In the early 1990s, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK / MOIS) initiated a propaganda campaign to demonize the People’s Mojahedin by falsely asserting the National Liberation Army (NLA), a military arm of the resistance organization, collaborated with Iraqi troops to suppress the 1991 Kurdish and Shiite uprisings.
This page provides substantial evidence to disprove the VEVAK / MOIS disinformation and describes how the intelligence ministry uses former members of the NLA to distribute black propaganda about the rebellions to tarnish the Mojahedin’s reputation.
The final section lists some of the news articles and reports that have incorporated the erroneous information about the Mojahedin and the 1991 uprisings.
Gulf War Uprisings
Below are brief overviews of the 1991 Kurdish and Shiite uprisings in Iraq. The rebellions flared after Saddam’s army was defeated. Coalition Forces led by the United States expelled Iraq’s military forces from Kuwait in February 1991 and then advanced toward Baghdad, stopping after President George Bush called an end to the hostilities. Believing Saddam’s regime would soon fall, demonstrations against the weakened government erupted in north and south Iraq.
Days after President Bush announced the ceasefire, Kurdish political groups united against Saddam organized mass demonstrations and attacked military and government facilities in northern Iraq. The rebellion was planned a month earlier, according to the Kurdish Joint Action Committee.1
The uprising spread like wildfire and in a short while the major cities in the Kurdish region were liberated by rebels and army deserters. But the Kurds were unable to defend against Republican Guards, sent by Sadda to quell the rebellion.
Sporadic fighting between Iraqi forces and the Kurdish rebels continued until October, when an agreement was reached that required the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kurdish areas and the establishment of a Kurdish Regional Government.
Shaaban Intifada (Shiite Uprising)
In Southern Iraq, demonstrations against Saddam began on March 1 in Basra, the country’s second largest city, and then spread to other cities. Shiite communities dominate the region and had long been oppressed by government authorities.
Insurgents equipped with small arms and hand grenades seized Basra. Rebels executed government officials and released political prisoners from jails. At the height of the rebellion, the insurgents controlled seven major cities in southern Iraq.
Remaining elements of Iraq’s regular forces, Republican Guard units, militia, and loyal police officers fought to restore government control. By mid March, Saddam’s forces had crushed most of the opposition in the cities, including the port city of Basra. The uprising was all but over by the end of the month, except for a limited number of rural areas.
1) “Revolt in Iraq; Kurds, Shiites Gain in Cities,” Newsday, March 6, 1991.
National Liberation Army
Hundreds of military vehicles retreating from Kuwait to Iraq were destroyed by Coalition forces, in what has come to be known as the “highway of death.”
To avoid involvement in the war, the National Liberation Army, the military wing of the People’s Mojahedin, evacuated its bases in north and south Iraq and moved all its forces to Diyala Province, in the east central area. The Mojahedin also halted its radio and television broadcasts and stopped all publications.
Iran’s mullahs eagerly watched events unfold from the sidelines, as two of their main enemies, the United States and Iraq, prepared for war.
When Saddam refused to withdraw his troops from Kuwait by January 15, 1991, Coalition Forces launched an aggressive air campaign. Weeks later, armored divisions based in Saudi Arabia thrust into Iraq while other forces charged into Kuwait to liberate the country.
Iraqi troops were overwhelmed by the massive show of force and superior coalition military technology. Saddam’s troops in Kuwait abandoned their positions and retreated to Iraq. The withdrawing convoy was caught in the open and destroyed by air attacks. Coalition armored divisions continued their push toward Badhdad, reaching about 150 miles from the capital city, when a halt was called to further fighting and Kuwait declared liberated.
NLA’s strategy to avoid involvement in the war proved successful. Its forces remained undisturbed and never engaged in any fighting. When Kurdish factions began to rebel in early March, the Mojahedin dispatched messages to the Kurds that it sought to avoid any hostilities and would remain inactive unless attacked. Their only aim, they reiterated, was the overthrow of Iran’s mullahs.
