An interview with Batool Soltani on MKO self-immolations
Part one: A definition of suicide operations
Sahar Family Foundation, Baghdad, June 19, 2009
Translated by Mojahedin.ws
In the course of many separations, for the most part during the past two years, Mrs. Batool Soltani is known to be the highest ranking cadre detached from Mojahedin Khalq Organization (MKO). She was a member of the leadership council and the closest to the organization’s power hegemony and, consequently, she can be regarded the most reliable source of information compared to other separated rank and file. The best evidence is the statements and disclosures she has made, and is still making, on multitudes of issues concerning the organization.
(A cult session in Ashraf Camp Iraq - under the protection of Saddam)
However, with respect to the complex, interlocking body of the organization’s cultic relations and techniques, it does not seem that what she is uncovering for the public is all she knows and can reveal. But her immediate and close contact with the Rajavis as well as her high potentiality for precise analysis that puts forward new discussions based on her personal observations can possibly open a new window for a further analysis and study of the untold about the organization. To accomplish the goal, we decided to take a new turn just along the currently running interviews, that is, to focus on specific issues of the importance. The themes of the priority have been classified which we prefer not to mention in whole at the present since they will be prepared and released according to the circumstances and particular incidents. The first of these themed interviews is on the issue of organizational self-immolations as we are on the threshold of the June 17 anniversary, when, following the detention of Maryam Rajavi by the French police, a number of members set themselves on fire.
It has to be pointed out that these statements contain some dramatic, first-hand details so far disclosed by a ranking member of the leadership council. The interview starts with a prefatory emphasis on the history of suicidal operations and continues up to the June 17 self-burnings. Of the importance in the issue at hand is the materialization of the suicidal operations as a working means in the organization, an adopted means committed in a variety of forms from the past to the present cultic form. The narrative by Mrs. Soltani presents an explicitly further account of what we have so far heard or read about the shocking incident. Looking at an issue from many different angles, her look seems to be novel in itself.
(MKO members in European Countries 2003)
Part one: A definition of suicide operations
Sahar Family Foundation: Mrs. Soltani, our best wishes and compliments and we also thank you for accepting to continue a new series of interviews. In fact, we never thought the interviews would take for so long but it was much because of your own interest and your precise and analytical details you provided for each question and the issues in question. As a result, we came face to face with new ideas that could be well classified into different categories to be discussed in detail separately. We knew there would be problems but when you showed how interested you were, I decided that no problem could hinder. So as not to bother you with further problems, I have arranged not to prolong the interviews but to focus on themed issues besides the routinely conducted interviews. Once more I express my thanks for your remarkable endurance and we hope that your exposé will solve many problems on the way of social movements and expose an outlet for the victimized generation, still enslaved physically and psychologically, to take a sound decision for the future.
First, I need to explain about the subject before going into further details. Of the troubles and challenges the contemporary armed movements encounter with irreparable costs is a commitment to suicide operations. Of course, as you know, the phenomenon is not a working means adhered to by the Iranian guerrillas but imported into our country as the idea of the guerrilla warfare itself. I have to point out that the main motive behind all this is the detention of Maryam Rajavi in June 2003 and the consequent self-burnings, but I deemed it necessary to start a preliminary discussion before we involve in the main issue. I beg your pardon, but I think you got what I mean and so I demand you to feel easy to talk about the phenomenon to whatever extent you wish, that is, how you define suicide operations, what its forms are and in what circumstances they are plotted and carried out.
Batool Soltani: As I come to understand from your explanations and introductory words, the subject proves to require a lengthy discussion. I hope our discourse on the issue will be of use somewhere. Let’s first give a comprehensive definition of the term suicide operation from an organizational point of view and explain its difference with other kinds of armed operations. In every perpetrated operation possibly there are some percentages of killings and in suicide operation there is a possibility leading to the death of people. But the nature of suicide operations is totally different as defined by the current political and militia terminology. It is called suicide because here the perpetrator puts the priority on self-annihilation regardless of any consequent outcome, that is, he makes an attempt to guarantee the accomplishment of the end by his own life while in other forms of operations the death is always a fifty to fifty possibility. Suicide operations are mainly motivated under one of the two incentives, defensive or aggressive.
