US Citizens Running for President in June 17, 2005, Iranian Elections, But Strategic Outlook Remains Unchanged by Election
Alan Peters, Defense & Foreign Affairs Special Analysis (Volume XXIII, No. 59): Special Report
Two US citizens, Ebrahim Yazdi and Houshang AmirAhmadi, have registered as candidates in the June 17, 2005, Presidential election in Iran. They have, however, about the same chance of approval to be on the ballot as the low level factory guard, Abolghassem Khaki, from a remote desert town of Mehbod, or Ebrahim Sarraf (name means moneychanger), whose political platform rests on legalizing brothels. The real line-up of contenders for the election have already been approved, and do not include the US-based candidates. READ MOREI disagree with his view of the strength of the pro-democracy movement in Iran, but it is informative. A good overall introduction to the elections.
The main hard-liner aspirants are:
1. Former Pres. Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (recently “promoted” himself to the rank of ayatollah from his customary lower hojjat ol-eslam clerical title);
2. Tehran Mayor Mahmood Ahmadi-Nejad;
3. Former National Police Chief Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf;
4. Former Head of the Revolutionary Guard Mohsein Rezai;
5. Former National TV & Radio Chief Ali Larijani.
Among the “reformers”:
1. Former Minister of Education Mostafa Moin (current Pres. Mohammad Khatami’s ally);
2. Former Speaker of the Majlis (Parliament) Mehdi Kahroobi;
3. Khomeini’s Foreign Minister and now a ”dissident”. Ebrahim Yazdi;
4. Prominent female dissident Aazam Taleghani (first female member of parliament after the revolution)
In a replay of the last (2000) election for the Majlis, in which some 2,000 candidates opposed to the mullahs were forbidden to participate, out of about 1,100 Presidential candidates, the unelected Guardian Council approved only six Islamists until Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i realized that without any reformists in the running, he would be accused of discrimination or rigging the results and also lose a win/win gambit opportunity. On his orders, Mostafa Moin received approval for candidature, as did a relatively-unknown Director of National Sports.
The final selection indicates the following:
1. The ruling clerical factions have given in to the “be tough” military component of the regime that was at odds with any kind of softening of repressive Islamic regulations;
2. Desire not to muddy the waters with a larger and more confusing number of nominees for a disaffected populace;
3. Uncertainty of an adequate voter turn out and a wish to prevent dilution of the votes for the winner;
4. The hope that allowing an active Reformist to run would increase voter turn out to their advantage since the Reformist would stand the chance of a snowflake in hell of winning.
The 89 other women candidates were the first to be axed. Ineligible — as women — to compete for this high a position because of gender. Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani complained that a loophole in the law permitted women like 18-year-old Azam Ghaderi to put up her name as did ardent female dissident Aazam Taleghani.
While his grumble included other “wannabees”, a boy as young as 16 (15-year-olds are allowed to vote in Iran) and an 86-year-old man, the comment confirmed the disgust of the increasingly dissident cleric – Ayatollah Montazeri — that “the people only have the freedom to choose from among candidates selected by the State”.
Originally a core member of the Revolution with Khomeini, Ayatollah Montazeri was slated to succeed him but was passed over at the last minute in a power struggle that brought in Ali Khamene’i to fill Khomeini’s shoes.
Montazeri reiterated that power in Iran rests with the unelected Supreme Ruler and not with the people so he expects very few will turn out to vote. A Persian saying goes: “he spoke to the door so the wall would hear”, offering an oblique instruction to his followers and anyone else who might care to listen, to boycott this election.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, the heir to the Persian throne, Reza Pahlavi has begun openly encouraging a boycott of the elections without fielding a practical alternative political structure at this time, except by inference that a return to the monarchy might suit the people well.
The most significant figure in the race, former Pres. Rafsanjani, who placed 13th when he previously competed for a parliamentary seat in 2000, barely made the cut for a run off and backed out of the election to save face. He now wants a third (non-consecutive) term as President.
