A Black Tornado – interview with Almajalla
THE MAJALLA – In an interview with The Majalla, Maryam Ragavi explains how Iran’s mullahs intend to export terrorism and fundamentalism to the Arab world and hold back the tide of democracy in the Middle East.
Never less than forthright, the president-elect of the NCRI uses strong terms to denounce the current regime in Iran: “This regime is the worst enemy of Islam and Muslims. It is a black tornado that has brought nothing but devastation and regret for the people of this region.”
The Majalla: Do you believe that the move towards democracy, which has occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, will have an influence on Iran?
Yes. The wave of change in the Middle East, as an external condition, will affect the Iranian people’s movement and will create more momentum for uprising and protest. Already an event as massive as the 14 February uprising has emerged. Obviously, the changes in the Middle East could affect Iranian society because firstly, an eruptive dissatisfaction exists inside the society and there is a deep-rooted resistance seeking the overthrow of the Velayat-e Faqih regime [absolute rule of clergy]—and the establishment of freedom and democracy. Secondly, the ruling regime is absolutely illegitimate and abhorred, and it suffers an incurable rift in its leadership.
Q: What is the stance of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) in regard to the recent uprisings in Iran?
The events of February and March, 2011, show Iranian society’s strong desire for the overthrow of the ruling regime. People throughout Iran took to the streets with chants of “Death to Khamenei” and “Down with the principle of Velayat-e Faqih” while suppressive forces, with full force and unprecedented brutality, were trying to silence them.
In Tehran alone the number of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Bassij Paramilitary forces and anti riot units added up to 60,000. This included 10,000 forces from the IRGC SWAT Unit the Sarrallah and 3,000 forces from the IRGC Motorcycle SWAT Unit. There were 105 tanks and APCs and a number of foreign elements present on the scene.
Through these uprisings, our people overcame Khamenei’s political, security and military mobilization and psychological warfare campaign. This mobilization was initiated a year ago, with the strings of executions of political prisoners—especially members of the PMOI—and other suppressive measures, which Khamenei said was intended to contain the “sedition.”
This uprising showed that the mullahs are in their final phase.
The very recent proof of this fact is the removal of Rafsanjani from his post as the head of the Assembly of Experts—upon Khamenei’s order. This was an inevitable surgery within the regime and is the result of the Iranian people’s uprisings. This development will further discredit Khamenei as the supreme leader and will accelerate the overthrow of the entire regime.
Q: Is there any cooperation between the Iranian Resistance abroad and the figures known as the reformists?
Concerning the religious dictatorship, currently there isn’t a chance or an opportunity for reform. Nothing less than the overthrow of Khamenei and his entire regime is acceptable to the Iranian people. People all across the world watched through their televisions as the people of Iran chanted “Death to Khamenei” and “Down with the principle of Velayat-e Faqih.” Anyone who intends to maintain this regime or its constitution has no legitimacy and will not be accepted by the people.
As we [the resistance abroad] have maintained from the very beginning, we support every step that is taken in defiance of the Velayat-e Faqih regime and we have always been committed to this policy.
Q: Are we witnessing a downturn in the role of the opposition abroad, in the face of the rising platform of the reformist dissidents inside Iran—or even due to voices inside the regime like Mousavi and Karoubi?
I completely agree with you that the resistance inside Iran is more important than the opposition abroad. The growing concern of the Iranian regime is exactly because of the widespread support enjoyed by the People’s Mujahidin Organization of Iran (PMOI)and its decisive role in guiding the underground networks in the popular uprising. The regime feels that the events taking place since 2009 are in line with the PMOI’s policy and strategy. The Iranian society has come very close to the overthrow of the regime—with all its internal factions and the revocation of its constitution.
During the Ashura uprising (27 December 2010), people went as close as taking over streets in central Tehran and the demonstrators openly intended to topple Khamenei. Another important example is the 14 February uprising, which has no common ground with a reformist movement within the framework of maintaining the establishment.
Today we are witnessing foreign analysts saying that the demands and objectives of the Iranian people go beyond the ambitions of the two names you mention. In fact the Iranian people will not be satisfied with anything less than the overthrow of the regime in its entirety including its foundations, constitution and institutions. Whereas the above mentioned pair emphasize that they want the implementation of the regime’s constitution with the principle of Velayat-e Faqih and ominous religious dictatorship at its core.