The Mojahedin announced publicly on March 14 that it had obtained intelligence on members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) amassing along the border of Iraq in preparation for an attack.1 Days earlier, Iran’s President Hashemi Rafsanjani had visited the area to inspect the military operations.
Soon thereafter, the IRGC infiltrated Iraq and killed a member of the NLA, and wounded several other soldiers The NLA mounted a counterattack in response.3
In the next engagement, the NLA defended against strikes by Revolutionary Guards in Jalula, Iraq, about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad, and at Kirfi, to the north.4 Iranian forces attacked with Katyusha rockets and, at one point, surrounded an NLA base.
The following day, Iranian Guards crossed into Iraq in at least 14 separate locations along the border.5 In numerous skirmishes, 20 NLA soldiers were wounded and eight were killed.6 In an attack on the 23 of March, there were 40 NLA casualties and three comrades went missing in action.7
The Revolutionary Guards launched another offensive against the NLA on March 25. Fighting stretched from Khaneqin, an Iraqi border town, to Kifri.8 The NLA counterattacked, successfully reclaiming lost ground.9 Worried the NLA might break through its lines, the Revolutionary Guards mobilized the 73rd Kashan Brigade from Tehran for reinforcements.
The next battle began at 6:00 pm on March 31. Revolutionary Guards slipped into Iraq near Qasr-Shirin and then attacked the NLA at 1:30 am along four axes. Hostilities lasted for 18 hours, with NLA forces smashing the offensive.10 Iran’s Pasdaran suffered many casualties and the following day retreated, licking their wounds.
During the attacks by the Revolutionary Guards, the NLA captured six Iranian soldiers who “wore Kurdish dress.”11 The NLA handed them over to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which confirmed the “Iranian regime was trying to recruit Kurds to fight the NLA.”12 A later investigation by the United Nations also concluded the mullahs “sought to hire Iraqi Kurds to fight against the NLA.”13
A small group of NLA soldiers evacuating a military base was attacked on March 11 near Tuz, a city south of Kirkuk, by Iraqi Kurds under the leadership of Jalal Talebani, the head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). In the skirmish, NLA commander Reza Karamali was killed and several others wounded. Later two other NLA members were ambushed near their base by forces loyal to Talebani.
At the time, Iran’s mulllahs were giving support to the PUK, providing weapons and financial assistance.14 The mullahs also supported the rebels in south Iraq during the uprising, hoping the insurrections would topple Saddam, opening the way for the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic republic.
While the NLA was engaged in defending against the IRGC’s offensive of 25 March, a platoon of 19 NLA members, traveling in four armored vehicles, lost contact with the main force. “The group lost its way in the unfamiliar terrain, and mistakenly advanced several kilometers toward the city of Kelar, where they were captured by members of the Talebani group and Kurdish Hezbollah (a proxy group of the Iranian regime.”15 Seventeen of the NLA soldiers were executed by the Talebani and two others – Hassan Zolfaqari and Beshar Shabibi – were handed over to Iran’s mullahs and later also murdered.
Talebani claimed in a press release on March 25 that “More than 5,000 mercenaries of the Mojahedin are being prepared and supplied with tanks to lead a ground war” to retake Kirkuk.16 The Mojahedin issued a statement declaring the allegation by Talebani to be a “blatant lie.”17 At the time, the NLA was fully engaged in defending against attacks by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Close Relations With Kurds
The Mojahedin have long had close relations with the Kurds in Iraq and Iran. Talebani expressed his support for the Mojahedin in a 1984 letter to Massoud Rajavi, the head ofthe PMOI / MEK. Talebani stated:
“Honorable and dear brother Massoud Rajavi, on behalf of the Patriotic Union of Iraqi Kurdistan (PUK) politburo, I would like to express my greeting and very best wishes to you and other Mujahedin brothers in your struggle against the reactionary zealots who rule in Iran….We are therefore always ready to strengthen our good relationship with the People’s Mujahedin Organization of Iran.”18
The Mojahedin enjoyed close relations with the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), the other major Kurdish party in northern Iraq led by Massoud Barzani, and Kurds in Iran, who were persecuted by the mullahs and allowed the Mojahedin to set up bases in the north western area. In 1983, the PMOI / MEK formally adopted a plan supporting autonomy for Kurds in Iran.
