Ali Moradi had been a sergeant in the Iranian army at the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. He was captured early on and spent nine years as a POW in Ramadi camp. He was among a group of Iranian POWs recruited into the Mojahedin shortly after the ceasefire by promises of marriage and paid work. This is an extract from a longer interview conducted after his return to Iran. After Maryam returned to Iraq in 1997 the Rajavis imposed more radical changes to combat what Maryam called our bourgeois mind-set. Under the new rules, a gender apartheid was introduced so that men and women were physically separated. Now there were only all male units and all female units both of which had 3 or 4 women commanders. All were completely separate. A man and woman were no longer allowed to be alone in the same room. We were not allowed to speak to women unless authorized for work purposes. In the autumn of 2002 when the US stepped up its threats against Iraq, Massoud and Maryam held a meeting for all the combatants. They analyzed that in 2005 the Khatami government would be toppled by a popular uprising and we must ready ourselves for a final operation.
Just about everybody had questions at that point. What would we do if the Americans attack us? The answer came, ‘We will attack Iran’ with everything we have’, said Massoud.
Now I have to say that most members don’t actually expect to die, but Massoud Rajavi boasted that we would go like Ashura (marking the martyrdom of Imam Hossein with his followers). This was the Black Phase and it was clearly a suicide mission for the whole organization.
The next news we had from the leadership was that Mohammad Mohaddessin had written to the UK Foreign Office and the US Department of State and had announced our neutrality.
In another meeting, Rajavi read a message to us which said that the US and UK had agreed not to attack our camps. Within a month two of our camps had been attacked by the coalition forces and around fifty combatants had been killed. According to Rajavi’s orders the NLA should now launch its final all-out attack on Iran. But they did not move. Most people, I can say 95% of people felt devastated then. Everyone had the same thoughts in their minds. ‘I gave my life to this struggle, what has happened to my aims now?’
Worse was to come when Hossein Abrishamchi, (brother of Mehdi Abrishamchi who is subject to the French judicial investigation into the MEK’s terrorist activities in France) and Mojgan Parsii (nominal head of the MEK in Iraq) negotiated first a ceasefire then total disarmament with General Ordinero of the US army. Within a week the MEK’s armour and weapons was collected and the US surrounded Camp Ashraf to where all the MEK’s combatants were rounded up and sent. (A cache of weapons had been hidden by the MEK, but US air forces soon discovered it.) Again, the combatants felt devastated. Everyone began questioning what had happened to the organization, what was the future, what about the aims I had given my life to, what about the overthrow of the regime. Remember too that at this point we still had no idea that around 250 leading members had escaped Iraq and fled to Europe, including Maryam Rajavi.
In the chaos which followed the US and coalition invasion of Iraq, the combatants enjoyed a little freedom, and we began to talk and discuss the event and the possible outcome for the organization. After the American forces rounded everyone up into Camp Ashraf they began to interview everyone. The first interview was to establish the name, origin and other basic information so that an ID card could be issued. The second interviews were held to collect DNA information from each resident of the camp. The third interviews were held by representatives of the US Department of State. They were asking everyone for information. One thing that we were asked in every interview was ‘where is Massoud Rajavi’, it was a question for all of us as much as for the Americans. In the third interview we were asked where we would like to go once we left Iraq. The MEK had told everyone to answer that they want to stay in Iraq, but most people disregarded this and insisted they wanted to go to another country. The MEK had told everyone that if you go to Iran they will torture you and hang you and that you can’t go to Europe because they won’t accept you. In spite of this, during the first interviews around 115 asked directly for help from the US forces to get out of the camp. These were taken to the North of the camp where the US army had it barracks.
To date, over 600 MEK resident of Camp Ashraf have taken refuge with the US forces in the North camp. From these, over 250 have been repatriated to Iran and the others remain. The only reason it had been possible for these people to escape to the North camp was because MEK commanders do not have guns and cannot stop them.
People want to leave, but they are afraid of the unknown. They don’t have any real information. No one has told them where they can go, that they have alternatives. The Mojahedin told us that it would not allow the Red Cross to visit our camp.