Those in the loop realize the 73-year old pragmatist hardliner — known to some as “the Eunuch”, because of his relative lack of facial hair and to others as “the Shark” for the same smooth feature and predatory financial activity — has entered the contest for simple survival rather than a desire to hold high position. The presidency brings a degree of immunity.
The hardliners encouraged to run against him by arch rival Supreme Ruler (unelected) so-called “Ayatollah” Ali Khamene’i, have every intention of putting an end to Rafsanjani’s stated intentions of renewing ties to the US and implementing changes in foreign relations. Probably by impeaching him on financial corruption and even trying to get him imprisoned and if possible hanged as a traitor, something even his enormous influence might not be able to prevent.
The universally accepted real Ayatollah, Shariat-Madari, now dead, warned at the time of the revolution, power should not be given to “us clerics” (akhoond), who will bicker and fight over it and have no idea how to run a modern country, so will ruin it.
Hojjat ol-Eslam Reza Hassani, strong supporter of and spokesman for Supreme Ruler Ali Khamene’i (whose title of ayatollah was recently — quite factually — dropped on the most prominent local Iranian television in the United States when referring to Khamene’i) stated: “elect Rafsanjani and we will have the atomic bomb”. Khamene’i’s duplicitous support of Rafsanjani through his surrogate indicates an attempt to drive hesitation into any Western support that might lean in that direction.
Rafsanjani’s attempt to cloak himself in some vestige of Reformist ideals and vague hints of relaxing the Islamic regime’s hard-line internal and foreign policies flies in the face of his masterminding some 100 assassinations of credible Iranian opponents or dissidents around Europe when he had the post of President the last time around from 1989 to 1997. His network of paid agents spreads from Australia to Europe and to the US, and especially to Canada, where he also has multi-billion dollar real estate developments. Using an extensive array of bank accounts hidden in off-shore banks, he pays agents in virtually every major city to promote him or to attack, and often to do away with, opposition.
Born in the Eastern Iranian province of Kerman in 1934 to a family who lived just above poverty from the sale of pistachio nuts from their stand of trees, Rafsanjani became a self-made billionaire, gracing the cover of Forbes magazine in the US, but at the same time claiming extreme poverty. At the age of about 14, he studied Islam under Khomeini, which provided him ties to the 1979 Revolution, propelling him to become Speaker of Parliament in 1980 and to a key rôle in the war against Iraq. Surviving a bomb attack in 1981, he negotiated the arms for hostage deal with the US in 1985.
He had, by 1988, concluded a UN-assisted ceasefire agreement with Iraq, but 17 years after the fact, no formal peace treaty had been signed between the two countries, leaving open the door for Iran to “resume war” at will. He won election as President of Iran in 1989 and re-election in 1993 until 1997, when term limits prohibited a third term. An attempt in 2000 to become a member of the Majlis and failed in significant terms.
Rafsanjani’s influence is legend but so are some amusing rebuffs. Several years ago a relative asked him a favor to grant a lady a bread bakery license on the southern Island of Kish in the Persian Gulf. Unable to refuse his recommendation, local Kish authorities granted the license but made sure that the woman was totally unable to obtain, or bring in, flour with which to bake the bread.
Hojjat ol-Eslam Hassani’s “support” of Rafsanjani at a Friday prayer sermon in West Azarbaijan also included the comment that “Islam always spoke with sword in hand. Why should we change now?”
One of the candidates, hardliner Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Chief of National Police until April 2005 (he resigned the post to be allowed to run for President) and a former Commander of the Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran: IRGC) Air Force, has strong anti-civilian characteristics and was one of some two dozen Revolutionary Guard commanders who warned outgoing “reformist” President Khatami in July 1999 that if he did not enforce hard-line morality in society, then the military would take over those duties.
The militarization of the Presidency and subsequent probable Cabinet choices looks likely, given the fact that, apart from Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, other candidates include Ghalibaf, former Pasdaran Commander Mohsein Rezai, former Head of National TV and Radio and erstwhile Pasdaran member Ali Larijani and military-backed Tehran Mayor Mahmoud.