Given its longstanding relations with the Kurds, the Mojahedin would not have attacked them. The Mojahedin was fully aware the PUK skirmishes – and false propaganda – were carried out at the direction of the mullahs as a requirement to obtain continued support. The PUK later recanted its allegations. (See Kurdish Democratic Party on the site’s menu.)
On March 29, while the NLA was involved in battles with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Saddam’s forces retook Kirkuk.
1) “Revolt in Iraq; Kurds, Shiites Gain in Cities,” Newsday, March 6, 1991.
2) “Saddam’s Forces Reportedly Set Kirkuk Oil Wells on Fire,” UPI, March 14, 1991.
3) “What Lurks in the Middle East,” Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 1991.
3) “Mojahedin-e Khalq Claims 100 Members of the IRGC Killed in Western Iran Attack,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Voice of the America in Persian (March 14, 1991), March 16, 1991.
4) “Iraqi Troops Reportedly Retake Towns, Heavy Fighting Continues,” UPI, March 17, 1991.
5) “Army Offensive Repelled, Iraqi Opposition Says,” Washington Post, March 19, 1991.
6) “Iranian Rebel Group Levels Charges at its Government,”UPI, March 21, 1991.
7) “Opposition Trains on Plains of Iraq to Topple Iranian Rulers,” Associated Press, May 8, 1991.
8) “Saddam’s Forces Use Planes, Helicopters to Attack Kirkuk,” UPI, March 25, 1991.
9) Iranian Mojahedin-e Khalq Claims ‘Large-Scale’ Retaliation for Iranian Attack,” BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan Radio (March 15, 1991), March 27, 1991.
10) “Iranian Opposition Describes Battle in Iraq,” Associated Press, April 4, 1991.
11) “Written Statement Submitted by International Educational Developments, a Non-Governmental Organization on the Roster,” Economic and Social Council, Commission on Human Rights, United Nations. Document E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/NGO/55, August 22, 1995.
14) “Iranian Rebel Group Levels Charges at its Government,” UPI, March 21, 1991.
15) “Democracy Betrayed; A Response to U.S. State Department Report on the Mojahedin and the Iranian Resistance,” National Council of Resistance, Foreign Affairs Committee, March 15, 1995.
16) “UN Allies Urged to Save Rebels,” The Guardian, March 26, 1991.17) “Kurdish Leader Returns; Vows Fight to Free All Iraq,” Associated Press, March 26, 1991.18) “Enemies of the Ayatollahs,” by Mohamad Mohaddessin, Zed Books, London, New York, 2004.
VEVAK / MOIS Disinformation
No evidence has been presented to support the claim that the Mojahedin fought alongside Saddam’s forces to suppress the Kurdish uprising. There are only allegations fabricated by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (VEVAK / MOIS).
Karim Haghi was briefly a member of the National Liberation Army. He left the organization, traveled to Europe, where he was recruited in 1994 by Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) Haghi was interviewed in 2003 by Elaine Sciolino for a New York Times article about the People’s Mojahedin. Haghi alleged that “Mrs. Rajavi told us to kill them [Kurds] with tanks and try to preserve our bullets for other operations.” Haghi also alleged in the article that “We were forced to kill both Kurds and Shiites, and I said I didn’t come here to kill other people.” Both quotes were fabricated by Haghi and have continued to re republished by news outlets and MOIS attack websites
The UN directed the International Educational Development, Inc. (IED), a U.N. roster non-governmental organization, to conduct an independent investigation of Tafrishi’s allegations against the Mojahedin and NLA. The IED submitted a written report on its findings to the U.N. that was published in 1995.
After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iran’s VEVAK / MOIS dispatched agents to Europe to distribute disinformation about the Mojahedin and NLA. A document by one of its agents – Jamshid Tafrishi (aka Tafrishi-Enginee) – was sent to the United Nations that alleged the NLA collaborated with Iraqi troops in attacks against the Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiites in the southern area.
