Fatjona Mejdini, Balkan Insight, Tirana (Albania), September 20 2016:… The People’s Mujahedin of Iran is a controversial resistance group. Founded in 1965 as a left-leaning opposition to the Shah’s regime, it turned against the Islamic Republic following the 1979 Revolution. The US listed it as a terrorist organisation in 1997 but it was removed from the blacklist in 2012 after it renounced violence. Several thousand of its members left Iran for Iraq, where former dictator Saddam Hussein, used them …
Iranian Opposition Ex-Fighters ‘Transferred to Albania’
Iranian media reported on Thursday that a plane has flown 155 members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (People’s Mujahedin of Iran), an exiled opposition movement that advocates the overthrow of the Islamic Republic in Iran, to Tirana.
The Fars news agency claimed that a total of 676 of the organisation’s members are scheduled to be transferred to Albania this month.
The Albanian Interior ministry didn’t deny the report, although it refused to specify the number of People’s Mujahedin of Iran members expected to be transferred to Albania during August.
“The Albanian government has an agreement signed in 2013 for the accommodation of the group so we are continuously expecting them to come to the country in accordance with it,” an interior ministry source.
The agreement is believed to have been signed with the US, and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran members are believed to have been transferred to Tirana from Camp Liberty in Iraq.
The interior ministry source said that it was not allowed under the agreement to give the numbers of those arriving as this was considered a sensitive information gave the risks involved.
In March 2013, former Prime Minister Sali Berisha disclosed part of the agreement in an official statement after meeting the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Barbara Leaf, and the UN envoy to Iraq, Martin Kobler.
At the time, the government said it had offered asylum to 210 members of the People’s Mujahedin of Iran.
After that, no more information about the agreement or the opposition fighters’ arrival has been officially released.
Voice of America reported in February this year however that the number of People’s Mujahedin of Iran members coming to Albania might be as many as 3,000.
“In the last two years, Albania has accepted around 1,000 members of this group, and according to a high official of State Department, the country has promised that is going to accept also 2,000 others,” wrote journalist Pam Dockins in an article for Voice of America after she was part of the press entourage accompanying US Secretary of State John Kerry to Tirana on February 14.
Dockins’ article also said that during the visit, Kerry thanked the Albanian government for its effort in the taking the Iranians, although the issue was not publicly mentioned while he met the country’s political leaders.
The People’s Mujahedin of Iran is a controversial resistance group. Founded in 1965 as a left-leaning opposition to the Shah’s regime, it turned against the Islamic Republic following the 1979 Revolution.
The US listed it as a terrorist organisation in 1997 but it was removed from the blacklist in 2012 after it renounced violence.
Several thousand of its members left Iran for Iraq, where former dictator Saddam Hussein, used them as a tool against the Iranian regime.
After the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, alliance forces offered the Iranians protection. Since then, about 3,000 have lived at Camp Ashraf while others were sheltered at Camp Liberty near Baghdad.
Polemikë e madhe pasi MEK nuk mund të provojë nëse lideri Massoud Rajavi ka vdekur apo është gjallë
.Gazeta Impakt, Tirana, Albania, August 21 2016:… [Huffington Post article ‘Grand Controversy as MEK can’t prove leader Massoud Rajavi is dead or alive’ translated into Albanian language. Published by Gazeta Impakt. The death of Massoud Rajavi announced by the Saudis coincides with the mass transfer of radicalised MEK members from Camp Liberty to Tirana. The issue of Rajavi’s death has had an existential impact inside the MEK. Iran-Interlink]…
[Huffington Post article ‘Grand Controversy as MEK can’t prove leader Massoud Rajavi is dead or alive’ translated into Albanian language. Published by Gazeta Impakt. The death of Massoud Rajavi announced by the Saudis coincides with the mass transfer of radicalised MEK members from Camp Liberty to Tirana. The issue of Rajavi’s death has had an existential impact inside the MEK. Iran-Interlink]
Polemikë e madhe pasi MEK nuk mund të provojë nëse lideri Massoud Rajavi ka vdekur apo është gjallë
Mbledhja e madhe e Maryam Rajavit në Paris më 9 Korrik është shpallur si premtim i saj i ndryshimit të afërt të regjimit .