Before any further explanation let me point out that some people may say that it was Mojahedin Khalq who first engaged in armed and guerrilla warfare in Iran. Regardless of to what extent the claim is true but one thing is clear that the organization is the innovator of a third kind of suicide operation; sending ablaze human-torches onto the streets following the June 2003 detentions. I will give details on the operations. Now let’s see what is the difference between the two mentioned kinds of operations. I have to point that it is a personal categorization of the types and I do not know if there are such definitions in any reference and, thus, they may be prone to mistake.
The first type is the defensive one, that is to say, the main cause for this suicide operation is to safeguard the organizational secrets and information. When the operator faces a serious situation that may lead to his detention by the police or the enemy’s forces and which may consequently lead to extraction of his information he commits suicide as the organizational orders require. This is the point where one has to risk his life to safeguard and protect the information and secrets. By his life, he breaks the possibility of any access to the information that may jeopardize the life of the organization. During the past five decades of struggle in the contemporary history you may encounter many examples of such operations among both religious and non-religious, Marxist organizations and in Mojahedin particularly. Ahmad Rezai (an earlier member in Mojahedin’s central cadre) for example killed himself along with a number of SAVAK’s agent with a hand grenade to avert falling in SAVAK’s clutches alive. There are members like Mahmood Shamekhi and more others whose name I fail to remember who did the same. However, there are a few examples in Mojahedin who have committed this kind to defend the organization against the threats of the regime that had tried to uproot the militia and their movement in any possible way.
There is always a red-line in such organizations where the members have no other choice but to commit suicide. It does not mean that the self-annihilation is the first choice when a member happens to confront the enemy. The red-line means a reaction defined for certain circumstances when the arrest of a certain operator is a question of exposing the organization, information and cadres to irreparable damages. The defined parameter, however, is deliberately overlooked in the years of the organization’s strife with the Islamic Republic. A quantitative and qualitative comparison between the present forces of the organization and those active in Pahlavi’s regime indicate that such suicide operation naturally had to be more common since at that time the slightest leak of information meant a big strike against the entity of the organization and the cadres. But the amount of these operations is beyond of comparison with those of the past regime although there is a remarkable difference between the potentiality and capability of the present and the former forces. At the present when the organization dispatches its operation teams from Iraqi soil to Iran, the red-line is a mere sense of danger and possibility of arrest while neither the organization has any establishment inside Iran nor its leader reside there and it has no legitimacy there at all. The red-line becomes the sense of danger and the operator has the orders to swallow the cyanide capsule as soon as he/she feels there is a likelihood of arrestment. That is in absolute contrast with the phase of struggle in Pahlavi’s reign when 90 percent of the members and the leaders got arrested and most of them had the opportunity to commit suicide and to swallow the cyanide capsules. Even inside the prison they could but did not.
I apologize for distancing from the main issue but I feel it is necessary to give further explanation to make things clear. Of course, it is a long organizational issue developed following a gained extensive struggle experience and the members easily consent to the instructions for they are organizationally and ideologically justified. Let me also explain about the red-line out of Iran. The organization had strict instruction that if the members with secret and classified information happened to be arrested by the police in the European countries, they had to commit suicide before they could speak under the investigations. I mean the red-line is completely redefined compared to the past and the members’ life as a veteran is assessed much cheaper.
Another form of the suicide operation is the aggressive one. Here the operator’s act of self-annihilation is not a spontaneous act but preplanned. There are some fundamental characteristics distinguishing it from the former one. First, it is a preplanned operation far from being restricted to a final choice in facing unexpected circumstances. Second, it is aimed to fulfill certain end/s, political, economic, ideological, or more, motivated according to the perpetrator’s intention. It might be a part of an organizational analysis of the circumstances or in line with a tactic of struggle. The third factor is that there is a volunteer who knows well there would be no return. In some cases, it is an organizational order rather than requiring a volunteer. In either of the cases, there need to be some psychological and ideological preparation before sending the operator on the mission and if any suspicion of unpreparedness is traced, as it may inflict irreparable costs on the organization, the mission is either cancelled or another prepared alternative is substituted.
