After five years of French exile, Massoud Rajavi has taken his Ira
PARIS (AP) _ After five years of French exile, Massoud Rajavi has taken his Iranian opposition movment to Iraq where he is expected to step up guerrilla action against the regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The leader of the Mujahedeen guerrillas focused on political opposition while in France, collected Western support and built a propaganda machine. But now Rajavi risks the scorn of Iranians by operating out of Iraq, a country that is at war with his homeland.
Some experts believe that the move may have some short-term advantages, but that it will ultimately cost the Mujahedeen credibility with Iranians.
″Now they will be totally identified with the Iraqis and seen as collaborators, traitors cooperating with the enemy in time of war,″ said exiled Iranian journalist Amir Taheri.
Rajavi and his wife left their fortified compound north of Paris on Saturday under police escort and flew to Baghdad where they joined as many as 1,000 Mujahedeen followers who reportedly slipped out of France earlier.
A Mujahedeen statement said the move to Iraq, at war with Iran for nearly six years, was voluntary and a ″new stage in preparation for the general uprising″ against Khomeini.
But French observers agree that Rajavi’s departure was engineered by France in a bid to normalize relations with Iran and help win freedom for nine French hostages in Lebanon.
Iran had demanded the extradition of Rajavi, whose Islamic leftist guerrillas were a decisive force in the 1979 revolution that brought Khomeini to power. But they soon became the ruling mullahs’ most vocal enemy and Rajavi fled the country to lead the only exile group with an armed presence inside Iran.
With his move to Iraq, Rajavi ″is a dead man committing suicide,″ said former President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who fled to France with Rajavi in 1981.
Rajavi’s ties to Iraq are well known and were the source of his bitter 1984 split with Bani-Sadr. The Mujahedeen maintain a radio transmitter in Iraq, and the Baghdad government devotes time to Mujahedeen propaganda in national broadcasts.
According to Taheri, who is considered independent of the various Iranian opposition groups, the Mujahedeen have a 2,000-strong militia in Tawilah, in Iraqi Kurdistan, about 13 miles from the Iranian frontier. ″They already claimed their arrival is the start of a new phase, so they have to do something in the next few weeks,″ Taheri said.
The Mujahedeen have maintained a separate military command in Iran, which claimed responsibility for occasional guerrilla attacks.
Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi deputy premier and foreign minister, said Tuesday that the Mujahedeen plan to step up military action inside Iran.
″They have been doing so in the past, and with the presence of their leaders in a neighboring country and with the facilities we’re going to provide them,″ they will continue on a larger scale, he told a news conference.
Aziz, who was on a two-day visit to Paris, said ″thousands″ of Mujahedeen were based in Iraq before Rajavi arrived.
French relations with Iran ″can in no way effect relations between France and Iraq,″ Aziz told a news conference.
Iran has demanded that France sign no future arms contracts with Iraq. But French President Jacques Chirac, who in 1974 began the close trade relationship, has said that France would not forsake Iraq.
Taheri believes the move to Iraq will reunify the military and political struggles and renew links with Kurdish insurgents.
But ″in the long term, their fate now depends on (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein’s fate. If Saddam wins the war, OK. But they have tied their fate to the fate of someone beyond their control,″ Taheri said. ″They’ve lost their independence.″
″They have become prisoners of Iraq,″ said a researcher on Iran at the French National Center for Scientific Research, speaking on condition he not be named.
From France, Rajavi, 38, directed a lobbying and image-building campaign aimed mainly at Western governments. Iran Liberation, the Mujahedeen weekly, showed photographs of his emissaries attending U.N. meetings and shaking hands with party and government leaders around Europe.
But Baghdad is not a media center and the move to Iraq will likely diminish the publicity.
There are similarities between the exiles of Rajavi and Khomeini, who spent 14 years in Iraq before moving to France. From another Paris suburb, the aging ayatollah mounted the propaganda campaign that helped bring him to power.
Like Khomeini, the Mujahedeen were adversaries of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. The shah imprisoned Rajavi for nearly eight years.
The Mujahedeen are criticized by other opposition groups as responsible for thousands of deaths in the early days of the revolution. And critics say the Mujahedeen are caught up in a cult-like reverence for Rajavi.
Rajavi’s 1985 marriage to Maryam, a Mujahedeen member, was presented as an ″historic event,″ and she was named co-leader of the movement.
In Europe, the Mujahedeen ″marched, made slogans. It was easy,″ said former Teheran University professor Kazem Vadiei, now in exile. ″In Iraq, it’s a matter of making war. We’ll see if they’re ready to go to war.″
Aziz said that Iraq would provide facilities for Rajavi and his Mujahedeen fighters to step up military action inside their homeland ″to overthrow the government that wants to overthrow us.″