September 3, 2003

Are the Mujahideen-e-Khalq behind the Najaf massacre?

by Justin Raimondo

Who was responsible for the Najaf bombing, in which 125 people were killed – including the leader of the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)?

As of this writing, there are at least six versions of the truth to choose from: one fingers two Iraqis and two Saudis, another blames "two Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's fallen regime and two Arab nationals, categorized as Sunni Muslim radicals." An Australian report has two Saudis arrested in Najaf on account of an email in which they triumphantly wrote "The dog is dead," while the Gulf Daily News cites Haidar Al Mayyali, the governor of the Najaf area, as saying:

"There are several suspects, none of whom has citizenship other than Iraqi. The number of those now arrested is not greater than the number of fingers on one hand."

CNN avers that 12 suspects are being held in connection with the bombing, while ABC News is reporting 19 in the hoosegow, citing an anonymous police official who claims they're mostly foreigners, and that "all belong to the Wahhabi sect (of Sunni Islam), and they are all connected to al-Qaeda."

That anonymous police official – cited in several of the above reports – sure gets around. The problem is that he dished out several different versions of his story. Arab nationals, former officials of the regime, Saudis, Al Qaeda terrorists: at one time or another all are named by him – or someone who sounds very much like him – as being among the culprits. So far, only Reuters and the New York Times are going with what seems to be the official police explanation, which denies any proven link to the former regime or foreign involvement:

"Four suspects were detained, the police said, but they rejected reports quoting anonymous police sources that the suspects had been carrying identification cards from the former intelligence services or were foreigners."

So, pick your favorite culprits, according to your political prejudices – or by just guessing.

As for me, I tend to believe the Times-Reuters version, if only because they don't rely on that anonymous and oddly omnipresent police official. But there are other reasons to doubt the Al Qaeda-did-it scenario. To begin with, the idea that Osama bin Laden and Ba'athist remnants hooked up to attack a mosque is just as implausible as the Bush administration's pre-war claims of Saddam's links to Al Qaeda. If this is how the administration is seeking to retroactively justify the war, it won't work.

The political goal of the Najaf mosque bombing was to limit Iranian influence in Iraq. The Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, killed in the blast, and his SCIRI organization were harbored for years in Iran, and received direct military and financial aid from Tehran. SCIRI's goal is to set up an Iranian-style Islamic republic, and institute a legal system based on Sharia law.

Contrary to all the guff being written about how al-Hakim was a "moderate" somehow allied with the U.S., SCIRI was unique among Iraqi opposition groups – indeed, unique on the planet Earth, as far as I can tell – in firmly rejecting U.S. offers of a subsidy. They agreed to sit on the U.S.-sponsored Governing Council, but this hardly makes the group either moderate or pro-American. SCIRI announced their opposition to the occupation before the shooting ever started, and the Ayatollah was always quite clear about his own position:

"'Coalition forces are welcome in Iraq as long as they help the Iraqi people get rid of Saddam's dictatorship, but Iraqis will resist if they seek to occupy or colonize our country'…. Such resistance, the Shiite leader told a news conference in Tehran, would include 'the use of force and arms.'"

As the dust settles, the political meaning of this horrific terrorist act could not be clearer. Iran loses big, and, with the main challenge to U.S. dominance out of the picture, the Americans win. Ignore the caterwauling about "chaos" and the U.S. supposedly losing control: they never had control to begin with. The Shi'ites comprise some 65 percent of the population, but politically the opposition is fragmented, weak, and leaderless: militarily, it is no match for the occupation forces.

Given all this, the hard-line faction of the Iranian regime is floating a not entirely implausible theory, which, for all its vituperative predictability, may contain a grain of truth. The Iranian newspaper Jomhuri-ye Eslami avers:

"The plot to assassinate Ayatollah Mohammed Baqr al-Hakim... was undoubtedly planned by the US and implemented by local mercenaries under US control. As far as local US mercenaries are concerned, one should not forget the role of the Monafeqin [hypocrites, pejorative reference to the Mojahedin-e Khalq Organisation]... As they are Shia Iranians, the Monafeqin can easily infiltrate Iraqi Shia circles."