Ghalibaf, like most of them, seeks to garner support of young Islamist conservatives by stating he wants everyone serving in his future government to be younger than he is.
His brother — a notorious, albeit never-arrested, large scale, drug smuggler and distributor — has helped lure Iran’s youth of all persuasions into addiction in vast numbers. A significant portion of Iran’s youth, facing mind and body sapping daily stress, have become addicts, with easily imagined adverse social repercussions. At this point, 46-million out of population of 69-million are under the age of 30. They remember little or nothing before the mullahs.
Countless employed workers, paid too little too live on, search through garbage to find food they cannot afford to buy to feed their families. Orphaned or abandoned street children, by the tens of thousands in the capital Tehran and to a great extent in provincial cities, beg and sell themselves for food — forget shelter from freezing winters and searing summers — with nowhere to reach out to or anyone in government to help them.
This leads to the recruitment of the displaced youth, in many instances, in secret brothels often operated by those close to, and protected by, the Administration.
Semi-reformist candidate, in name at least, former parliamentary Speaker and cleric, Hojjat ol-Eslam Mehdi Kahroubi recently leaked secrets about his opponents, but few about his own multiple misdeeds and obstruction of reforms or the sources of huge funding being sent in his direction. He has a foot in both camps and was never an effective leader of the Majlis, gaining his position when the Guardian Council refused to accredit anyone suggested by current Pres. (Ali) Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani.
Kahroubi’s ambitions were nearly ended recently when the provincial balcony from which he and his supporters were campaigning collapsed, leaving them all in a heap of rubble below. He escaped unhurt.
Two “reformist” candidates, first banned then approved within 48-hours, on the say-so of Supreme Ruler Ali Khamene’i, were finally allowed to run in a cat and mouse game initiated by the Supreme Ruler.
His orders to approve former Education Minister Moin and the token, back-up reformist alternative, the National Sports Director, as presidential candidates gives him the option of declaring the Reformists had always intended to avoid campaigning and turning out the vote if they refused to run after being cleared. Or to have them run vigorously and lose badly in the rigged environment, thus proving the people did not want reforms.
The difficulty for candidate Moin, an ally of outgoing Pres. Khatami, in accepting to campaign seriously (which he appears to have adopted as his policy), is that he will have to make unrealistic promises to get elected. Khatami, who had also made extravagant election promises, getting a huge part of the electorate to vote him into office eight years earlier, proved powerless to enact anything and became the figurehead of “virtual democracy” inside Iran, enabling the hardline Administration a measure of legitimacy when negotiating with the rest of the world.
Moin, the former teacher, can only use this opportunity – since his participation has been approved – to speak out against the theocracy in a manner which would have had him immediately arrested without this political cover. However nothing ensures that arrest, imprisonment and life-threatening abuse may not take place for him after the elections.
Moin cannot implement any promise he makes as long as the unelected Supreme Ruler and his 12-man unelected Council of Guardians or the powerful Expediency Council, headed by opponent Rafsanjani (also not favorably inclined to Moin) which resolves disputes between the clerical establishment and parliament, can veto or block anything they dislike. The Councils, to which can be added the Assembly of Experts, layered above the Presidency, would make his life — if elected — more than difficult.
While campaigning in the provinces with Pres. Khatami’s brother, leader of the major reform party supporting Moin, both were attacked by militant hard-line thugs and had to be rescued by local police authorities. The police would not have reacted at all had the attacked persons not been so prominent.
The Presidency in Islamic Iran has no power to implement anything when the Constitution itself has been interpreted and implemented to bias matters in favor of the real power, an unelected Supreme Ruler, who is selected by the Assembly of Experts. Any glimmer of legitimacy disappears when the following power structure of the unelected Ruler gets clarified:
The Assembly selects the leader but cannot dismiss him. The 12-member Guardian Council, which has the authority (by their own interpretation) of validating or vetoing candidates for any position — including for member of the Assembly of Experts — consist of six clerical jurists and six lawyers appointed by the head of the Judiciary. The Head of the Judiciary serves by appointment of the Supreme Ruler. Thus all 12-members of the omnipotent Guardian Council are appointed either directly by the Supreme Ruler or by his subordinates and obey him.