Në fakt kjo u kthye në një polemikë të madhe të një lloji tjetër. Propoganda e këtij viti reklamon aftësitë propaganduese të Rajavit në mënyrë që të sigurojë fonde të vazhdueshme nga pasanikët e ndryshimit të regjimit. Ky vit ishte ndryshim dramatik për shkak të prezencës së panjoftuar të princit Turki al-Faisal, ish-ambasadori i Saudisë në Mbretërinë e Bashkuar dhe SHBA. Sigurisht, jo një person që e fton nga një listë e agjensisë së folësve.
Këtë vit, përfshirja e Princit Turki ndryshoi gjithçka për MEK-un. Dhe jo pak, pasi perceptimi i publikut të Arabisë Saudite si një regjim shtypës, sidomos për gratë. Turki këmbënguli që pikëtakimi të lëvizë nga Villepinte në Bourges për arsye sigurie. Më pas ai urdhëroi ndryshime në planin e skenës dhe panelit të folësve. Papritur, dikush tjetër ishte në krye të detyrës së eventit. E patrembur, madje edhe e kënaqur që kishte një të ftuar kaq prestigjoz, Maryam Rajavi e hapi mbledhjen duke lëvduar bashkëshortin e saj Massoud Rajavi. “Dashtë Zoti ta mbrojë luanin vigjilent të përjetshëm” lajmëroi ajo duke u drejtuar nga fotoja e tij e vënë në vend. Kjo pritej. Megjithëse ai u zhduk vetëm përpara se forcat aleate të sulmonin Irakun në 2003, Massoud Rajavi njihej si lideri aktual i Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK-NCRI është emri i parë i MEK-ut), gruaja e tij ishte e dyta në detyrë.
Kur ishte radha e Princit të Saudisë të fliste, ai i bëri me shenjë Maryam Rajavit të ulej me pjesën tjetër të audiencës dhe të dëgjonte, në të njëjtën kohë duke u siguruar që ajo nuk do të fotografohej me të në asnjë moment. Turki, ish koka e inteligjencës së Saudisë me të cilën ai është akoma i përfshirë, është një operator mendjehollë famëkeq. Si Ambasador në Washington ai bindi disa Amerikanë se 9/11 nuk erdhi nga Saudija por nga Irani.Ai dihet që nuk del kurrë nga skenari. Kështu që, nuk ka dyshim se kur ai lajmëroi për të dytën herë vdekjen e Massoud Rajavi, nuk ishte një gabim. Fjala ‘marhoum’- e cila kuptohet si një shprehje ngushëllimi nga folësit Arab- tingëlloi rëndë, dhe kështu ishte qëllimisht pjesë e fjalisë së tij.
Deri në atë moment Maryam Rajavi ishte e pavetëdijshme. Mungesa e reagimit herën e parë, ai iu kthye direct asaj dhe i tha ‘marhoum Massoud Rajavi’, tregon se ajo nuk e kishte kuptuarçfarë ishte thënë. Herën e dytë e kuptoi, pasi dha një buzëqeshje. Im,Është e qartë se Turki nuk ishte konsultuar me MEK paraprakisht për përmbajtjen e fjalimit të tij. Dhe në qoftë se ai do të kishte bërë gabim, kishte shumë kohë ta ndreqte pastaj.Ai nuk e ndreqi.
Atëherë, çfarë do të thotë kjo? A ka vdekur Massoud Rajavi? Dhe në qoftë se po, pse nuk e di bashkëshortja e tij, dhe në qoftë se e di, pse nuke thotë? Dhe më e rëndësishmja, pse princi Turki e bëri këtë lajmërimnë publik gjatë eventit më të rëndësishëm të MEK-ut?
Megjithëse mbështetja e Saudisë për MEK i përket kohës së Saddam Hussein, lidhja nuk u be asnjëherë publike. (Ky është tregues se MEK ka përdorur AL Arabiya si zëdhënës për vite dhe sidomos muajt e fundit.)Analistëve ia mori mendja se Princi Turki mori pjesë në mbledhjen e MEK-ut në mënyrë që të shpallte veten si kryetar të grupit.