Hossein Madani told me personally that ‘we have tried everything we can, including lobbying them intensively in Switzerland, so they will not come to our camp’. It was a deliberate policy to prevent people from asking to leave. But I had a PoW card from the Red Cross, so I was able to go to the North camp and ask for refuge with the Americans. I had nothing left to keep me there. I had no family, I had lost my aims, and worst of all was the deception of the MKO which I could now clearly see.
I would say that right now around sixty to eighty percent of the people in the camp are dissatisfied and would leave if they could. The conditions inside Camp Ashraf are really severe. The control over the members has become even more rigid after the protected persons status was given.
You are not allowed to talk to one another. If two people get together and start talking, suddenly someone will pop up and start interrogating them and accusing them, ‘what are you talking about, you are undermining the leader â€¦’ There is no news from the outside world. We have no real information and now I know that all the news they gave us about Iran is wrong. I mean ALL of it. In the camp if anyone expresses any questions about anything they are taken into a group of about twenty people who talk to that one person to convince them. They have confiscated everyone’s documents too to make it hard to get out. The US army haven’t been very helpful either. In the north camp they told us they had to make sure people wouldn’t be a terrorist threat if they go to Europe, but how do you want to prove that. But people still escape, and the MKO commanders have no guns so they can’t stop them. I know several of the top people have run away; Said Jamali, Khalil Ramazanpour and Alireza Ahad are all in the North camp. Davoud Baghervand came back with my group and is now in Iran.
I think that everyone in the MKO has questions about their future, even the leaders. Many want to leave but they have nowhere to go. Around 80% of those who had the courage to leave did so after they had been visited by their families. That’s why the MKO is so afraid to let the families in the camp.
When it comes to the point that they can’t deny a family visit, they take you aside and
have an intensive meeting to prepare you. I met with Fereshte Yegahni for one and a half hours before a visit from my brother. She told me, ‘your brother will tell you lies. The Iranian government has sent him. Be very careful as this is a political activity by the regime. Don’t see him as your brother, you must believe that you are talking to the regime. Don’t cry, and don’t let him persuade you to leave.’ This was unacceptable to me. I saw my brother and shortly after that
meeting I went to the North camp, determined to get home. I wrote to Colonel Georgis and the Red Cross and told them I want to leave and go back to Iran. Conditions in the North camp are very difficult, they gave us non-halal meat, pig meat, and there is no air conditioning. In every twenty four hours we have to line up five times on parade. We weren’t able to have contact with our families because the Americans told us that letters would be censored by the country receiving them, which in our case was Iran, so people were afraid to write, though we did get letters. When I finally got to go home I remember looking down from the airplane window as we took off, at the flat ground of Iraq. When we flew over the border and I saw the mountains of Iran with the snow on them, I was so happy I just wanted to jump
straight out of the plane and land in the snow of my homeland. At the airport in Tehran I expected hostility, but people came forward to greet us and welcomed us warmly. For two days I was really fearful. I thought this had just been for propaganda. But as the kindness continued for five and six days, only then did I believe it. I am now home with my family. I have had no problems since I came back to Iran. They have tried to help us here as much as possible. But in the end I have wasted years of my life with that organization. I have no wife, no children, I have no job and no wealth.
I have nothing. And now I know I lost all my life for the selfish ambition of one man. When I was in Camp Ashraf everyone in the camp was asking the same question ‘Where is Massoud Rajavi?’ The last time I saw him was the day before the US invasion of Iraq. He has not been seen or heard from since that time. That’s over two years. For his followers at all levels of the MEK hierarchy, this has become the major issue. When anyone asks, Rajavi’s commanders say it’s for security reasons. But no one accepts that. A leader should be at the front of his forces, not run away at the first sign of danger. Rajavi always boasted ‘I am the leader and I am the first in line for sacrifice’. But the combatants are now comparing him with Sattar Khan, Mirza Kuchik Khan, Mousa Khiabani and other rebel leaders who died fighting alongside their forces. Rajavi’s commanders say his disappearance is for security reasons, but no one has
any doubt that Rajavi has just run away to save his own skin. People in the camp feel totally betrayed. This has been the worst betrayal, no one can trust anything anymore. Morale is so low in the camp that that even if Rajavi should reappear before them tomorrow, the vast majority of forces in Ashraf Camp will refuse to follow him. Everyone now has questions only about their own future.