“From our independent investigation and discussion with parties involved,” the IED stated, “we find these allegations false.”4 (emphasis added) IED said the NLS had not attacked the Kurdish people and was the target of a disinformation campaign by Iranian intelligence.
The IED said the allegations against the NLA originated mainly from Jamshid Tafrishi, (emphasis added) who had joined the Mojahedin in 1988 and then left the organization after 19 months, citing personal problems.5
The report said Tafrishi made his way to Europe where he participated in a public campaign against the People’s Mojahedin. There is “compelling evidence,” IED said, that Tafrishi was “an agent of the Khomeini regime’s Ministry of Intelligence.”6
Tafrishi’s assignment was to “gather intelligence on Iranian exiles, to seek ways and means for discrediting them and all opponents of the regime,” IED said. In doing so, the VEVAK / MOIS hoped to “make the international community believe the NLA is really fighting the Kurdish people in Iraq and as such is a pawn of the Iraq regime.”7 (emphasis added)
1) “Written Statement Submitted by International Educational Development, a Non-Governmental Organization on the Roster,” Economic and Social Council. United Nations. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1995/NGO/55, August 22, 1995.
2) Ibid.3) Ibid.4) Ibid.5) “Iranian Opposition Movement’s Many Faces,” By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, June 30, 2003.
On August 30, 2001, Jamshid Tafrishi submitted an affidavit to the U.S. Court of Appeals regarding the PMOI / MEK in which he confessed to being a former agent of Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security. He stated:
“From 1995 until 1999, I received a total of 72,000 dollars from the Intelligence Ministry as payment for my work on their behalf.”1
Tafrishi said he was assigned by the VEVAK / MOIS to recruit disaffected members of the People’s Mojahedin and to accuse the organization of violating human rights, as someone who had previously worked with them.
Tafrishi said he also was “assigned to inform international organizations as well as foreign governments that PMOI / MEK was involved in suppressing the Kurdish rebellion in Iraq.”2 (emphasis added)
“The plan,” he explained, “was conducted under the supervision of Nasser Khajeh-Nouri, who was the regime’s agent in the United States. He organized [an] interview for me and other agents with an Iranian radio station in Los Angeles to tell our story that PMOI / MEK suppressed the Kurdish people along [with] the Iraqi forces.”3
Tafrishi said his name was attached to a report prepared by Khajeh-Nouri that alleged the PMOI / MEK helped Saddam suppress the Kurds. The document was then sent to U.S. intelligence and government agencies, as well as the United Nations. “Consequently,” Tafrishi said, “a U.S. Non-Governmental Organization, International Educational Development [organization], prepared a report of their investigation on this issue refuting our allegations against the Mojahedin, which was published as [a] U.N. document on August 22, 1995.”4
Second UN Report
International Educational Development submitted a second report regarding Tafrishi to the United Nations on January 23, 2001. In the statement, IED said “Mr. Tafrishi now freely admits that we [IED] were correct.5
“Mr. Tafrishi has recently written letters in which he reveals that the Intelligence Ministry of the Iranian regime hired him (apparently paying him $72,000 in addition to travel and other expenses) especially to carry out a mininformation campaign about the NLA, with false accusations that the NLA had itself engaged in violations of human rights or intimidation or extortion of the Iranian exile community.”6
“A number of human rights organizations were treated to false testimony and government-orchestrated letter writing campaigns,” the report stated. “Unfortunately, some of these organizations may have believed the misinformation.”7
1) “Affidavit of Jamshid Tafrishi,” U.S. Court of Appeals, August 30, 2001.
5) “Written Statement Submitted by International Educational Development, Inc., a Non-Governmental Organization on the Roster,” Commission on Human Rights. 57th Session. Item 9 of the Provisional Agenda. United Nations. E/CN.4/2001/NGO/51, January 23, 2001.
Disinformation Campaign Continues
Since the early 1990s, the VEVAK / MOIS has aggressively operated a disinformation campaign against the People’s Mojahedin, alleging it suppressed the 1991 uprisings in Iraq. No evidence has been brought forward to substantiate the malicious claim, only false allegations by MOIS disinformation agents.