The PMOI has strong networks in almost all of Iran’s universities, among workers, women, teachers and all classes of Iranian society, which play an important role in forming demonstrations. The resistance also has a 24-hour TV Network, which is the main advertising leverage of the resistance inside Iran.
At this point I would like to bring your attention to the remarks of a number of the regime’s officials:
Saeed Mortazavi, former prosecutor general of Tehran, in a report to the Majles (Iranian Parliament) emphasized that during uprisings the People’s Mujahidin “were organized and their moves were well calculated.’’ A member of the Majlis special committee told the Iranian News Agency (IRNA) that “Tehran prosecutor provided a report about the arrest of the Monafeqin (a derogatory reference to members of PMOI) who operated in a well-organized manner.” (The Jomhuri Eslami daily, 4 August 2009)
Three days after the big uprising of 27 December, in a state-run demonstration, the key speaker Alam Alhoda, a member of the Assembly of Experts and the influential Mashhad Friday Prayer leader said: “The events of Ashura day (27 December, 2009) was precisely an act of Moharebeh , perhaps you would say the condition of Moharebeh is to be armed. You must pay full attention that the leadership of the movement of Ashura, they were Monafeqin and during the rebellion of Ashura they were chanting the same slogans that were published on their website…” (IRNA official news agency, 27 December 2009)
“Regarding the uprising of 14 February 2011, the special committee of the Majlis offered a report on March 2nd that underlined the role of the PMOI. In this report the head of the Majlis’ Principle 90 Committee referred to the support of the Mujahidin for the unauthorized demonstration of 14 February 2011” (State-run dailies, 2 March 2011)
The execution of PMOI members in recent months was in reaction to their role in the uprisings. Ali Saremi, the most prominent political prisoner in Iran, was executed on the anniversary of the Ashura uprising.
Q: Wouldn’t your democratic approach against the Velayat-e Faqih establishment—which has the first and last word in political and religious issues—and the fact that the Iranian people consider religious leaders as “holy,” result in limitations in your role inside Iran?
Exactly the opposite, the Velayat-e Faqih only holds the authority within the small circle of the ruling establishment. However, in matters concerning religion, belief and culture of the Iranian society, even most of the ranking clerics have objections.
In 1979, by hijacking the leadership of the anti-monarchy revolution, Khomeini established what he described as the absolute rule of clergy. Yet this was a dark religious dictatorship that was faced with a great resistance by the Iranian people led by the PMOI. This resistance removed the deceptive Islamic mask from the face of this anti-Islamic and anti-human regime. Everyone saw that the regime, which claimed to be Islamic, executed 120,000 members and supporters of the PMOI, most of whom were young Muslims. In the summer of 1988 alone, some 30,000 political prisoners were massacred.
This is a regime that systematically rapes male and female prisoners. Its officials lie so much that during the 2009 election campaign some within the regime said that our establishment is an empire of deception. The Velayat-e Faqih has failed in regard to its Islamic claims.
On the opposite side of the regime, the PMOI believes that the right to sovereignty is the highest right that Islam has acknowledged for the people and it deeply respects the rights that originate from it. Freedom is the main distinction between democratic Islam and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.
Islam recognizes human being as knowledgeable and free, meaning it has freedom of will. From an Islamic point of view all human beings, male or female, all races and nationalities are equal. The most fundamental value is the human quality and the good natured activities that arise from it. In the Hojarat Chapter, the Quran emphasizes that none of the differences, be they sexual, racial or ethnic are of any importance, and the greatest value of all is Taqwa (virtue).
Islam is the religion of respecting the freedom of decision of all members of human society.
Although the Prophet (blessings be upon him) received celestial revelation from God, he never made important decisions without counsel. Even in some cases he accepted the vote of others over his own opinion.
The monopoly of all powers in the hands of a clergy and embedded in the Velayat-e Faqih has no precedence in true Islam and it is totally alien. Islam is the defender of freedom of belief and promotes religious and political tolerance. On this issue the guidance of Quran is “There is no constraint in religion” and “Therefore give good tidings (O Muhammad) to my bondmen who hear advice and follow the best thereof.”