The Judiciary, headed by the Supreme Ruler’s choice, also reports to nobody but him. “Independent”, certainly, but not responsible to an electorate or elective process. Even the Guardian Council membership that must be “approved” by Parliament receives votes from a pre-stacked deck, chosen by their pre-selected candidates.
This scenario would make matters virtually impossible for Moin legislatively if he were to win the Presidency. The 2000 elections for members of the Majlis were packed with terrorist-minded members or their supporters. For example, more than 30 of the “approved” candidates for Majlis from Tehran ran under the aegis of the Developers of an Islamic Iran (Abadehgaran-e Iran-e Eslami), who initially backed former National TV Chief Ali Larijani’s run for presidential position (not power) because of a slice of military backing he enjoyed, but now appear to have retreated to not backing anyone specific, as long as the candidate is a hard-line Islamist.
A few examples of some of those previously supported by the Developers of an Islamic Iran for member of parliament provides an insight into their philosophy, though in recent years they seem to prefer to be an eminence grise and operate in the background without betting on or fielding particular candidates or personalities:
(a) Parviz Sourouri, a top Basij (para-military, vigilante force) organizer in part of the capital of Tehran, also has the duties of editor-in-chief of Revolutionary Guard (Pasdaran) publications in Lebanon and Syria and an activist favoring and encouraging terrorism;
(b) Said Abu Taleb, a Pasdaran intelligence and security member; was active in Iraq, was arrested posing as a TV employee and later released;
(c) Hossein Fadai, an organizer of the military “special forces” group known as the Badr forces that undertake terrorist activity in Iraq and oversee supplies to the Iranian armed forces;
(d) M. Kuchekzad, responsible for organizing safe houses for Iranian terrorists and intelligence personnel in Karbala, Iraq and a listed terrorist himself;
(e) Elias Naderan, manages Pasdaran legal matters in Parliament;
(f) Alireza Zaakni, in charge of Basij presence among students and inside Tehran University and oversees Basij/student activity nationwide as a suppressive measure to prevent freedom movements or demonstrations. Openly contravenes law which forbids law enforcement personnel on University campuses;
(g) Emad Afrough, member of the Governing Council and in charge of security and intelligence matters in the Guardian Council;
(h) Seyed Fazlollah Moussavi, Director for the Committee for the defense of the Palestinian Nation and head of the council looking after the benefits paid to the Martyrs of the Intifada (largely considered a terrorist group by supplying suicide bombers).
Not surprisingly, neither of the two US candidates for President of Iran has been qualified to participate by the Guardian Council, although Iran wants to set up polling booths throughout the US so that Iranians in the US can vote and, depending on how many pro-Islamists residents or denizens can be found in the US, try to increase final voter turnout statistics.
US-based candidate Houshang AmirAhamdi, described by those who know him as basically uninfluential in Iran before the revolution, and with socialistic tendencies, has since his arrival in the US pretended to be neutral in his efforts to promote the mullah’s causes in the US. In his own words he “sees no reason for the Iranian Islamic regime to disqualify me and not let me run”. When taken in context of the Guardian Council prerequisites of a candidate already being a statesman and highly qualified religiously, the comment sounds as vain as it is.
AmirAhmadi’s critics accuse him of allegedly plagiarizing material from students and others in his teaching position at Rutgers University and aligning himself with a powerful oil group to use his contacts in the Islamic Administration to deal in prohibited Iranian oil and exploration, thus serving his self-gratification instead of either Islamic or Western principles.
Ebrahim Yazdi, a US-trained geneticist, who taught at Baylor University in Texas, joined the founder of the current Islamic Administration, “Ayatollah” Ruhollah Khomeini in his French exile after Saddam Hussein of Iraq expelled Khomeini from Iraq (already exiled from Iran). Later he became Deputy Prime Minister for Revolutionary Affairs in Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s secular provisional government, set up by Khomeini, who abolished it after nine months to put in place an Islamic clerical Administration and constitution.