Our forces returned to the garrison and were disarmed. The US forces freed the people of Iraq and for a while we kind of felt saved too. The atmosphere in the camp opened up a little and we had some freedom. At this time a lot of people abandoned the garrison and went to the US camp and didn’t return.
Soon after the disarmament the organization closed the atmosphere again.
Even though they didn’t have guns, the commanders kept the organization intact using Rajavi’s methods of fear and intimidation. We all saw how we had lost everything, our whole struggle had come to nothing and morale was very low.
The most important thing that happened during these two years has been the visits of families. The organization was severely opposed to contact with our families. Even a phone call was not allowed. I tricked them and said I would ring my family and ask for money â€“ the organization is always desperate to get money. I called my brother and he convinced me to come home. The organization described the family visits as an emotional war. They said our families had been sent by the regime to destroy us. They told us the Iranian Intelligence Ministry had motivated our families to come to Iraq. For this reason, many people were afraid to speak to their own families.
One of the things that gave us courage to leave and go to the American camp was that we had been given recognition
as people. I’m not talking about the protected persons status, I mean that the Americans interviewed us and wrote down our names and gave us an identity. Now we could not just disappear. In the beginning the Americans were not good with us, but after the protected persons status their relations with us improved. When we went for interviews the MKO told us, ‘don’t tell the US that you want to leave, defend the MKO in front of the Americans.’ But in our hearts we all wanted to leave. A month after the protected persons status was granted, the MKO set about destroying all its documents. Particularly those relating to the relations with the Iraqis and with the US. We destroyed all our military schedules and destroyed the books and songs which were against the USA.
More than anything else, Massoud Rajavi’s disappearance destroyed morale in the organization. We were all thinking that if he’s the leader why has he left. We felt betrayed. We watched the video of Ebrahim Zakeri’s [Rajavi’s former head of MKO intelligence] funeral in Paris. We showed no reaction, but in our hearts we were all stunned to see the organization’s top people all there in Paris. They had all run away.
Rumours started that Massoud must also be hiding in Europe. No one knew what to think, but no one dared discuss it. Only, everyone knows in all our hearts that the organization is finished. When the families started coming to visit, the MKO told us they are the representatives of imperialism and we must destroy them. The families became our new enemy rather than the Islamic Republic. They told us stories about the US camp. They said the Americans had killed two of our people and thrown the bodies away. They said they would make us immoral if we went there. People stay because of this. And because they don’t have any place to go. The Americans said we had four options, to stay in Iraq, to go to Iran, to apply for asylum in another country or to leave through international organizations.
We were always asking, ‘where are the international organizations, where is the Red Cross?’ But the MKO wouldn’t let them come into the camp. They told us we have to stay there. They tried to make the members forget about the other three options.
Even so, the men have the courage to escape now the leaders don’t have guns. They can apply to leave and go to the north camp. But the situation for women is desperate beyond description. In the time I was there I only saw three women who had dared to come to the north camp. That’s out of over six hundred people. What they told us was really shocking. Even these women who escaped did so believing that they would be raped by the Americans when they got to the north camp. That’s how bad things are. The younger women are controlled by the older women and they are under observation all the time. There is strict gender separation in Camp Ashraf. Men and women are not allowed to speak to one another. They have separate vehicles. Let me tell you how absurd and at the same time shocking this is.
When they want to put petrol in their vehicles the men and women have separate times. The men go between 8 and 9 am. Then there is a gap of twenty minutes before the women can visit the petrol pumps from 9.20 to 10.20 am. The reason for the gap is so there is absolutely no possibility that men and women meet one another at the station. That is how the situation is.
The Mojahedin really has two faces. In spite of all their external propaganda, the situation of women in the organization is really worse than anything you can imagine. I saw Maryam Rajavi in the last Women’s Day celebration. She released a symbolic white dove. In my mind when I imagine her, I see this dove in one hand and her other hand is like a claw grasping my neck and viciously strangling me. In the end, Rajavi crossed the boundary and tortured his own people. He killed and tortured his own people and he exploited women. I can never forgive him for this.