That the U.S. government is sowing chaos where it is supposed to be keeping order is indisputable. That it is doing so intentionally seems highly improbable. But it is undeniable that the one group most opposed to the extension of SCIRI's influence throughout Iraq is the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), the "Monafeqin" so disdained by Jomhuri-ye Eslami.

The history of this weird authoritarian socialist grouplet – including its apparent sponsorship by the neoconservative faction in the U.S. government – implicates it as a prime suspect in the Najaf blast.

Ideologically, the MEK – Marxist, militantly feminist, and linked by an umbilical cord of financial and political support to the old Ba'athist regime – is the antipode of SCIRI, which is Islamist, militantly anti-modernist, and for all intents and purposes an agent of the Iranian regime. If the Ayatollah al-Hakim had lived to establish an Islamic Republic of Iraq, there would have been no place in it for the MEK.

Otherwise known as the Peoples Mujahideen, or the Iranian National Liberation Army (INLA), the MEK started out as a "left" faction of the Iranian Revolution that overthrew the Shah and installed the Ayatollah Khomeini as the supreme power in Tehran. The U.S., as the Shah's sponsor and chief ally, became the principal target of MEK terrorism. A State Department report notes:

"Bombs were the Mojahedin's weapon of choice, which they frequently employed against American targets. On the occasion of President Nixon's visit to Iran in 1972, for example, the MKO exploded time bombs at more than a dozen sites throughout Tehran, including the Iran-American Society, the U.S. information office, and the offices of Pepsi Cola and General Motors. From 1972-75 … the Mojahedin continued their campaign of bombings, damaging such targets as the offices of Pan-American Airlines, Shell Oil Company, and British organizations."

The MEK also participated in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. After the fall of the Shah, the MEK fell out with the orthodox Shia clergy, and was attacked by the Revolutionary Guards. They began to launch terrorist attacks against the Iranian government, in which civilians were targeted. During the Iran-Iraq war, they made an alliance with Saddam Hussein, who funded them and gave them sanctuary on Iraqi territory, a tactic that succeeded in completely isolating them from the Iranian people.

Their pact with Saddam also made them plenty of enemies inside Iraq. The MEK were used to put down the Kurdish rebellions in the north, and they were also sent to help crush the 1991 Shi'ite uprising in the south – where they faced what is today the SCIRI on the battlefield, and drove them over the border into Iran. After Saddam's fall, the SCIRI returned, with Ayatollah al-Hakim at their head. But his moment in the sun didn't last too long....

When the U.S. invaded Iraq, there was a big debate within the administration over what to do about the MEK. The neoconservatives in the Pentagon and around Douglas Feith and the Office of Special Plans want to use the Marxist terrorists as a club to bash Iran in the next phase of their war to "democratize" the Middle East. Leading neocons such as Daniel Pipes and Arnold Beichman tout the MEK as a U.S. ally, the latter hailing it as "a legitimate force for democracy and regime change in the Middle East." That's an odd way to characterize a totalitarian cult whose commitment to "democracy" consists of having unilaterally proclaimed Maryam Rajavi – wife of the group's military leader, Masoud Rajavi – "President Elect"of Iran.

This is the only terrorist outfit that I know of with a huge constituency on Capitol Hill: 150 members of Congress signed on to a letter in response to the banning of MEK and its front groups from the U.S.

Its bank accounts closed, the MEK public relations machine still managed to put out a full-page ad in the New York Times protesting the crackdown. The Mujahideen e-Khalq has become a symbolic issue in Washington, a rallying point for the radical neocons and their congressional amen corner.

The State Department, having designated MEK a terrorist organization, opposed utilizing the group against Tehran. U.S. diplomats were trying to convince the Iranians to hand over Al Qaeda operatives reportedly on their territory, but Tehran wouldn't agree unless MEK was disbanded. The mullahs were furious because a formal agreement was signed with MEK leaders, enabling the group to "remain fully armed, but nevertheless effectively quarantined," as one analyst put it.