He also held the position of Prosecutor General, resulting in criminal charges being filed against him in Britain by 38 Iranian Human Rights advocates inside Iran and 27 outside those borders.
In the filing, Yazdi had been characterized as having trained in Yasir Arafat’s terrorist camps in Lebanon prior to 1979 and as the architect and founder of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran) and spearhead of the post-revolution summary courts. These lawless courts gave official imprimatur to the bloodshed Khomeini and his colleagues, such as Yazdi, let loose immediately after their takeover.
When Khomeini was asked in very early days what should be done to reorganize the Ministry of Justice, he replied: “Anyone who is against me is against God and should be killed immediately on the spot as waging war against Allah. We do not need any other justice.” Yazdi was happy to oblige.
He held and enjoyed televised interrogations of principal military and civilian leaders of the Shah’s monarchy like Prime Minister Abbas Hoveyda, Police Chief Gen. Mehdi Rahimi, Security Chief Gen. Nematollah Nassiri, Army Air Wing commander Gen. Manouchehr Khosrowdad, and paraded them, often bleeding and hurt, while taunting, threatening and humiliating them with instructions to confess their sins, all for Iran’s television viewers with the clear objective of instilling widespread fear into anyone not immediately joining the Islamic take over.
Yazdi, now a self-proclaimed dissident against the clerical Administration which he helped establish, wants to be President of Iran.
The movement to boycott the elections as a show of protest has gathered momentum among the nearly 40 University Student Associations.
Infiltration of the paramilitary Basij vigilantes into student groups, the readiness of the mullah Administration to kill, maim or imprison at will has resulted in a lack of leadership among these, including the most active one called the Strengthening of Unity (Tahkeem-e Vahdat).
With only about 1.2-million university students, among a 69-million population in Iran, (49-million eligible to vote) hopes in Western governments to use them as a tool to overthrow the clerics appear to thin in the face of what they are expected to remove and the hardships they face. Including their being divided into factions, with some wanting to withdraw from the political system and advocating a boycott, while ever hopeful others like the Shiraz faction still cling to operating within the system to achieve change.
One major hope exists among opposition groups is that the combination of the students and increasingly disenchanted bazaar merchants may have enough strength to drive the mullahs out, beginning with a growing bazaari support of a boycott.
A similar co-operation between the bazaar merchants and the clerics was largely responsible for the arrival and growth of the current Islamic Administration. While innately conservative and religious, the powerful merchants turned against the Shah after he moved the center of financial power from their kiosks in the old town bazaar, which then had a stranglehold on 90 percent of the country’s imports, to a more modern, economical, multinational structure in uptown Tehran. These merchants now hark on the poverty and misery which Rafsanjani brought the last time he was President.
Strongly motivated by money, these merchants blame him for free market (privatization) reforms which in their minds brought about staggering inflation, unemployment which is, in real terms, close to the 50 percent range.
One US dollar used to cost a mere 79 Iranian rials, even at street level, during the monarchy. Having to pay more than 9,000 rials today for the same dollar provides an indicator of the economic change being faced by these traditional merchants.
The bazaaris also resent the spate of millionaire mullahs (billionaire in the case of Rafsanjani), who have taken over the most lucrative businesses: banking, hotels, automobile and chemical companies, drugs (both legitimate and unlawful kinds) and consumer goods.
Perhaps among the most lucrative entities available to the clerics but not the merchants are the Islamic charities which received these businesses after confiscation from the former owners after the Shah left and now act as slush funds for the mullahs. They compete with the interests of the bazaar just as the Shah’s actions did in modernizing commerce within the economy to unlock astronomical capital squirreled away in safes or stacked in roomfuls of property deeds in the bazaar and unavailable to finance development of the country.
The greatest obstacle to removing the mullahs lies not in elections but in the lack of any available charismatic or acceptable leader to rally the populace. Although within Iran the growing call for the return of the Monarchy has reached a strong undertow level among those who still remember it, the reality is that most Iranians alive today were born after it was gone.