Pas rënies së Sadam Hussein-it, MEK kishte nevojë për shpatulla të reja. Massoud Rajavi shiti shërbimet e grupit Izraelitëve, neokonservatorëve dhe sigurisht Arabisë Saudite. Ja pse ne pamë MEK-un tek përdorte negociatat bërthamore P5+1 me Iranin. Sapo u arrit marrëveshja, retorika kundër-Iranit ndryshoi drejt abuzimeve të të drejtave njerëzore. Për fat të keq, puntorët e grupit, kanë bërë histori në këtë aspekt, me Human Rights Watch dhe RAND Corporation duke bërë të njohur të drejtat e njeriut dhe abuzimet e kultit që po bëhen në MEK. Si një ballafaqim i rremë, grupi është fyer kaq shumë nga iranianët saqë ka tërhequr vetë opozitën.
Me ngritjen e Daesh dhe grupeve dhe gangsterëve të dhunshëm në Siri dhe Irak, MEK zbuloi mundësitë reja. Maryam Rajavi bëri përçapje për paqe për Ushtrinë e Lirë Siriane. Për ca kohë, dukej sikur MEK do të mund të përdorte një bazë të re në Shqipëri- forcë mjaft e radikalizuar në Kampin Liberty, Irak, po transferohen momentalisht – në një kamp lehtësues. Ideja ishte të mundësonte trajnim dhe logjistikë grupeve të reja terroriste nga një vend në cep të Europës, por pranë Lindjes së Mesme. Kjo u bllokua kur ekspertët shqiptar e ekspozuan në kanalet kombëtare.
Ngjarjet në Lindjen e Mesme kanë ndryshuar. Arabia Saudite ka dalur në ballë dhe fsheh konfliktet ushtarake kundër Iranit që janë sekret i hapur në rajon. Por pasi u la në baltë nga Shtetet e Bashkuara, arabëve i janë dashur të kërkojnë aleatë të tjerë në këtë përpjekje. Ndërkohe, Turki e di shumë mirë se MEK nuk është asgjë më shumë se një makineri propogande dhe irrituese për Iranin, kjo është më mirë se hiçgjë.
Shfaqja e Turki-t në mbledhje sinjalizon se kushdo që përpiqej t’i bënte keq Rajavit-hamendësohet shërbimet perëndimore intel- ia kanë dorëzuar saudive siç bënë në 1986 kur Rajavi u përjashtua nga Franca dhe iu dorëzua Saddam Hussein-it për ta ndihmuar në luftën kundër Iranit.
Massoud Rajavi, naiv siç është ai, mendoi se do t’i fitonte pozitat e vjetra dhe do të punonte në projektet e reja për sauditët. Në vend të kësaj, ekspertët e MEK-ut besojnë se Maryam Rajavi do ta ketë kuptuar mesazhin e Turkit kështu:”Nuk ka drejtues të vjetër, ata nuk janë më. Jam vetëm unë.Dhe intel-i i Saudise nuk do t’ju trajtojë ashtu siç bëri Sadami. Në atë kohë ju kishit forcë luftarake në Irak gati për të sulmuar Iranin. Tani e drejta juaj e vetme është propoganda. E as nuk do t’ju trajtojmë ju me butësi ashtu siç kanë bërë MB ose SHBA.
Dhe kështu ju e kuptoni pozitën tuaj si skllavi joni. Unë sapo lajmërova vdekjen e bashkëshortit tuaj. Tani, harroje të mos i bindesh komandave të mira. Vdekja e tij aktuale mund të rregullohet lehtësisht.’
Nëse Rajavi ka vdekur ose po e vrasin tani, kjo nuk dihet- vetëm aim und t’i përgjigjet kësaj – por ai dhe e gjithë organizata e tij tani janë,me mish dhe shpirt, në duart e afta të Princit të Saudisë. Në qoftë se ai është akoma gjallë, roli i vetëm i Rajavit është të veprojë si ndërmjetës dhe të udhëzojë gruan e tij se çfarë duhettë bëjë ajonë emër të Saudisë. Sauditë, ashtu si Saddam Hussein, i shikojnë gratë me rëndësi të barabartë me delet dhe dhitë. Kështu që do të ishte e paperceptueshme që ata të merren vesh direct me të ashtëquajturën liderja feministe e grupit, shërbimet e së cilës po i paguajnë ata.
