Mojahedin’s expenses are few. For years France paid their expenses at their base in Paris. Saddam Hussein of course has provided generously, giving them military camps, training, equipment and armoury, food, clothing, etc. General Vafigh Samerai, former Director of Iraqi Military Intelligence, revealed that just one payment to Rajavi amounted to 8 million dollars, and that in addition he received foreign currency to pay for his propaganda activities in the West. In Europe, the Mojahedin’s safe houses are funded by Social Security benefits claimed by the members who claim asylum in various countries under various guises.
It is this financial strength then which most reasonably explains the Mojahedin’s continued power. Rajavi can pay his way out of trouble, pay for expensive lawyers, and most importantly, can influence at least some of those in power to work his bidding.
We have already seen that Rajavi is unable to compromise or work in collusion with anyone, but that he is willing to act as a mercenary to achieve his own goals. Now we can see that he has power, both financial and forces. This is what makes him a danger. Not though to Iran or the people of Iraq. Rajavi is a danger to Western societies. As he becomes more desperate to regain his foothold on the political scene, there is no way of knowing to what lengths he might go to make his mark. During the Gabon crisis, the Mojahedin threatened the French government with episodes of people setting fire to themselves. In Iran itself, they have conducted a wave of suicide bombings to kill their opponents. Do we know now that the stakes have risen or not?