The dauphin Reza Pahlavi and the monarchists face a daunting challenge of having to spill enormous amounts of mullah blood to regain control of Iran, something which would come back to haunt him and his followers in future democratic politics.
The only Quixotic national figure currently inside Iran, and whom many would follow, is 72-year-old Abbas Amir Entezam, who was Deputy Prime Minister and Spokesman for the Interim Revolutionary government of Mehdi Bazargan but having been accused by the Islamic regime which followed under a year later as being a CIA agent, he has spent decades in prison or under house arrest.
Throughout all of his time under arrest he has refused to compromise his principles despite torture and illness and thus earned the respect of most Iranians. It is probable that his gentle, liberal philosophy would prevent him from effectively changing or handling the change after the removal of the mullahs in any which way.
Significantly, as always through Iranian politics, the strong candidates generally do not appear until the crisis erupts. In this regard, the nationalist — but pro-Western — Persian movement, Azadegan, led by Dr Assad Homayoun, has been quietly building support.
Meanwhile, the conundrum of how to deal with a nuclear Iran by European negotiators has been postponed until after the June 17, 2005, elections. Privately they admit to low expectations of any significant change for the better from the newly-“elected” President and his Cabinet of hardliners, especially with military backgrounds. Iran, meanwhile, proceeds with intense efforts to obtain a nuclear bomb.
The US George W. Bush Administration, intent on passing difficult legislation relating to Social Security and Tax Reforms, before a lame duck status really kicks in to its final term of office, seems content to put international challenges on a back burner until Washington is ready and has achieved domestic priorities.
Despite the fervor over the Iranian Presidential elections, it is unlikely that they will change the strategic direction of the State.
The mullahs, who would have no future in Iran without their present power, will not give up without a desperate fight; they would kill as many as necessary to prevent their overthrow. The cl;erics today mostly use foreign mercenaries – not Iranians – to quell dissent or street demonstrations: Yemenis, Saudis, Palestinians, Syrians, Afghan Taliban, Algerians, Iraqis, various nationality Islamists, etc., so that their strike forces have no reluctance to kill and cannot be dissuaded or persuaded to cease and desist by any potentially incoming political leadership.
The idea that Revolutionary Guards might side with new leadership and risk their own future punishment for misdeeds during the Islamic Regime, despite all offers of amnesty, appears unreal, although key IRGC leaders have made overtures to the Iranian opposition movements.
To successfully wrench control from the mullahs — in the short and long term — would require almost eradicating them, both to regain manageable daily governance and to avoid later constant plots and internal terrorism against any new leadership.
Only one of the internal or external opposition groups vying to take over from the mullahs has either the resolve or, more importantly, the resources to conduct direct warfare and go up against the numerous, ruthless Basij mercenaries or Revolutionary Guards and a host of other Islamic paramilitary units which exist independently in Iran. That one group which has the means and an activist following, the Mojaheddin-e Khalq (MEK), has been taken off the table — for now — and labeled a terrorist group by the US State Department and some European countries. Indeed, the MEK and the Fedayeen e-Khalq received extensive funding and training — as well as support for their Marxist ideology — from the Soviet Union during the 1970s, and both undertook terrorist and guerilla operations against the Shah’s Government.
Proponents for using the MEK as a way to remove the mullahs from power and then clear the deck of the MEK itself in follow up action consider this the only quick and practical, pragmatic way to institute successful regime change within a short period of time. There is believed to be an active MEK following of around 100,000 persons inside Iran.
The MEK leadership has already been promoting the removal of their “terrorist” classification. Official MEK leader Mariam Rajavi who, together with her husband Massoud, rule the organization, has proposed that the West support the MEK in a takeover of the country and by allowing them six months to govern Iran without a constitution before holding free and open elections.
Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin may become support the MEK once they are in power, and block efforts to remove them.
The MEK has strayed far from being a political organization into becoming a hardnosed cult which demands virtual worship of the leadership by its members. It has meted out beatings, death, torture and years of solitary confinement to anyone who wished to leave.
