National Liberation Army of Iran
Iran's mullahs wanted France to extradite Mr. Rajavi and other members of the People's Mojahedin to Iran so they could be imprisoned or killed. It must have come as a great shock to them when instead the resistance organization established their new headquarters in Iraq, near Iran's border.
The location offered important strategic advantages and sparked a renewed hope for a popular uprising against the mullahs to put an end to the war and to replace the corrupt theocracy with real democracy and freedom.
The Mojahedin relocated to Iraq because it was the only place at the time where it could continue its resistance against the mullahs' regime. The French government, after making a deal with Tehran, made it clear to Mr. Rajavi that his continued stay in France was not possible. The mullahs also threatened additional kidnappings and terrorist acts against other European countries if they offered sanctuary to Mr. Rajavi.
The NCRI and its members were welcomed to Iraq due to their popularity, their peace initiatives to end the war, and respect for their struggle against the extremist mullahs. The move to Iraq sent a strong message to the Iranian people and, in particular, to patriotic members of the Iranian Army that there was no legitimacy in continuing the war. Many members of the Iranian Army subsequently joined the PMOI.
The NCRI was assured of his independence in pursuing its goals at a meeting on June 15, 1986, between Mr. Rajavi and President Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader declared his government's respect for the "Iranian Resistance, its ideological and political independence, and its freedom to achieve its objectives."1
At the meeting, Mr. Rajavi reminded Saddam Hussein that when Iraqi forces were on Iranian territory, the PMOI was fighting them. "But ever since Iraq proved to Iranians and the world her readiness for peace," he said, "all weapons should have been aimed at Khomeini's regime, the only party that has wanted the war to continue."2
The ranks of the People's Mojahedin rapidly swelled as news spread about the organization's new headquarters near the Iranian border. Many initial recruits were Iranian students studying abroad at universities in the U.S. and Europe. A little more than six months after arriving in Iraq, the PMOI staged its first attack against the mullahs, striking a military target in Iran.
What began as a small guerrilla force quickly swelled into a large military operation that was renamed the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLAI) in June 1987. While Iraq's military remained in a defensive posture along its border with Iran, the NLA operated offensively, undertaking cross-border raids against government targets and Iran's Revolutionary Guards or Pasdaran.
The NLA conducted its operations independently from the Iraqis. While it was necessary to coordinate with Iraq's army to avoid unintended confrontations along the border area, such as the June 1988 offensive in which it captured the city of Mehran, it never collaborated with the army, such as requesting supporting artillery fire.3
In its first year of operations, the NLA mounted more than 100 strikes, inflicting hundreds of casualties and "provoking 3,000 desertions from the Iranian forces."4
The NLA's forces operated from five bases positioned along the border that were linked by a string of small camps. At first, the NLA crossed into Iran, often at night, to conduct hit-and-run attacks. It concentrated on training, upgrading weapons, and developing its military skills. In early 1987, the NLA was ready to move to the next step, to carry out brigade-size assaults against targets in Iran.6
On March 28, the NLA initiated its first major strike, dubbed "Operation Shining Star." It deployed tanks and armored vehicles ten miles inside Iran in an attack on the 77th Khorrassan Division, an elite Iranian force. Iran suffered many casualties and more than 500 troops were taken prisoner.
Details of the NLA's successful assault were broadcast - the same as other operations - on its Voice of the Mojahedin, which reached a wide audience in Iran, and on its television station that was available in provinces close to the border.7
The next major offensive, named "Forty Stars," was launched on June 19, 1998. NLA troops, after battling two Iranian divisions along a 31-mile front, captured the town of Mahan, located on the Iraq-Iran border, and surrounding heights.8 Iran suffered thousands of casualties; more than 2,000 prisoners were taken. During the operation, the NLA captured a large number of tanks, personnel carriers, heavy machine guns, small arms, and ammunition.
Not wanting to pin down its forces in defensive positions, the NLA withdrew days later, stating it was making preparations for more extensive and decisive operations.
Victorious in Ending Mullahs' War
Unable to achieve its stated goal of defeating Iraq and establishing an Islamic republic, having lost a series of battles against Iraqi troops, and facing a growing offensive threat by NLA forces, the mullahs conceded defeat and announced their acceptance on July 20 of the United Nations ceasefire Resolution No. 598
While Saddam's final military operations were successful in recapturing lost territory in Iraq, they did not pose a major threat to the mullahs' regime. The NLA's modest forces, on the other hand, had the potential to spark a revolution in Iran. Its attacks had penetrated increasingly deeper into Iran, fueling panic by the mullahs. The next assault might reach all the way to Tehran. Rather than risk the regime's demise, Khomeini decide to conclude hostilities and accept the ceasefire.
Thus, the People's Mojahedin deserve much credit for forcing the mullahs to end their needless war. Although Iran and Iraq agreed to the ceasefire, the PMOI pledged to continue its armed struggle against the mullahs. As explained by Mr. Rajavi, it was the "duty of the National Liberation Army to pave the way for a general uprising."9
1) "Saddam Husayn Receives Iranian Resistance Leader Rajavi." BBC Summary of World Broadcasts. June 17, 1986.
2) "Enemies of the Ayatollahs." Mohammad Mohaddessin. Zed Books, London, New York. 2004.
3) "Inside a Moujahedeen Camp: The Fact of Iran-To-Be?" Los Angeles Times. December 20, 1987.
5) "Iranian Exiles Form Rebel Army." United Press International. May 22, 1988.
6) "Moujaahedeen Mount Raids from Iraq." Los Angles Times. April 3, 1998.
8) "Iranian Rebels to Pull Back, Prepare New Offensive." UPI. June 20, 1988.
9) "Anti-Khomeini Guerrillas Seek to Exploit Power Struggle in Iran." Associated Press. July 19, 1987.