Back channel negotiations between Iran and the U.S. over Al Qaeda members held in Iran are opposed by the neocons, who see more "regime change" as the logical next step in the war on terrorism. They have gone so far as to meet with Iran-Contra figure Manucher Ghorbanifar, a discredited arms merchant, in order to derail U.S.-Iranian cooperation.

The cabal that lied us into the Iraq war is not above using the MEK terrorist cult to provoke Tehran and trigger a new conflict. The news that the U.S. is now reviving the Mukhabarat, Iraq's hated secret police, in order to boost the intelligence-gathering capabilities of the occupation government is more than a case of strange bedfellows. It points directly to the prospect of a rapid escalation of the war, with the U.S. clearly preparing to expand operations into Iran. As the New York Times recently reported:

"[Sabi al-] Hamed, a Mukhabarat officer since 1976, said he refused to join the revived unit when former co-workers told him that it would be cooperating with the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, an Iranian opposition group that is on the State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations. Mr. Hamed said he had worked with the group during the Iran-Iraq war and called them butchers, adding that he had seen bodies of people they had executed."

In characterizing the MEK as "mercenaries under U.S. control," Jomhuri-ye Eslami may not be too far off the mark. That is, if by "under U.S. control" they mean under the control of the parallel intelligence service set up by the neocons to carry out their own private foreign policy.

As American troops disarmed MEK, "President Elect" Maryam Rajavi fled to France, where her group was raided by the police and now faces expulsion from the country. The French charged the MEK compound was a terrorist nerve center, where acts of violence were being planned against Iranian targets and dissident members throughout Europe. Masoud Rajavi, husband of the "President Elect" and commander of the group's armed wing, remained in Iraq, where he had been living in the home of Iraqi Gen. Ali-Hassan al-Majid, better known as "Chemical Ali."

The Rajavi Islamo-commies may be banned in the U.S., but in Iraq they will doubtless carry on their 35-year battle in another form. We may have seen the first results already. If so, it wouldn't be the first time MEK has carried out terrorist activities in and around Najaf.

"Can the Mujahideen be useful?" asks Daniel Pipes, recently appointed to the board of the "U.S. Institute of Peace," a government-run think-tank. His answer:

"Yes. Western spy agencies are short on 'human intelligence' meaning spies on the ground in Iran, as distinct from eyes in the sky. Coalition military commanders should seek out the Mujahideen for information on the Iranian mullahs' agents in Iraq."

Interestingly, the possibility that the MEK might be doing more than merely gathering information in post-Saddam Iraq was prefigured in an interesting piece in the Beirut Daily Star [June 6, 2003]. Ed Blanche observed the "alarm" of the Americans at the appearance of the 15,000-strong Badr Brigades, the military wing of the SCIRI, and noted:

"SCIRI leader Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, whose family was decimated by Saddam's secret police, announced May 31 that his movement had given up its heavy weapons although it doesn't seem to have handed them over to the Americans to focus on the political struggle. But the Badr Brigades and the INLA are mortal enemies, and the Americans may just find it useful to use the Mujahideen as a counterweight to the Iranian-backed Shiites in the stormy days ahead. The Mujahideen face final collapse if they are subdued in Iraq, or forced to disband. But given the power of Rumsfeld's Pentagon right now, they could live to fight their enemies another day, under one guise or another."

The Mystery Terrorists of Iraq, masters of a thousand guises – who knows what they'll morph into next? The war is young, and we have a lot to look forward to: the Zoroastrian Liberation Front, the Turkmen Freedom Fighters, the Assyrian Assassins. Iraq is teeming with disgruntled grouplets – for sale, cheap.