Moreover the principle of Velayat-e Faqih historically has not been approved by high ranking Shi’ite clerics. Khomeini revived this idea so that he could justify enforcement of a dictatorial rule.
The rules that the mullahs demand absolute adherence to have nothing to do with Islam. From the very beginning we have denounced the Shari’a Law of the mullahs and the heinous tactics with which they force their rule over the people of Iran—under the pretext of safeguarding Islam and defending worship and traditions.
The PMOI’s belief in a democratic and tolerant Islam has brought much popularity for them among the people, and it is to neutralize this popularity that the regime try to label the PMOI as Monafeq. The number of the PMOI’s martyrs is 120,000, and we have had four times as many political prisoners.
Their families and their children are an unquiet and stalwart layer, yet at the same time cautious and with the ability to be organized. For the regime, the PMOI and its supporters inside Iran are not just a dissident political organization. They are a vast social class.
Another important landmark is that the resistance finances itself through the Iranian people, the price of which sometimes has been the lives of our countrymen. In the book of the martyrs of the resistance, you can see the names of numerous Iranians who were executed for only giving financial support to the resistance.
Q: How would you describe the Iranian opposition’s relationship with clergies inside Iran? Are there those among these clergies who support the opposition’s political view of reform and change?
From the very day it was founded, the PMOI has been in contact with Iran’s progressive clergies and religious figures. The most renowned was the late Ayatollah Taleqani who during the Shah’s rule was imprisoned for supporting the PMOI. After the anti-monarchy revolution, he confronted Khomeini by supporting the PMOI.
In the struggle against the mullahs, a large number of clergymen were executed for joining the PMOI. And today, we actually enjoy the support of a significant number of clergies.
During the 2009 uprising in Iran, a number of senior clergymen in the city of Qom (central Iran) supported the people’s uprisings and protests. A few months before his death, Ayatollah Montazeri—who was the highest ranking clergy amongst the Shi’ites—issued a fatwa calling for Khamenei’s dismissal.
Q: Does the Iranian Resistance have contacts inside the regime’s armed forces and other important institutions?
The vast number of supporters of the Iranian Resistance in various social strata—and within the highest ranks the regime—has made the revelation of the mullahs’ nuclear secrets possible. These supporters are present among the technocrats, military forces, and even the leadership offices, providing an eternal source for the resistance that the world’s biggest powers are unaware of. The supporters of the resistance inside Iran pay a heavy price to obtain these reports. Because most of them have put everything they have on the line, risking being arrested, tortured and executed, or losing their jobs or in some cases being forced to flee the country.
After the Natanz and Arak nuclear sites were revealed in summer 2002, the regime’s intelligence and security apparatuses intensified their control measures around nuclear sites. However, from then on to this day, dozens of the regime’s nuclear sites and projects have been revealed by this resistance.
After each of these revelations, we have witnessed a security crisis inside the mullahs’ regime. When the warhead production center was revealed in February 2008, the mullahs began a large transfer project and relocated the center of the ministry of defense to another location.
I have to mention the unprecedented revelation regarding the influence and infiltration of the terrorist Quds Force in Iraq. We revealed the names and details of 32,000 of Quds force agents in Iraq who were on the regime’s payroll.
Q: If you are one day in power in a democratic Iran, will you work alongside your former enemies or will you take on a policy of eliminating them?
The kind of Iran that our resistance is yearning for, and 120,000 members of this resistance have so far sacrificed their lives for, is a pluralist republic based on the vote of the people where freedom of political activities for all parties and freedom of gatherings, freedom of speech and religion will be ensured. And the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will be implemented and respected. In that kind of Iran, no follower of any religion will be above another, and no one will enjoy privileges or be deprived of any political, economic or social privileges for believing or not believing in a certain religion.
I would like to remind you that the Iranian resistance even treated forces of the Iranian regime—who were caught in clashes with the National Liberation Army of Iran (NLA)—with utmost humanity and based on Islamic teachings of forgiveness and mercy.
This is while time Khomeini was busy carrying out the massacre of our prisoners. The important issue is the expansion of brotherhood and friendship in Iran where it has been 32 years that the mullahs have brought nothing but death, violence, depression, sorrow, division and enmity. Therefore, the problem is not those who are against us or are our enemies. Anyone who has been involved in crimes against the Iranian people must be prosecuted in fair and public tribunals with the presence of international observers.