Ditët kanë kaluar që kur Polemika e Madhe u ndërpre. Reagimi MEK-ut pas mbledhjes ishte gati histerike. Ata dërgonin mesazhe ne vende ku normalisht nuk do të flisnin –VOA dhe BBC Persi –për të theksuar përtej dyshimit se Rajavi është akoma gjallë. Përveç kësaj, MEK nuk ka mundur ta vërtetojë të vërtetën. Kështu që dikush po gënjen.
Fakti është se askush jashtë MEK-ut nukdo t’ia dijë nëse Rajavi është gjallë apo vdekur. Por për ndjekësit realitetii errët i së ardhmes po merr fund. Në qoftë se MEK nuk mund ta provojë- me zë apo paraqitje- që lideri i tyre është gjallë, ose të njoftojë se ai ka vdekur, kjo do të thotë që egjithë organizata ka vdekur. Në qoftë se ata nuk mund t’i përmbahen kësaj detyre të thjeshtë, si mund të premtojnë ata ndryshimin e regjimit?/ Gazeta Impakt
The death of Massoud Rajavi
US charter flight transferred 155 Mojahedin Khalq terror commanders to Albania
Press TV, August 28 2016:… At least 155 members of the terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), including a number of the group’s senior leaders, have reportedly fled Iraq to Albania. A US passenger plane transferred the MKO terrorists, who had been holed up in Camp Liberty near Baghdad International Airport since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, early on Thursday, Didehban Strategic Institute reported. Several high-ranking officials of the MKO terrorist group, possibly its …
At least 155 MKO terrorists flee Iraq to Albania: Reports
At least 155 members of the terrorist Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO), including a number of the group’s senior leaders, have reportedly fled Iraq to Albania.
A US passenger plane transferred the MKO terrorists, who had been holed up in Camp Liberty near Baghdad International Airport since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, early on Thursday, Didehban Strategic Institute reported.
Several high-ranking officials of the MKO terrorist group, possibly its ringleader Massoud Rajavi, were reportedly on board the US plane.
An arrest warrant had been issued for the terrorists by the Iraqi government and they fled the country with fake identities and passports.
Didehban also quoted informed sources in Iraq as saying that the US plane had had no other passenger but the MKO terrorists.
There is still no word if any MKO member remains in Camp Liberty but the terrorists’ departure has been reportedly facilitated by the United States, the United Nations and with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia.
There is a deep-seated resentment toward MKO in Iraq because of its criminal past. The group widely supported former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in his brutal crackdown on opponents.
The terror group also sided with Saddam during his 1980-1988 war on Iran.
Iraqi leaders have long urged MKO remnants to leave the Arab country but a complete eviction of the terrorists has been hampered by the US and European support for the group.
The terrorist group had to flee Iran shortly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 after carrying out a spate of assassinations and bombings which took the lives of many top officials and civilians.
In December 2011, the UN and Baghdad agreed to relocate some 3,000 MKO members from Camp Ashraf in Iraq’s Diyala Province to Camp Liberty, which is a former US military base.
The last group of the MKO terrorists was evicted by the Iraqi government in September 2013 and relocated to the camp to await potential relocation to third countries.
The MKO is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the international community and has committed numerous terrorist acts against Iranians and Iraqis.
What does it mean when we say ISIS operates as a mind control cult?
Massoud Khodabandeh, Iranian.com, October 01 2015:… Those camps, often far from the inhabited world, are important in the process. That is where the recruit changes in to a suicide bomber, Khodabandeh concludes. The technique used to brainwash someone only works if you have a place where you are able to isolate people from the family and acquaintances …
What does it mean when we say ISIS operates as a mind control cult?
The world is waking up to the fact that some kind of brainwashing is involved in the ISIS campaign to recruit and deploy fighters in Iraq and Syria. This even extends to importing thousands of brainwashed ‘family’ recruits to populate its declared Caliphate.
As an expert on this subject, I was interviewed by Dutch writer and journalist Judit Neurink as part of her new book ‘The war of ISIS: On the road to the Caliphate’.
Judit has lived and worked in Iraqi Kurdistan for nearly a decade. This is important because she has been able to get into the hearts and minds of the people she shares this life with and they have rewarded her with a unique and intimate understanding of this region. This book is a reflection of that.
The book sets out to answer the questions which we all have about ISIS. “Who they are, how did they get their ideals, how do they operate and are they really as dangerous as they would like the world to believe?”