Meanwhile, as the election process continues, the Supreme Leader has announced that 'voting in June is as important as prayer!' and 'a vote in the ballot box is a bullet in the heart of George Bush!'
Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK)
A detailed report by Human Rights Watch, entitled “No Exit”, a 29-page downloadable PDF file, is obtainable at http://hrw.org/backgrounder/mena/iran0505/. The viability of the MEK, also know by other names, including MKO, becomes apparent in the brief history of the MEK at the US Navy website: http://library.nps.navy.mil/home/tgp/mek.htm. The US State Department assessment of the organization follows:
From: Country Reports on Terrorism, 2004. United States Department of State, April 2005:
The National Liberation Army of Iran
The People's Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI)
National Council of Resistance (NCR)
National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI)
Muslim Iranian Student's Society
The MEK philosophy mixes Marxism and Islam. Formed in the 1960s, the organization was expelled from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and its primary support came from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein starting in the late 1980s. The MEK conducted anti-Western attacks prior to the Islamic Revolution. Since then, it has conducted terrorist attacks against the interests of the clerical regime in Iran and abroad. The MEK advocates the overthrow of the Iranian regime and its replacement with the group’s own leadership.
The group’s worldwide campaign against the Iranian Government stresses propaganda and occasionally uses terrorism. During the 1970s, the MEK killed US military personnel and US civilians working on defense projects in Tehran and supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran. In 1981, the MEK detonated bombs in the head office of the Islamic Republic Party and the Premier’s office, killing some 70 high-ranking Iranian officials, including Chief Justice Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, President Mohammad-Ali Rajaei, and Premier Mohammad-Javad Bahonar. Near the end of the 19801988 war with Iran, Baghdad armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, the MEK assisted the Government of Iraq in suppressing the Shia and Kurdish uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north. In April 1992, the MEK conducted near-simultaneous attacks on Iranian embassies and installations in 13 countries, demonstrating the group’s ability to mount large-scale operations overseas. In April 1999, the MEK targeted key military officers and assassinated the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff. In April 2000, the MEK attempted to assassinate the commander of the Nasr Headquarters, Tehran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. The normal pace of anti-Iranian operations increased during "Operation Great Bahman" in February 2000, when the group launched a dozen attacks against Iran. One of those attacks included a mortar attack against the leadership complex in Tehran that housed the offices of the Supreme Leader and the President. In 2000 and 2001, the MEK 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, although MEK terrorism in Iran declined toward the end of 2001. After Coalition aircraft bombed MEK bases at the outset of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the MEK leadership ordered its members not to resist Coalition forces, and a formal cease-fire arrangement was reached in May 2003.
Over 3,000 MEK members are currently confined to Camp Ashraf, the MEK’s main compound north of Baghdad, where they remain under the Geneva Convention’s "protected person" status and Coalition control. As a condition of the cease-fire agreement, the group relinquished its weapons, including tanks, armored vehicles, and heavy artillery. A significant number of MEK personnel have "defected" from the Ashraf group, and several dozen of them have been voluntarily repatriated to Iran.
Location/Area of Operation
In the 1980s, the MEK’s leaders were forced by Iranian security forces to flee to France. On resettling in Iraq in 1987, almost all of its armed units were stationed in fortified bases near the border with Iran. Since Operation Iraqi Freedom, the bulk of the group is limited to Camp Ashraf, although an overseas support structure remains with associates and supporters scattered throughout Europe and North America.
Before Operation Iraqi Freedom, the group received all of its military assistance, and most of its financial support, from the former Iraqi Government. The MEK also has used front organizations to solicit contributions from expatriate Iranian communities.
NOTE: the MEK also solicited money from travelers at major airports around the country, using volunteers or hired affiliates to gather funds and receive a daily commission themselves. Vans would pick them up and drop them from designated points or offices rented for this purpose.
1. The name “Alan Peters” is a nom de plume for a writer who was for many years involved in intelligence and security matters in Iran. He had significant access inside Iran at high levels during the rule of the Shah, until early 1979. This report is © 2005, Alan Peters.