Q: What is your position regarding Iran’s nuclear program? Do you agree with uranium enrichment inside Iran or do you support the proposal to enrich uranium abroad?
The uranium enrichment by the mullahs inside Iran or anywhere else must not continue because it will help them to achieve weapons of mass destruction.
This regime has been covertly constructing enrichment centers and producing the necessary materials and the equipment. The world found out about these activities only when the Iranian Resistance revealed secret sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002.
As Rafsanjani announced during his presidency, the mullahs want the nuclear program for their survival. The regime of Velayat-e Faqih can only survive by suppression of the people, terrorism and a nuclear program.
It is clear that the mullahs don’t want nuclear weapons to have a destructive war with the US and Israel, rather they want to use them as a means of intimidation to have influence and dominance over the countries in the region.
Q: In the nineties, there were relatively close relations with Arab Gulf countries, which became strained after Ahmadinejad came into office. What is your policy towards the Arab countries, especially the Gulf countries, if you come into power?
Our policy towards neighboring countries is based on good neighborliness, brotherhood and peace. We are determined to put an end to the enmity that was incited by the Shah’s and Khomeini’s regimes against the countries in the region—including Iraq and Saudi—in the past 70 years.
As far as our neighboring and Arab countries are concerned, from now their brotherly and friendly relations with the Iranian people should be established on distancing from this regime which is the worst enemy of the Iranian people and the people of the region.
The Iranian regime is the main threat to the existence of all the countries in the region, because this regime cannot keep its power in Iran without internal suppression and the export of terrorism.
The mullahs’ constitution stresses the formation of Islamic international rule, meaning the dominion of fundamentalism and violence over the Islamic world. Instigations and terrorist operations by this regime in Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and most of all, Iraq where thousands of our Arab brothers have lost their lives, is based on this policy.
However, a democratic regime in Iran is capable of resolving all the differences and problems with the Arab world in a way that would serve to the interest of all sides. We believe that the interests of a democratic Iran does not contradict the interests of our Arab brothers, rather we have common interests and we can progress together by helping each other.
Of course this is not an issue just related to the time when the Iranian regime has been overthrown, rather it is of the same importance today to form a united solidarity front against the ominous phenomenon of fundamentalism—and the mullahs’ regime as its principle focus—as a necessity for the establishment of democracy and peace in the region. The Iranian people and its resistance have been and are the essential part of this front.
Q: How do you assess the international reaction to the protests in Iran?
The western countries’ reaction—which is mostly warning the mullahs against suppression of the protests—it is a positive step, but very insufficient. So far by appeasing the regime, the western countries have helped the regime to survive and continue its suppression. Now, if they want to leave the bitter past behind, they should take practical and firm steps. One of these steps is to suspend the relations with this regime until it stops the executions and arrests. Another step is to forbid buying oil from this regime.
I recommend that they set aside the fear and concern about the reactions of this regime and take side with the Iranian people. This is not only to the benefit of the Iranian people but it will strongly serve the interest of the countries of the region.
Q: What about the west and particularly the US? Do you receive any financial support from these countries? If yes, is that support limited to just financial aid, or does it includes propaganda, logistical and security support too?
No. The Iranian resistance fully relies on the Iranian people and covers its necessities only through the voluntary support of Iranians ,which sometimes costs them their lives.
I have stated time and again that we request from the West neither money nor weapons; what we have asked from the outset has been to be impartial between us and our enemy. Do not help this regime through appeasement or trade, by putting pressure on the Opposition, by inaction vis-à-vis the regime’s crimes including execution of 120 thousand political prisoners. This is all we want. In the modern diplomacy over the past 220 years, no government has enjoyed the support of the West in practice more than the mullahs’ regime. We want this support to be stopped. If such support did not exist, the mullahs would have been overthrown years ago.
Q: What is your opinion about the stance taken by Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, who previously openly provoked revolution against the regimes in Arab states? Today he accuses those who desire change in Iran of treason, or of being puppets of foreigners, and suppresses the organs of dissidents and objectors.