Avoiding any sensationalism, Judit intersperses hard facts, information and analysis with individual accounts and sharp descriptions. She allows other people to speak about their knowledge and experience and by doing so brings the ISIS phenomenon to life in a way no external observer can hope to do.
My contribution has been to talk about the cultic nature of ISIS and the specific methodology it uses to deceive and brainwash its victims into becoming killers and suicide bombers. In this respect it is very similar to the Mojahedin Khalq.
The external behaviour of such groups can sometimes lead people to the false conclusion that one is worse or better than the other. The truth is that because of their internal cult dynamic all terrorist groups are not only dangerous to their intended targets but are also destructive of their own members. Like ISIS, the MEK has killed and tortured thousands of its own members over the years.
ISIS is much more than just an Islamic group that has established its own state. It is a sect which brainwashes and indoctrinates its members. All new members must first follow lessons in sharia, the Islamic Legislation. “Not in the principles of Islam, but those from the Islamic state”, a young man who left ISIS tells the BBC.
“They teach you the Islam that they want”
Whoever enters ISIS start with forty days in a religious training camp, led by a charismatic trainer. The young man said that his had come from Saudi Arabia, and was so “nice and convincing” that he was “prepared to become a suicide bomber if he has asked”. The training “aims at your heart and not your head, so that your heart becomes filled with passion for their words”.
According to Massoud Khodabandeh, who for years was in the leadership of the Iranian political sect Mujahedeen Khalq (MKO), charismatic trainers play a far more prominent role than the ideology. That is secondary to the goal of the sect, which usually revolves around the well-being and the ambitions of the leader of the group and those around him. Concretely, with ISIS it’s about Baghdadi and the group around him, and their ambition to become powerful.
“With ISIS it is not about Islam”, khodabandeh said resolutely. “No one becomes a member of a sect because of their message”. The recruits from ISIS know nothing about Islam. Because it they did, they would not allow themselves to be lured in”.
Khodabandeh broke with the MKO and now leads an organisation from Great Britain to help people follow his example. Internationally he is well known as an expert on the subject of political sects.
According to him only people who were easily influenced beforehand will fall in to the net of the recruiters. “They have problems; they are running away from something. One from his father. The other one from debt collectors. They have failed in love or at university. They are already a victim before they fall in to the net”.
For the training of its recruits ISIS had at the end of November in 2014 twenty five camps, fourteen in Syria and eleven in Iraq. One of those was exclusively for fighters from Kazakhstan. After the indoctrination a military training follows, fighters receive physical training and learn how to handle weapons.
Those camps, often far from the inhabited world, are important in the process. That is where the recruit changes in to a suicide bomber, Khodabandeh concludes. The technique used to brainwash someone only works if you have a place where you are able to isolate people from the family and acquaintances, where there are no credit cards, and no place to go back to”.
For the indoctrination of a fighter the recruitment focuses on separating them from everything they had, up to the point that they no longer want to live. For a suicide bomber live itself is a burden. If you are leading a life that you do not want, then you can convince yourself of the beckoning paradise. You only give up a life if you do not have one anyway”.
To show the extent of this, Khodabandeh uses the example of an eighteen year old fighter who was taken prisoner by the Iraqi army before he could carry out his suicide mission. With the approval of the Iraqis, he spent 48 hours with the young man in an effort to pry him loose from the grip of ISIS. “I thought that I should be able to convince him to think differently about things. But after two days and nights he said that I had committed the greatest sin. I had kept him from reaching paradise for forty eight hours. It went that deep. His life was a burden. He begged to end it”.
A sect exists from a nucleus with layers surrounding it. Like and onion, Khodabandeh says. The nucleus is the suicide bomber, for ISIS also the fighters who go in to battle to die. “You only need a certain number of these. But in order to recruit and indoctrinate them there are many more people needed”.
Not everyone becomes a suicide bomber. And that prospect alone will not lure any recruits, neither does the idea of going to kill people, or decapitate leads, khodabandeh believes. They come from money, for charity, for a role in the new state or the army. “In Syria they realize; I have to kill someone while I only came here to bring medicine. The pressure to do that is immense. Because their entire world is now ISIS. If it says that you have to chop off heads, then you do that. Otherwise you will become a victim yourself”.
