Friend or foe? Americans face a dilemma over what to do with Iran's Mujahedeen rebels in Iraq.

Author:Blanche, Ed

As the Bush administration's denunciations of Iran grow more strident, with accusations of Tehran aiding Al Qaeda and pursuing weapons of mass destruction, it is interesting to speculate on what all this demonisation, so familiar from the run-up to the March invasion of Iraq, will mean for the main Iranian rebel force that remains in western Iraq, the Mujahedeen-e Khalq.

It is a real dilemma for the Americans. Here is a highly disciplined armed force, totally committed to bringing down the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Tehran, which also seems to be the US administration's new target. Although the Mujahedeen has never had much chance of achieving that objective, largely because its alliance with Saddam in 1986 (during the Iran-Iraq war) cost it whatever popular support it may have had, the organisation appears to be ideally suited for clandestine operations against the Tehran regime.

However, there is one problem: In 1997, the Mujahedeen, also known as the People's Holy Warriors, was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US State Department, apparently in hopes of encouraging a dialogue with Iran's new president, reformist leader Mohammad Khatami. That makes harnessing the rebels' paramilitary capabilities--and an underground network in Iran that includes operatives deep inside the regime that has produced some exceptional intelligence over the 20 years--rather awkward.

One hundred and fifty members of Congress publicly opposed the State Department's action and continue to lobby for the government to revoke the terrorist tag. Indeed, US ambiguity about the Mujahedeen is demonstrated by the fact that the movement still openly maintains an office in Washington, under the guise of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an umbrella organisation dominated by the Mujahedeen, which operates freely in the US and Europe.

The Mujahedeen, with a bizarre ideology combining elements of Islam and Marxism, emerged as an underground force against the Shah of Iran in the late 1960s. It carried out bombings and assassinations, including the killing of US military personnel in Iran. The Shah's secret police, Savak, severely mauled the organisation, which discovered a second wind by joining the 1978-79 revolution. After the Shah was toppled, the fundamentalists, under Ayatollah Khomeini turned on it, as they did other groups who had helped them. The Mujahedeen fought back, killing several top leaders of the new regime, but were eventually driven...

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