In Friday prayer on 4 February, when Khamenei was hypocritically expressing his support for the uprising in Egypt and tried to present it as the result of Khomeini’s reactionary pattern, he definitely could not imagine that just 10 days later, what a tremendous blow the Iranian people would inflict on his regime. He was very confident of the impact of massacres, tortures, and the bloodshed he had arranged during the last year. He couldn’t foresee that the will of people would outrun all these suppressions.
Khamenei planned to benefit from the regional uprisings as an opportunity for his regime. But, the very strong protests inside Iran, and the deep desire for regime change, turned this opportunity to a threat against Khamenei.
Q: What is the current situation of the Iranian opposition in Camp Ashraf?
Today Ashraf, which is home to 3,400 members of the PMOI, stands as the symbol of resistance against the Mullahs—for the people of Iran and for the people of the region.
Many of the Ashraf residents are graduates from universities in Europe, the US, Canada and Iran, or they have been political prisoners under this regime and even during the Shah’s rule. Among them are 1,000 Muslim women, each of whom have an amazing record in their struggle.
One of the priorities of the Iranian regime during the 2003 Iraq War was the annihilation of the PMOI. In a trilateral deal between the US, the UK and the Iranian regime, which was later disclosed by US media, the western powers pledged to bombard Ashraf and other bases of the PMOI in Iraq during the war and in return the Iranian regime promised to not intervene in Iraq. Of course the American side lived up to its part of the deal, yet the Iranian regime stepped up its meddling. During the course of the bombardments dozens of PMOI members, including women, were killed and injured. This is while, prior to the war, the Iranian resistance had informed the US, UK and the UN that it has no part in this war and its presence in Iraq is solely for the purpose of fighting against the religious fascism ruling in Iran.
Following the war, the US and international organizations admitted that Ashraf residents are civilians who are under the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and on this basis and according to a bilateral agreement with Ashraf residents, US forces took up the responsibility of their protection.
Unfortunately, in a completely illegal act in the beginning of 2009, US forces handed over the protection of Ashraf to Iraqi forces, which were entirely under the influence of the Iranian regime.
From that day on Iraqi forces, at the behest of the Iranian regime, have initiated in imposing a siege and suppressive measures on Ashraf residents, which have constantly been continuing and intensifying to this very day. Here are a few examples:
• Iraqi forces’ attacked Ashraf in July 2009, which resulted in 11 PMOI members killed and 500 wounded.
• The attacks of October, November, December 2010 and January 2011, which resulted in the injury of 221 PMOI members, including 94 women.
• The medical blockade on the residents, which in the month of December 2010, resulted in the deaths of 2 PMOI members. Currently there are numerous patients in critical condition due to the implementation of medical restrictions.
• The psychological torture of Ashraf residents by agents of the Iranian regime’s Ministry of Intelligence (MOIS) with the assistance of Iraqi forces has been ongoing from February 2010 to this day. With the use of powerful loudspeakers during day and night, threats of killing, extradition and burning down Ashraf, along with insults, especially towards female residents, continue.
• The prohibition of the entrance of commodities, families, human rights activists, parliamentarians and any other person, either Iranian, Iraqi or foreigner into Ashraf. Activities that were normally being carried out before 2009.
• A ban on profit making labor, which the PMOI relied on to manage everyday life.
The list of these restrictions, pressures, and suppressions are endless. All of these crimes are being committed by a committee named The Committee to Close Down Ashraf, which is directly under the orders of the Iraqi prime Ministry. Despite these setbacks Ashraf residents have endured all the pressures and resisted with high spirits.
These restrictions are inhumane and anti-Islamic and in an absolute contradiction to rich Arabic traditions. I don’t know why Arab leaders have kept silent towards these crimes.
Of course on the part of the Iraqi people, they are completely in defiance of such treatment by the government.
5.2 million Iraqis, in a historic declaration in June 2006, reiterated their support for the PMOI and called for the mullahs’ regime to stop meddling in Iraq. They announced that “The people and democratic forces of Iraq, in a serious attempt to neutralize the threat of extremism and terrorism, recognize the PMOI as their ally and natural partner in the geopolitics of this region of the world.”