From that fear, ISIS members convince themselves if they have doubts that they are wrong, and the others, in ISIS, are right. Because everyone outside of ISIS is considered to be the enemy, this would relate to them too should they turn their backs on the group. “they believe they do not have any choice; if they do not cut off that head then they will lose their own”.
MP: Iraqi Kurds do not want the MKO (Rajavi cult) in Iraqi territory
Ashraf News (Translated by Nejat Society), Baghdad, May 05 2016:… Mr. Rinas Jano Mohammad Younis, a deputy of Kurdistan Democratic Party from Dahuk Province told Ashraf News, “Kurds have been victims of the MKO as it was cooperating with Saddam Hussein.” “The role of the MKO and the crimes it committed against Iraqi people including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens is known to everyone,” Mr. Jano added. “Iraqi government has so far tolerated members …
MP: Iraqi Kurds do not want the MKO (Rajavi cult) in Iraqi territory
Wednesday 04 May, 2016
Kurd member of Iraqi Parliament asserts that Iraqi Kurds do not want the Mujahedin Khalq Organization in Iraqi territory.
Mr. Rinas Jano Mohammad Younis, a deputy of Kurdistan Democratic Party from Dahuk Province told Ashraf News, “Kurds have been victims of the MKO as it was cooperating with Saddam Hussein.”
“The role of the MKO and the crimes it committed against Iraqi people including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmens is known to everyone,” Mr. Jano added. “Iraqi government has so far tolerated members of this terrorist organization because European countries have promised to receive it in their soil.”
The Kurdish parliament member considers the United Nations as the main responsible body to determine the future of the remaining members of this Iranian organization, in Iraq. “The UN has a heavy responsibility on the issue of the group since it has been a side of the agreement that was signed based on relocation of members of the Mujahedin Khalq out of Iraq,” Mr. Jano said.
The deputy of Kurdistan alliance in Iraqi Parliament denied that Kurdish alliance fraction wants the MKO members to remain in Iraq. ”We support the rule of Iraqi government on its territory and the expulsion of any terrorist group that is hostile to neighboring countries of Iraq,” he stated.
Translated by Nejat Society
Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, PMOI, NCRI, ….) in Iraq ten years on
Iran Interlink, March 20 2015:… On the occasion of Norooz, Iran Interlink is posting this article titled ‘Uncertain Future for MKO’ which was first published by Knight Ridder in March 2005. Our thoughts and hopes are with the victims of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, and their families, who are still held in incommunicado captivity in Camp Liberty …
Mojahedin Khalq (MKO, MEK, PMOI, NCRI, ….) in Iraq ten years on
On the occasion of Norooz, Iran Interlink is posting this article titled ‘Uncertain Future for MKO’ which was first published by Knight Ridder in March 2005. Our thoughts and hopes are with the victims of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, and their families, who are still held in incommunicado captivity in Camp Liberty after all this time. More than a reasonable number of these people have died, some in suspicious circumstances. We hope this year will see the end of this inhumane situation and wish every success to Jane Holl Lute and her team as well as the Iraqi authorities in resolving it quickly and peacefully.
Hannah Allam/Knight Ridder Newspapers/March 18, 2005
Link to the source
Uncertain Future for MKO
CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq – Iraq has an oasis where fountains gurgle over pebbles and flowers blossom in lush gardens.
The hospital is spotless and fully stocked, schools offer violin lessons and drivers obey traffic laws. The electricity is always on, and the water is always clean in this serene, self-sufficient compound.
The only thing missing is an exit.
This never-never land is Camp Ashraf, home to nearly 4,000 Iranian militants on windswept plains in the heart of Iraq’s most treacherous region. At once sympathetic and strange, the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, or Mujahedeen Khalq, have spent the past two decades on a single-minded mission to overthrow the fundamentalist clerics of the neighboring Iranian regime.
Now, with Iraqis having just elected a pro-Iranian government, no one, from the Bush administration to human rights workers, quite knows what to do with these foreign dissidents and their pretty camp in the middle of a war zone.
The Mujahedeen once had tanks and guns, but were forced to surrender their armaments after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. They had a protector in Saddam Hussein, who gave them land and sold them millions of dollars in weapons, but now he’s gone. They had recruits lining up to join the cause, but now the ranks are thinning as defectors ponder a risky return to Iran.