Countering the VEVAK / MOIS propaganda are two UN independent reports, statements by the Kurdish Democratic Party and numerous Shiite Grand Sheiks in Iraq, and the confession of a VEVAK / MOIS agent who defected and explained how he disseminated erroneous allegations about the uprisings to discredit the Mojahedin’s reputation.
Still, the falsehood has been widely reported by media outlets and organizations, such as those below:
Backgrounder on “Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK) (aka People’s Muhahedin of Iran or PMOI), Council on Foreign Relations, 2013.
“Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO), GlobalSecurity.org, 2013.
“Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO), Federation of American Scientists, 2013.
“My Day With a Real Thrill Kill Cult: the MEK,” Institute for Policy Studies, January 13, 2012.
“The Iranians in Iraq,” Washington Post, December 14, 2011.
“It Makes Sense for the US to Take Mujahedin-e-Khalq Off its Terrorist List,” Guardian, August 16, 2011.
“Grim Decision-Making; Dictators and Violence,” Economist, February 27, 2011.
“Iranian Exiles Told to Leave Iraq Camp,” Washington Post, December 16, 2009
“This Man Belonged to a Terrorist Organization,” The Toronto Star, March 21, 2009.
“The Mujahedin-e Khalq in Iraq: A Policy Conundrum, RAND Corporation, 2009.
“Iraq Threatens to Expel Iranian Rebels; Exile Group Has Protected Status Under Soon-to-Expire U.N. Mandate,” Washington Post, December 22, 2008.
“Protesters Fear Iranians in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2008.
“Iraq Intensifies Efforts to Expel Iranian Group,” Washington Post, March 14, 2007.
“U.S. Decision to Protect Exiled Iranian Terrorists Fuels Speculation Pentagon is Planning a New War,” Ottawa Citizen, August 3, 2004.
“In a Delicate Balancing Act, U.S. Woos Iranian Group in Iraq,” Washington Post, November 9, 2003.
“The Cult of Rajavi,” by Elizabeth Rubin, New York Times Magazine, July 13, 2003.
“Report on the People’s Mojahedin of Iran,” US State Department Report, 1994.
The People’s Mojahedin urges these organizations to correct the record and accurately report on the activities of the PMOI / MEK and NLA.
New York Times Blunders Repeatedly
Correcting the record about the alleged 1991 suppression of the Kurds by the Mojahedin can be excruciatingly difficult. An example:
In June 2003, Elaine Sciolino, a reporter for the New York Times, wrote a scathing article about the Mojahedin, based on disinformation from Iranian intelligence undercover agents
.1 She interviewed Karim , a VEVAK / MOIS undercover agent who had briefly been a member of the National Liberation Army. He spoon fed disinformation to Sciolino on the Mojahedin’s involvement in the Kurdish uprising and fabricated a quote, alleging “Mrs. Rajavi told us to kill them [Kurds] with tanks and try to preserve our bullets for other operations. We were forced to kill both Kurds and Shiites, and I said I didn’t come here to kill other people.”
Elizabeth Rubin, a reporter for the New York Times, has repeatedly republished a quote about Mrs. Rajavi despite overwhelming evidence it originated from a MOIS undercover agent and is completely false.
The following month, the tank quote was rewritten in an article by Elizabeth Rubin, another New York Times reporter.2 Rubin changed the alleged quote by Mrs. Rajavi to read, “Take the Kurds under your tanks, and save your bullets for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.” While the quote is more pithy, making the change calls into question Rubin’s journalistic integrity.
When both articles were published by the NYT, abundant materials were publicly available about Iran’s use of undercover intelligence agents – including Haghi – who were spreading disinformation about the Mojahedin. This includes two independent investigations for the United Nations, reports by European intelligence agencies that discussed the use of undercover agents by the VEVAK / MOIS to spread falsehoods about the Mojahedin, and the confession of a former VEVAK / MOIS agent who defected and publicly disclosed his efforts to discredit the Mojahedin by distributing black propaganda alleging the resistance organization participated in suppressing the 1991 Kurdish and Shia uprisings.
