- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

CAMP ASHRAF, Iraq The forces of the Mujahideen Khalq have been reduced to disarray by a U.S. bombing campaign against the Iraq-based Iranian opposition group, which has close ties to many members of the U.S. Congress.
Charred military trucks, exploded tanks and crushed artillery pieces give mute testimony to the effectiveness of the American attack on the group, which shares U.S. opposition to the clerical regime in Tehran but has been on the U.S. list of terrorist groups since 1997.
U.S. Central Command spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks confirmed last week that U.S. forces had targeted the group, also known as the People's Mujahideen, and predicted an early surrender by its forces, which he said had been operating under the direction of Saddam Hussein's regime.
But those who remained at this camp in eastern Iraq over the weekend downplayed the most recent U.S. attacks which killed at least seven and wounded dozens here and said they are far more worried about Iranian and Iranian-backed forces, who they claim have been crossing into Iraq to attack them.
"We are at the center of misery, devastation and crisis," said spokesman Hossein Madani. "Despite that fact, our morale is excellent. Hundreds of new people are coming. Volunteers are coming from Europe and America."
The Mujahideen Khalq occupies a unique place in Washington politics, having enjoyed repeated expressions of public support from more than 150 members of Congress despite being listed as terrorists by the State Department.
Supporters say the group was placed on the terrorist list by the Clinton administration to encourage what the U.S. then considered a reform-minded administration in Tehran led by President Mohammed Khatami.
But the years of lobbying U.S. officials and staging demonstrations in American cities did not spare the group from American bombs, which blew up 15 to 20 tanks, numerous vehicles and pieces of artillery, and a barracks in the center of Camp Ashraf over several days of bombing that ended about six days ago, Mujahideen officials said.
U.S. military officials have said the group numbers several thousand fighters stationed in and around three bases in east-central Iraq. But the group has claimed 15,000 fighters spread out across a dozen bases near the Iranian border.
Neighbors and officials say the Mujahideen members keep mostly to themselves. "They don't talk with anyone else, and they don't associate with anyone else," said Hamed Kadam, an Arab shepherd from the nearby village of Behayra.
Critics and some former members of the group say it is a sect that separates couples and families and is led by a charismatic woman named Maryam Rajavi, second wife of the group's longtime leader Massoud Rajavi.
"Maryam Rajavi is our ideological teacher," said 22-year-old member Asefeh Behzadi, who grew up in Sweden. "She's the pure and holy Mary. She is everything we have. She represents the future of Iranian women. She's our only hope."
During an overnight stay at the Mujahideen's Camp Ashraf headquarters, commanders granted a reporter limited access to the group's soldiers, who were preparing to defend themselves against an expected attack from Iran.
A dozen rusty tanks guarded the 14-square-mile camp, which lies on a flat and sun-backed expanse swarmed nightly by mosquitoes and frantically barking dogs. Surrounded by barbed wire and gun towers, the camp included two hospitals totaling 100 beds, a supermarket, a park, grazing sheep and gardens.
About 40 miles from the Iranian border and 65 miles north of Baghdad, the camp is surrounded by a 450-square-mile no-man's land dotted by Mujahideen checkpoints and outposts.
Many of the members are former professionals in their 40s speaking fluent English.
"I had a very good life in Canada and the U.S.," said Massoud Farshchi, 40, who studied at the University of California at Los Angeles and Montreal's McGill University. "This is something that people have chosen as a way of life. It becomes your identity after a while."
Thirty percent of the militia are women, many of them Iranians in their late teens or early 20s who grew up in the West and whose parents were either Mujahideen warriors or sympathizers.


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