As our old friend, the anonymous "police official" cited above, spreads confusion about the Najaf massacre story throughout the Western media, his Iranian doppelganger, described by the Tehran Times as "an Iraqi analyst," adds his own spin to the mix, claiming that "traces of Mossad agents were found at the Najaf blast site." As to whether they left a calling card, this "analyst" does not say. He merely passes along rumors that the Mossad has lately made a point of "infiltrating" certain unnamed "organizations in southern Iraq." He does, however, name the MEK as having "helped Zionist operatives in this mission." In any case, he speaks with as much ersatz authority as his Western cousins, who attribute the massacre to Al Qaeda, Ba'athists, or both:

"While not ruling out the hand of the extremist groups such as al-Qaeda in the massive blast in Najaf, he noted, 'Of course I think the massive propaganda by some Western-minded media and an emphasis on blaming al-Qaeda or remnants of the Baath party is to be considered a conscious effort to hide the role of Zionist and occupying forces in this abominable atrocity.'"

Hiding beneath the thin veneer of anonymity, competing interests spin rival versions of the same story. Adding to the cacophony and the confusion is the news that Saddam, or a voice purporting to be him, denies having anything to do with the Najaf atrocity. Anyone who scoffs at the idea that we're in a quagmire just isn't paying attention: we're stuck in a news quagmire, sunk in the yawning abyss between truth and fiction.

Iran is next in the neocons’ crosshairs: make no mistake about that. And they are moving quickly. It’s the perfect diversion from the disaster unfolding in Iraq. The weapons of mass destruction Saddam never had have migrated eastward, or so we’re told, and the logic of intervention is carrying along the Bush administration – and us -- like a leaf in a torrent. Weather forecast for the rest of the year: stormy, with darkening war clouds punctuated by thunderbolts of warmongering rhetoric. If Israel doesn’t bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities – and they’re putting out broad hints that they just might -- then don’t expect George W. Bush to be deterred by an election year.


I am pleased to announce an exciting addition to’s stable of columnists: Ivan Eland, the director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute, where he is a Senior Fellow. You are going to be very interested to read his weekly contribution to the ongoing foreign policy debate, and we are thrilled to give him a platform. I mean, here is a guy whose resume includes such items as:

  • Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office
  • Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and
  • Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Heavy duty! Ivan’s smart, but he’s also an excellent writer, with a brisk, informative style that’s a welcome relief from show-offs like me. Polemics are fine, but they must be based on a command of the facts -- which Ivan wields very effectively.

He’s the author of Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World and The Efficacy of Economic Sanctions as a Foreign Policy Tool. His articles have appeared in such venues as Arms Control Today, Issues in Science and Technology (National Academy of Sciences), and Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

We’ve been angling to get him on board, and we’re very happy to have landed him. If I were the War Party, I’d run for cover. So, check out his first column. If you’re looking for intellectual ammunition in the battle for peace, then this is the place to stock up.

At this point, we've gotten over 200 letters on the subject of my recent column on Howard Dean, and I must say I was somewhat taken aback by the vehemence of the Dean camp. Like their leader, they do not take criticism well. Well, that's tough, because they're going to get a lot more of it, and not only from me. Dean can't credibly claim the allegiance of anti-war voters while saying we must put more troops in Iraq and stay longer. Either the war was a mistake, and we must end the occupation a.s.a.p., or else it wasn't a mistake, and we're in for the long haul.

I don't buy for one minute the lame excuse of "we broke their country so now we're obligated to fix it." Obligated – to whom? If the answer is the Iraqi people, then why not ask them? A real anti-war candidate would call for an Iraqi plebiscite, but Dean – the anti-anti-war candidate – wants to impose a government on the Iraqis in which "Americans have to have the final say." A more sure-fire formula for a protracted guerrilla war in Iraq would be hard to imagine. I'm awful glad Dean is calling for national health insurance to cover the medical costs of every American – because our wounded and maimed-for-life soldiers coming back from Iraq are sure going to need it.

I received a number of letters accusing me of "ignoring" Dennis Kucinich, a charge to which I plead only partially guilty: it seems most of the rest of the country is also ignoring him, as he doesn't even come up as a blip in the polls. However, courtesy of CSPAN, I did notice his recent appeal, at the Philadelphia AFL-CIO candidates' debate, for "a workers government." With this kind of platform, I wonder why he has adopted "Power to the People" as his campaign slogan, when "All power to the Soviets!" is so much more timely.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.

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