In the former kind, there always arises a doubt in the operator and he may not be prepared thoroughly when he faces an unexpected situation when he has the orders to commit suicide. To speak about the examples of the latter form in the organization, it generally happens in the second phase of its armed struggle after the victory of the Islamic Republic. They took the form of suicide terrorism to assassinate the leaders of the ritual Friday prayer. An explicit example is al-Qaeda’s attack against the Twin Towers in 9/11 terrorist operation. There are much more examples of these suicide operations against European economic and political centers all plotted by al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups. These were the two types of suicide operations.
There is a third kind which can be referred to as countermeasure, threatening or protesting. I think Mojahedin can be named as the innovators of this form of operation although we have its instances in other parts of the world like protests made against the war in Vietnam just in front of the UN office and the US Embassies. But what happens in Mojahedin is absolutely different and unique in its own. This form guarantees the media coverage and its effect on the public opinion is so high as the protesters of the Vietnam War did; their protest was against an anti-human, aggressive and colonial war and because they could not demonstrate their protest in any other legal form or conduct through any humanitarian body.
An analytical study of this third kind of operation in the organization and its psychological aspects indicates how exclusively it is utilized by the organization as a systematically working means. The purpose here is neither defensive nor aggressive although some aspects of the both may be embraced. To talk about the intended objective of this kind of suicide operation, we have to develop a good understanding of the outcomes in different circumstances and how beneficial and worthwhile they can be for the organization. I believe this is a tactic utilized by an armed, non-democratic organization challenging a democratic society in general. I mean utilization of a primitively violent, aggressive manner where you have the opportunity and the right of defending yourself through legal systems; but of course neither you have the potentiality of abiding by the law nor do you ever think it is to your advantage. As a result, you make an attempt to force the challenger retreat from the fulfillment of legal actions through threateningly non-democratic reactions. A look at the setting of these operations, the European countries and France in particular, and the standing of the organization there well indicate that these operations are the result of the dire situation the organization has faced there under a false pretense; naturally no other backlash can be expected of an organization with respect to its complicated internal relations, ideology and armed strategy of struggle. That is why I make the claim to say that this kind of operation is innovated by the organization and hardly can you find any parallel in other political or armed establishments in the world; it has to be recorded exclusively in the name of Mojahedin. I prefer not to explain any more until the right time when I am giving details on self-burnings that is the objective of our interview. I think I have answered your question to the extent of my information, that is, the definition and classification of suicide operation.
SFF: Sure you have done. But your answer breeds more questions which I will pose in next sessions.
BS: As you wish.
(Mehdi Abrishamchi and Massoud Rajavi taking orders from Saddam's head of secret services)
(Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, cult leaders)
(Maryam Rajavi directly ordered the massacre of Kurdish people)
MEK helped suppressing 1991 uprising – defector
Soltani called on the Iraqi government to target all the leaders of the MEK
Aswat al-Iraq, Baghdad, May23, 2009
BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: A renegade from the anti-Iran opposition group Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK) (aka People’s Mujahedin of Iran or PMOI) revealed that the organization was involved in suppressing the 1991 al-Intifada al-Shaabaniya against the former regime of Saddam Hussein.
“MEK played a prominent role in repressing the intifada in the southern Iraqi cities in 1991 as it sent forces from the organization to the cities of al-Amara and Diala, as the former regime did not rely on its soldiers more than relying on the MEK fighters in this particular respect,” Batoul Soltani said in a press conference she held in Baghdad on Saturday.
On whether she was read to stand before the Iraqi judiciary regarding her involvement in repressing the intifada, Soltani replied, “I am ready to stand before the Iraqi courts to give my testimony on this case.”