All the Mujahedeen have left in Iraq is their idyllic refuge at Ashraf, north of Baghdad, and even that has become a prison-like place overseen by the U.S. military. The State Department lists them as an international terrorist organization, and some former members brand them as a cult.
In 1986, Saddam donated this 36 square-kilometer desert patch to the Mujahedeen, who turned it into a sophisticated base town dotted with replicas of landmarks found in Iran. When they weren’t busy planning attacks and gathering intelligence on the Iranian regime, fighters added a library, a mosque, swimming pools and ornate sculpture.
“We built everything with our own hands,” said Pari Bakhsha’i, 43, the matronly administrator of Ashraf. “We love this place so much. We have sweet and bitter memories here.”
The Mujahedeen invited Knight Ridder to Ashraf for a two-day visit this month, the first time Western journalists have been allowed at the compound in nearly two years. Effectively a military base without weapons, women in olive-green uniforms and matching headscarves still tool around the city in Toyota trucks. But they yearn for the old days, when they drove tanks and fired Katyusha rockets.
Joining the Mujahedeen requires a total relinquishing of mind and body to an ideology most often described as Marxist-Islamist. Men and women live in separate, self-contained units where everything, from ice cream to “Ashraf Cola,” is made on site. Marriages aren’t allowed and troops are encouraged to purge sexual thoughts by writing them out on paper. E-mail, letters, movies and news are all filtered by camp commanders – mostly women – before reaching the units.
Many residents sought sanctuary in Ashraf after relatives were tortured or executed in Iranian prisons. Martyrs are remembered in two macabre museums and a well-kept cemetery, where 200 men and women are buried, including some killed in U.S. air strikes.
One museum is filled with rows of black-and-white photos and the belongings – a wristwatch, a bullet-riddled shirt – of the thousands of Mujahedeen supporters slain under the Iranian regime. Visitors watch a gruesome video of a couple stoned to death for alleged adultery, a prisoner whose eyes are gouged out and a crude machine slicing off the fingers of other Iranian detainees.
“On the streets of Iran, you see nothing but repression and intimidation,” said Ahmad Reza Iranpoor, 19, whose brother Mohamed, 25, is also a member. “We see that, and it’s not only me, but many others who are willing to leave everything behind.”
People who’ve fled the camp, however, tell stories of being lured by promises that they would help Iranian children and restore democracy to their homeland. What they found instead, some former members said, was a lonely sect where members were intimidated into staying.
The U.S. military has investigated claims that the Mujahedeen were keeping people in Ashraf against their will, but found no solid evidence. As one senior U.S. military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, put it: “I think they’ve been captured by ideas and dogma, but they are not prisoners. They are reasonably physically free to leave.”
At Ashraf, defectors are called “quitters,” traitors who couldn’t handle the sacrifice and, as a result, played into the hands of Iranian intelligence agents. Their stories are made up, said Mahnaz Hashemi, 22, a pretty, freckled woman who left behind shopping malls and Saturday night dates when she moved from Tampa, Fla., to Iraq in 1998.
Hashemi had just been accepted to college with dreams of becoming a meteorologist when news of atrocities in her native Iran pulled her toward the Mujahedeen.
“I told myself, `God didn’t make you to go live in Florida,’” she said. “When I came here, I knew I was going to commit my whole life to this one goal. I didn’t plan on just staying for a few months.”
To counter their image as a bizarre, isolated group, the Mujahedeen run a clinic that treats impoverished local Iraqis for free. They sponsor women’s rights conferences and invite the culture-starved Iraqi intelligentsia to performances by the group’s musicians, poets and theater group. The road from Baghdad to Ashraf is dangerous, so the Mujahedeen offer late-night visitors tidy guesthouses filled with trays of nuts, fruit and homemade cookies.
On one recent night, 300 women from Unit 6 gathered for dinner in a cafeteria where artists practiced for an Iranian New Year gala. The all-female orchestra tuned up with the theme song to the film “The Godfather,” followed by a purple-clad singer who stirred the crowd with folk tunes from Iran.
“See?” whispered one young woman called Khojasteh, whose name means “happiness” in Farsi. “Women in Ashraf have so many talents. They can sing, they can play and they can fight.”