In June 2008, 3 million Iraqi Shi’ites, by signing a declaration, rose in support of the PMOI and Ashraf and announced that “The PMOI, with their belief in true Islam preached by the Prophet Mohammad with an anti-reactionary and anti-extremist characteristic, have stood alongside the people of Iraq as an alternative and counterweight against the Iranian regime.”
The pressures and crimes of the regime, although planned in Tehran in the office of Khamenei and in the Supreme National Security Council, are carried out in Iraq through the prime ministry and an affiliated committee which has been directed to suppress Ashraf.
On 28 February 2009, Khamenei openly and officially asked the prime minister and president of Iraq to implement a bilateral agreement regarding the expulsion of the PMOI from Iraq.
Q: What is your suggestion for the case of Ashraf?
We believe that the US and the UN have a certain obligation regarding the protection of Ashraf residents. We demand the stationing of a UN monitoring team in Ashraf and the protection of this team by US forces. I have informed UN and US officials time and again about such a suggestion. In addition to this, we demand that the US and the UN live up to their obligations and demand that the Iraqi government immediately remove the loudspeakers and bring an end to the residents’ psychological torture. And provide free access to medical treatment for the residents.
Q: What are the conditions of Arabs and Sunnis in Iran under Ahmadinejad and Khamenei? Are there any connections between these groups and the Iranian people?
The Iranian regime is the enemy of all Iranian people, be them Fars, Kurds, Turkmens or Arabs and regarding the issue of repression, they are in equal conditions, although many of our fellow countrymen suffer from additional cruelty based on their nationality and religion.
Many of the members and officials of this resistance come from non-Fars backgrounds. For example, the founding father of the PMOI, Mohammad Hanif Nejad was from Tabriz, which is the most important city of West Azerbaijan Province. Also, Ms. Fahime Arvani from Iran’s Azerbaijan was the PMOI Secretary General from 1993 to 1995, and Ms. Nasrin Sepehri from Iran Kurdistan had this role from 1997 to 1999. A large portion of the martyrs of our resistance are affiliated to religious and ethnic minorities.
Upholding the rights of ethnic and religious minorities is part of the plan of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. This council presented a comprehensive plan in 1983 for the autonomy of Iran’s Kurdistan.
Q: In the end, what would you like to say to the Arab countries and nations throughout the world?
My message on behalf of the Iranian Resistance and on behalf of the Iranian people is that they rose throughout Iran in the months of February and March with the slogan of “Down with Velayat-e Faqih.” My message is that the time to show solidarity and support for the Iranian people has arrived.
Today, people throughout Iran have risen for freedom and democracy, and your sisters and brothers, the members of the PMOI in Ashraf have stood against this anti-Islam and anti-human regime and its exported fundamentalism.
Iran’s mullahs intend to export terrorism and fundamentalism to the Arab world and enforce their hegemony on the region by obtaining nuclear weapons.
They are attempting with all their might to literally confiscate the conditions resulting from the uprisings and waves of change in the Middle East and North Africa in their own interest and gain a more open hand in exporting fundamentalism and terrorism to those countries.
This is the Velayat-e Faqih regime that prevents the natural results of Iraq’s elections and attempts to continue to have dominance over this country’s governance. It is Iran’s mullahs that have kidnapped Lebanon’s faith with their terrorism and domineering. The issue of sacking the Lebanese coalition government was a plot carried out under Khamenei’s orders. It is this regime that has placed parts of Palestine under its influence, intensifying extremism by preventing a justified and lasting peace.
Our message to our brothers and sisters in Egypt and Tunisia, as to demonstrators in other countries is: Beware of the murderers of Iran’s youth. This regime is the worst enemy of Islam and Muslims. It is a black tornado that has brought nothing but devastation and regret for the people of this region. However, rest assured that we will bring it down from its throne with the determination of the Iranian people.
With the establishment of democracy in Iran, terrorism, fundamentalism and extremism will be eradicated from the region and Islam will be freed from the imprisonment of the mullahs in Iran. Thus, brotherhood will be established between Shi’ites and Sunnis and Muslims and non-Muslims.
The end of the regime will signal the end of hatred, enmity, terrorism and sectarianism in this region, and this is a blessed day for the Iranian people and all Arab and Muslim nations.
Interview conducted by Azeddine Senegri