“MEK used to back militias inside Iraq by training them and have them infiltrate the present Iraqi institutions,” Soltani, a former member of the MEK leadership council, said, declining to name those “militias.”
The 1991 uprisings were a series of rebellions in southern and northern Iraq in the aftermath of the Gulf War.
The revolts in the Shia-dominated cities of Basra and al-Nasiriya broke out in March 1991, sparked by demoralized Iraqi army troops returning from Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War.
Another uprising in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq broke out shortly thereafter. Unlike the spontaneous rebellion in the south, the uprising in the north was organized by two rival Kurdish parties: Massoud Barazani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).
Although they represented a serious threat to his regime, former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was able to suppress the rebellions with massive force and maintain power, as the expected United States intervention never materialized.
The uprisings were eventually crushed by the Iraqi Republican Guard, which was followed by mass reprisals and intensified forced relocations. In a few weeks, tens of thousands of civilians were allegedly killed.
The prime defendant in this case is Ali Hassan al-Majid, alias Chemical Ali, who was condemned to death on charges of crimes against humanity in the al-Anfal case, in his capacity as former commander of the Southern Zone, based in Basra, and member of the dissolved Revolutionary Command Council.
Other defendants include Sultan Hashim, the former Iraqi defense minister; Hussein Rashid al-Tikriti, former assistant chief of staff; Saber Abdul-Aziz al-Dori, the former chief of military intelligence; Sabaawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, former President Saddam Hussein’s half brother; Abad Hamid Mahmud, Saddam’s personal secretary; Abdul Ghani Abdul Ghafour, a former Baath Party official; Saadi Taama Abbas, the former minister of defense; Iyad Fatieh al-Rawi, former chief of staff and a Republican Guard commander; Latif Mahal Hamoud, former Basra governor; Sufyan Maher al-Tikriti, also a former Republican Guard commander; Iyad Taha Shehab, a former intelligence chief and Walied Hamid Tawfiq al-Naseri.
Soltani said she has heard from MEK chief Massoud Rajavi after the fall of the former regime in 2003 that the handover of their weapons to the U.S. side was a “tactical plan,” adding “MEK boasts a very strong intelligence system”.
The defector said she has spent more than 20 years of her life inside Camp Ashraf before she managed to escape a couple of years ago. Soltani has come to Iraq in 1986 with her husband using a fake passport and remained inside the camp until she was able to run away after the 2003 fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.
PMOI is a militant Islamic Socialist organization that advocates the overthrow of Iran’s current government.Founded in 1965, the PMOI was originally devoted to armed struggle against the Shah of Iran, capitalism, and Western imperialism.The group officially renounced violence in 2001 and today it is the main organization in the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an “umbrella coalition” parliament-in-exile that claims to be dedicated to a democratic, secular and coalition government in Iran.The group has had thousands of its members for many years in bases in Iraq, but “they were disarmed in the wake” of the 2003 US-led invasion and “are said to have adhered to a ceasefire.”The PMOI’s armed wing is, or was, called the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA).
The Iranian government officially refers to the organization as the Monafeqin (literally, “Hypocrites“), maintaining that PMOI is not truly Islamic.The United States, European Union (EU), Canada, Iraq and Iran have designated the PMOI a terrorist organization.Although the European Court of Justice has overturned the EU designation in December 2006, the Council of the EU declared on January 30, 2007 that it would maintain the organization on the blacklist.
Camp Ashraf, which lies in the province of Diala, 57 km northeast of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, exists since the 1980s. The PMOI members in Iraq were collaborating with the former regime of Saddam during its war with Iran from 1980 to 1988.
Soltani called on the Iraqi government to “target all the leaders of the MEK,” expressing readiness to help the Iraqi government on this.
“There are about 3,000 MEK fighters whose hands are tied under the strong control of Massoud Rajavi and Maryam Rajavi. They do not have any media channels to exprss themselves and for more than 20 years they have been hearing nothing except the voices of those leaders,” noted Soltani.