So what does Elizabeth Rubin do in 2011? In an opinion editorial for the New York Times, she once again echoes VEVAK / MOIS lies regarding the Kurdish uprising and Mrs. Rajavi’s alleged tank quote
.3 Incredibly, in the same article, Rubin recounts positive statements by many high ranking public officials in support of the Mojahedin, including Howard Dean; Rudolp Giuliani; Gens. H. Shelton and Peter Pace, both former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Stagg; Wesley Clark, former NATO commander; Gen. James Jones; Louis Freeh, former FBI Director; Dennis Blair and Michael Hayden, former intelligence agents; Bill Richardson, former Ambassador to the United Nations and Governor of New Mexico; Congressman Lee Hamilton, and others.
Many of the officials specifically address the Kurdish allegation and say it is propaganda by the VEVAK / MOIS. Rubin arrogantly ignored their views and assumed they knew nothing, and reprinted the allegation that the “Rajavis and their army joined his [Saddam’s] forces in mowing down fleeing Kurds.”
In Rubin’s mind, government officials, both Republican and Democrats, former high-ranking military leaders with previous access to classified information, US intelligence agents with expertise on Iran and the Middle East, etc. have all been duped by the Mojahedin. But, in fact, it is Rubin and Sciolinio who were suckered by the VEVAK / MOIS.
VEVAK / MOIS Attack Websites
Hardly a day goes by without the VEVAK / MOIS falsely charging on its attack websites that the Mojahedin suppressed the Kurds in the 1991 uprising. By repeating lies over and over, the VEVAK / MOIS seeks to convince the public, government officials, NGOs, and the media that its false allegations are true. Below are examples of disinformation articles distributed by the VEVAK / MOIS:
“MKO Trained al-Qaeda for Terror Attacks in Iraq Iraq: Iraqi Official,” February 9, 2013. (The group is also known to have cooperated with Saddam Hussein in suppressing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq and carrying out the massacre of Iraqi Kurds.”)
“Bahrain Regime Aims to use MKO to Suppress Protests: Iran MP,” Habilian Association, February 3, 2013. (“The group [PMOI / MEK] is also known to have cooperated with Saddam in suppressing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq and carrying out the massacre of Iraqi Kurds.”)
“MKO Training al-Qaeda Operatives in Iraq,” Habilian Association, January 20, 2013. (“The group [PMOI / MEK] fled to Iraq in 1986, where it was protected by Saddam Hussein and where it helped the Iraqi dictator suppress Shiite and Kurd uprisings in the country.”)
“MKO Terror Group Receives UK Support,” Habilian Association, January 9, 2013. (“The group [PMOI / MEK] also cooperated with Saddam in the massacres of Iraqi Kurds and in suppressing the 1991 uprisings in southern Iraq.”)
“New Additions to State Department Report on MKO,” Irandidban.com, (no date). (“Citing reports that showed Maryam Rajavi encouraged members to ‘crush Kurds under the tanks….”)
“US Likely to Use Rajavi Again,” Irandidban.com, (no date). (“This move by US, coincident with Saddam execution, and regarding wide range cooperation between the MKO and former Baathist regime of Iraq in suppressing Kurds and Shiites in 1991, has received harsh criticism by Iraqi political parties.”)
“Expulsion of Terrorist MKO, an Honor for Iraq,” Irandidban.com (no date). (“This organization [PMOI / MEK] was involved and played a murderous role in suppressing the uprising of Sha-banish in the south and Kurds uprising in the north.”)
For more Information on VEVAK / MOIS disinformation, please see:
1) “Iranian Opposition Movement’s Many Faces,” New York Times, June 30, 2003.2) “The Cult of Rajavi,” New York Times Magazine, July 13, 2003.3) “An Iranian Cult and its American Friends,” New York Times, August 14, 2011.2) “The Cult of Rajavi,” New York Times Magazine, July 13, 2003. 3) “An Iranian Cult and its American Friends,” New York Times, August 14, 2011.