Mojahedin-E Khalq

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the main armed force challenging the islamic republic of iran.

The Mojahedin (or the Sazman-e Mojahedin-e Khalq-e Iran; Holy Warrior Organization of the Iranian People) was formed in the mid-1960s by Tehran University students who tried to synthesize Islam with Marxism, interpreting the former to be the divine message of revolution and the latter to be the main analytical tool for understanding society, history, and politics. While influenced by these features of Marxism, they rejected the philosophy of dialectical materialism. They also adopted the strategy of guerrilla warfare from Che Guevara, the Vietminh, and Algeria's Front de Libération Nationale (National Liberation Front, FLN). Some of their founding leaders received guerrilla training from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

From 1971 until 1979, the Mojahedin tried to destabilize the regime of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi with a series of assassinations, bank robberies, and daring armed assaults. In the process, more than eighty of their members lost their lives. Most of these were engineers, teachers, and university students. The group was further weakened by factional infighting. In 1975, one faction denounced Islam as a "conservative petty bourgeois ideology" and declared itself a pure Marxist-Leninist organization. This faction later became known as the Paykar (Combat) organization. By the time of the Iranian Revolution of 1979, little remained of the Mojahedin, and the surviving members had been imprisoned.

Despite this, the Mojahedin regrouped during the revolution and quickly grew to become a major threat to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Maʿsud Rajavi, one of the few survivors from the 1960s, took over the leadership. The Mojahedin grew rapidly in part because of its mystique of revolutionary martyrdom; in part because of its adherence to Shiʿism; in part because of its social radicalism; and in part because of its anticlericalism and opposition to the theocracy of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. By 1981, its publication, Mojahed, was one of the country's most widely read newspapers; its parliamentary candidates were winning a substantial number of votes; and its rallies were drawing hundreds of thousands. The regime reacted by ordering a major crackdown. The Mojahedin, in turn, retaliated by launching an assassination campaign against the top figures of the Islamic republic.

In the aftermath of the 1981 crackdown, the Mojahedin moved its leadership abroad, created an umbrella organization named the National Council of Resistance, and, with an army of some 9,000, waged an armed struggle, based in Iraq, against the regime. By the end of the decade, however, the Mojahedin was a mere shadow of its former self. Its overt alliance with Iraq during the eight-year Iran-Iraq War (19801988) undermined its nationalistic credibility. Its stress on martyrdom had little appeal to the postrevolutionary generation of youth in Iran. Its own ranks within the country were decimated by executions and mass arrests. Moreover, its tactics and alliance with Saddam Hussein prompted both the United States and the European Union to categorize it as a "terrorist organization." What is more, the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003 eliminated the Mojahedin's main patron and placed the entire organization at the mercy of the United States. The Mojahedin hope to salvage something out of this disaster by persuading the United States that they can be a useful tool against the Islamic Republic.

see also iranian revolution (1979); iraniraq war (19801988).


Abrahamian, Ervand. The Iranian Mojahedin. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.

Irfani, Suroosh. Revolutionary Islam in Iran: Popular Liberation or Religious Dictatorship? London: Zed Books, 1983.

ervand abrahamian