MEPs intrigued by accounts of newly arrived escapees from Camp Ashraf
Discussion of the Mojahedin-e Khalq/National Council of Resistance and its activities in the EU Parliament
... Ms Ebrahimi said she saw Mr Paulo Casaca when he visited Camp Ashraf. We were not allowed to approach him and speak to him, she explained to delegates. If they had somewhere to go, she told delegates, without doubt ninety-nine percent of the people in Camp Ashraf would leave the camp and the MKO...
Reported from EU Parliament, Sep. 09, 2008
On Tuesday 9 September a meeting was held by the Delegation for Relations with Iran in the European Parliament. The meeting focused on ‘Discussion of the Mojahedin-e Khalq/National Council of Resistance and its activities in an exchange of views with:
Ms Anne Singleton expert on the MKO
Representative of the NCR (declined invitation)
Three Residents of Ashraf Refugee Camp who arrived from Iraq in the last couple of weeks: Ms. Ebrahimi, Mr. Hassan Piransar and Mr. Hamid Siah Mansoori.
Also present were former MKO members Karim Haggi, Mohammad Sobhani, Hadi Shams Haeri and Ali Ghashghavi, who accompanied the new arrivals to provide support to these vulnerable people.
Ms Angelika Beer, President of the Iran Delegation (Greens/EFA), began by describing the MKO and its activities up to the present time.
Anne Singleton briefly described her own involvement with the MKO for over twenty years.
Asserting that the MKO will not give up the use of violence to achieve its aims, Ms Singleton went on to explain why, in spite of that, she believes that the MKO has currently little to do with the Iranian political scene, but that precisely because it is a cult, its danger is that it interferes in parliamentary democracy in western countries in ways that may even involve criminal activity.
Whilst agreeing that the MKO’s platform of ‘total regime change’ in Iran could be attractive to some politicians in the west, Ms Singleton challenged the delegates to consider whether the MKO would be able to achieve its stated aim – ‘will it do what it says on the tin’? Since its last major offensive against Iran in 1988, the MKO has achieved little to further its aims. She told delegates that they should also consider the possibility that, even if they believe the MKO has changed tactic and intends to pursue its aims only through political opposition, the MKO may not actually be ‘fit for purpose’ She urged them to consider the evidence of the three former residents of Camp Ashraf who have arrived in Europe from Iraq only in the past few weeks, and who would speak later in the meeting about conditions inside the MKO.
Ms Singleton asserted that Iranian people – as those delegates who have visited Iran are aware – are not waiting to be rescued by the MKO and are capable of opposing their own government. Iranian women are not waiting to be taught about feminism by Maryam Rajavi who leads an organisation which – as Batul Ebrahimi will testify - badly abuses women members.
Then Ms Singleton described the current situation of the MKO in Iraq. Control of Camp Ashraf, the MKO’s headquarters, has been transferred from the American military to the Iraqi military. Ms Singleton said that Iraqi government officials are angry at reports which suggest that the MKO would be ‘massacred’ if the Americans handed over Camp Ashraf.
Instead, the people inside the camp are facing a humanitarian crisis because they are not allowed even basic freedoms such as the right to enjoy contact and visits from their families. A rumour has arisen that the Americans have removed around 300 of those captive in Camp Ashraf and left the others. Ms Singleton said that if this is the case then she would consider the remaining 3000 individuals in Camp Ashraf to be ex-members of the MKO. They should be brought to western countries as soon as possible.
Finally, Ms Singleton presented delegates with one solution to the crisis at Camp Ashraf, remove the MKO from the European terrorist list and bring ALL 3,300 residents to Europe where those who are mentally, physically and emotionally sick would be able to receive help.
Ms Singleton finished by reminding delegates that continuing support for the MKO would, of course, mean that the European Parliament accepted to have a cult operating in its midst and continuing to interfere in parliamentary democracy. However, if that is the decision to be made, then so be it.
Ms Beer thanked Anne Singleton for her contribution and asked the three recently arrived, former Camp Ashraf residents to speak.