In the audience were Somayeh, 24, who boasted of her skills with an assault rifle, and Farkhondeh, 28, a tank mechanic who’s now in charge of electrical maintenance at the camp. There was Maryam, 39, whose toenails were ripped out during torture in an Iranian prison, and Hajar, 67, whose husband and two sons died fighting for the Mujahedeen. They were all smart, engaging women – and none has left the confines of Ashraf in two years.
The most revered figure of the group was Mahnaz Bazazi, who lost her legs during a U.S. air strike on a Mujahedeen camp during the 2003 invasion. Young women gathered around her wheelchair as she recalled how the sky turned red before the blast ripped off her flesh below the knees.
“We might not have guns, but we have our ambitions and our spirit,” Bazazi said in a soft-spoken, determined voice. “Even if it’s with our hands and nails, we’ll overthrow the regime.”
But their only stabs at the Tehran government these days are largely symbolic. Late one evening, for example, hundreds of Mujahedeen members jumped over flames as part of the “Fire Feast,” celebrated on the Wednesday before the Iranian New Year. The ancient tradition of burning out the sorrows of the previous year is banned in Iran because of its pre-Islamic roots.
Members made large papier-mache dummies of Iran’s ruling mullahs and cheered as they went up in flames. A crescent moon hung in the vast sky and chants of “Freedom! Iran!” rose from the revelers. They sang and danced in defiance of Islamic extremism.
The celebration usually calls for fireworks as well, members confided with sadness, but they didn’t want to risk alarming their American guards this year.
Founded in the 1960s to oppose the pro-Western Shah of Iran, the Mujahedeen participated in the Islamic revolution of 1979. They were instrumental in the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year.
The group’s leftist philosophy quickly put them at odds with the post-revolutionary government, and the new mission of the Mujahedeen became overthrowing the mullahs. Their attacks have spanned decades and have wiped out dozens of top regime officials. Iran’s current supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is partially paralyzed as a result of a 1981 assassination attempt for which the Mujahedeen claimed responsibility.
They were eventually driven from Iran and settled in Paris, where the group’s iconic leader, Maryam Rajavi, still lives. They then received refuge from Saddam, who used them in the Iran-Iraq war and, by many accounts, later to crush Shiite Muslim and Kurdish uprisings. Iraqis regarded them warily, noting the irony of a force opposing dictatorship while being under the protection of Saddam.
The CIA, FBI and international intelligence agencies all descended on Ashraf after the U.S. invasion to screen members for terrorist leanings. Soldiers found cyanide tablets that senior members planned to use if captured by Iranian security forces. The Mujahedeen’s radio station, their most valuable link to supporters in Iran, was shuttered. American explosives contractors are still blowing up more than 20,000 tons of weapons and ammunition seized nearly two years ago.
In Washington, senior officials of the Bush administration initially sought to use the group against Iran after Saddam’s ouster and, with the president’s keen focus on Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, that idea still hasn’t been ruled out. Of the residents at Ashraf, one senior State Department official estimated, perhaps 200 might be useful as U.S. intelligence assets.
For now, the militants can stay at Ashraf under a United Nations “protected persons” status, though it means members are virtually prisoners of the U.S. military.
Militants seeking to escape the highly disciplined, claustrophobic life of the compound can cross into a dismal, adjacent holding facility known as Camp Freedom, where some have languished in tents for nearly two years because no third country has agreed to offer them asylum. Human rights workers have started looking into conditions at the U.S.-run camp, where one defector told Knight Ridder he was deprived of a shower for so long that fungus grew on his body.
A U.S. military official involved with the Mujahedeen’s case in Iraq agreed Camp Freedom wasn’t an ideal long-term solution, though he pointed out that residents have satellite TV, movies and hot meals. Finding resettlement countries would take years, he said on condition of anonymity, because of long refugee waiting lists of “people in much more dire straits than the people at Ashraf.”
The only other option for Mujahedeen members is returning to Iran, a route quietly encouraged by the U.S. State Department and the Iraqi government in hopes that mass defections will crumble the leadership of Ashraf, empty the camp and solve the problem. But fewer than 300 have taken that gamble, fearing revenge from the mullahs they spent years plotting against.
Mujahedeen officials say they think that the U.S. and Iraqi policy to confine them is a mistake. “They’ve tied the stone and unleashed the dog,” said Hossein Madani, a senior Mujahedeen spokesman at Ashraf, using an Iranian adage for making a wrong choice. “They took our weapons away. Were we the problem?”