Ms Ebrahimi (speaking in Farsi) told delegates that she had gone to Camp Ashraf when she was sixteen years old and although she quickly realised she wanted to leave, she was captive there for another ten years. She described conditions for women in the camp. Not only does the MKO not allow women to marry, women are made to work in the scorching sun for hours at a time so their complexions are ruined and they become ugly. This is so they do not develop the vanity to think they could be attractive to a man, she told delegates.
In order to remove hope from the women of ever having a family, they are being sent under surgery for spurious medical conditions to have their wombs removed [hysterectomy] and around ten percent of women in Camp Ashraf have now undergone this surgery. When they tried to impose it on her, Ms Ebrahimi ran away. She begged delegates to take doctors to Camp Ashraf to check the veracity of what she was telling them.
The MKO told her that if she left the camp and went with the American soldiers, they would rape her. For this reason it took two years before she was able to have the courage to escape.
Ms Ebrahimi said she saw Mr Paulo Casaca when he visited Camp Ashraf. We were not allowed to approach him and speak to him, she explained to delegates. If they had somewhere to go, she told delegates, without doubt ninety-nine percent of the people in Camp Ashraf would leave the camp and the MKO.
Mr Hamid Siah Mansoori (speaking English) told delegates he had been in the MKO for over twenty five years. He described how he had gone to Iraq from Canada. He had a good education, and a good life in Canada and had his own business before leaving everything behind in the mid 1980s to go to Iraq. He then described the MKO’s attitude to family. He said no one is allowed to contact their family, except in a few cases where people were told to contact their family to get money from them. He said the MKO told his family he was dead. They came to look for him five years ago – at the beginning of the American occupation – but were told he was dead.
Mr Hamid Siah Mansoori said he had arrived only a week ago, but had lost any contact details for his family. Nevertheless, his first priority now was to make contact with his parents and the rest of his family.
Ms Beer asked delegates if they had questions. One delegate asked how the MKO continued to be financed which allowed them to continue to undertake such expensive campaigns in parliament and elsewhere. Another delegate asked for more detail about the role of the Americans in supporting Camp Ashraf when the US State Department so strongly describes them as a terrorist group.
Anne Singleton answered these questions, pointing out that during the reign of Saddam Hussein the MKO had received almost unlimited finance from Saddam Hussein, as well as from Saudi Arabia and some western governments from behind the scene. Now, however, although it is clear that MKO finances are dwindling somewhat, it was unclear how the MKO could continue to spend so much money, and the only people to answer that are the MKO themselves.
Ms Singleton pointed out a five year rift in policy toward the MKO between the US State Department – which has a very thorough knowledge of the MKO – and the US Defense Department under Donald Rumsfeld. Some in the US Administration wanted to use the MKO in confronting Iran and therefore Camp Ashraf has been protected by the US military in Iraq for five years. Ms Singleton conceded that this protection was beneficial in keeping the MKO out of danger in the midst of a war zone. But that the Americans had also flouted the UN Fourth Geneva protocol by not allowing MKO to meet their families and not enabling them to leave the situation.
Ms Beer then introduced Mr Mohammad Sobhani who had previously addressed the Delegation. Following that meeting he had been the subject of unfounded accusations of having attacked MKO members in Paris. Instead, Mr Sobhani was the victim of a violent attack when some fifty MKO supporters ambushed a meeting at which Mr Sobhani was a speaker.
Following this, Mr Hadi Shams Haeri briefly pleaded with delegates to help him have contact with his children whom he has not been allowed to see for eighteen years. He asked that Mr Paulo Casaca accompany him to Camp Ashraf and help him meet with them again.
At the end of the meeting Ms Beer expressed her appreciation for the speakers and said it had been a valuable meeting. One which, given the ongoing situation at Camp Ashraf, might soon be repeated.
After the meeting, several of the attendees stopped to talk to the visitors – in particular the three who had just arrived from Iraq - and asked them to keep them informed of developments.