Robert Fisk: How Iran wages its own global 'war on terror'

Share
Related Topics

The Iranians know how to do these things.

Dr Masoud Ali Mohamedi's car is a shocking sight, its twisted Tehran registration plate – 53Y392 – still attached but the bodywork laced with shrapnel holes, punched through with steel, the driver's seat tossed over. Dr Mohamedi was one of Iran's most prestigious nuclear scientists when a motorcycle exploded beside his car as he left home for Tehran University.

Iran inevitably blamed Mossad; the Israelis predictably denied all responsibility. No proof ever emerged that Mohamedi worked on Iran's nuclear projects although he must have known he was a target. Only months earlier, his colleague Dr Majid Shahriari met a similar fate. And there was Mohamedi's shredded Peugeot this week, at the entrance to the Islamic Conference centre, providing a special "welcome" for delegates from 60 nations to the "anti-terrorism" get-together in Tehran.

Above the hall, there floated in the sulphurous air a white balloon with the logo "A World Without Terrorism". Terrorism, terrorism, terrorism. The all-purpose hate-word was being used by the Ahmadinejads and the Muslim leaders at the podium with Bush-like frequency, the pledges to join the "global fight against terror" an echo chamber of Hillary Clinton's tirades.

Of course, this was not quite the same "terror" which the Bushes and the Obamas and the Clintons rage about. Resistance against oppression, a foundation of the Islamic revolution in Iran, was not "terror". State "terror" was. And, I suppose, uncontrolled (Sunni) "terror" of the Osama bin Laden variety. True, there were pictures of the burning World Trade Centre, but Israel inevitably came up trumps in the "terror" stakes, though not as frequently – and here's the rub – as the Mojahedin-e Qalq.

This cultish group waged war against the Shah, achieved considerable support in the immediate post-revolutionary Iran and then, deprived of any participation in its first elections, turned with venom on Ayatollah Ruhollah's Islamic Republic. The Iranian authorities, who, of course, have never – ever – practiced anything as sordid as "terrorism" (a great drawing-in of breath by your correspondent here), attribute 17,159 innocent deaths to their enemies; around 12,000 of these are blamed on the Mojahedin, the rest on assorted communist, leftist and royalist groups.

And 17,159 fatalities come to more than five times the total dead of the World Trade Centre attacks, as the various victims' groups point out to every foreigner who examines the gruesome exhibition at the back of the Islamic Conference Hall. The pulverised faces of the dead, the amputated legs and headless torsos – a speciality picture display first created after the 1979 revolution, and then developed into a fine art during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war – have become a kind of ghastly art form. The lists and photographs resemble a kind of pictorial mortuary, a vast volume, the pages turned each day like a Biblical text or a bloody Book of Kells, to reveal a three-year-old child torn to pieces by a car bomb.

But this room of death has a political message. In their heyday, the Mojahedin would go for the jugular, blowing up the headquarters of the Islamic Republican Party in 1981, killing more than 70 of Khomeini's most faithful adherents, including his justice minister Ayatollah Mohamed Beheshti. The face of Saddam Hussein glowers down on us, shaking hands with the Mojahedin's leader, Masoud Rajavi, after he agreed to fight alongside Iraq against his own countrymen in the 1980-88 war.

Masoud's wife Maryam – for the Mojahedin, they are a kind of divine duo even though ordinary members were instructed to divorce their wives to ensure the "purity" of the organisation – stares from other photographs. We know she is still alive. Masoud Rajavi has not been seen since the Americans and Brits stormed into Iraq in 2003 and unwisely gave the Mojahedin prisoner-of-war status in their largest Iraqi barracks at Camp Ashraf, even though the US government was to put them on their "terrorist list".

A sign of just how much the Iranian government wants to nail the remnants of the Mojahedin comes when officials at the Islamic Conference hand me copies of a 2009 Rand Corporation report on the Mojahedin-e Qalq – the US Rand institution is, after all, hardly a handmaiden of the Islamic Republic – which lists its sins, its cult-like status and the American desire to wash their hands of the whole political mess by handing Ashraf over to the Iraq authorities. This they did a few months ago, Iraqi troops entering the camp and killing 27 inmates in the process. The Iraqis claimed that many of these men and women in fact committed suicide.

"Terrorists" they may be by America's and Iran's own definition – and there's a strange moral alliance – yet within hours of arriving in Tehran last week, I took lunch with a man who assassinated one of the Islamic Republic's principal opponents and chatted on the phone to another whose hit-team killed two innocent French citizens in a failed attempt to blow away another enemy of the revolution. Long ago, I interviewed them about these events. Yet today – after Abu Ghraib, after Haditha, after Guantanamo and the "black" prison of Bagram and rendition and the massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese – the initial reaction to my luncheon companion's murder (for that is what it was) begins to pale.

It's not that the Islamic Republic has any reason to seize the moral high ground. Its vicious execution of Mojahedin prisoners and thousands of other opponents of the regime, men and women, in 1988, hanged like thrushes on mass gallows on the orders of Khomeini, remains a grotesque bloodstain on the whole necrocracy that Iran had become. But Mohamedi's vehicle looks like any other "terrorism" victim's death car, and the 17,159 Iranian men, women and children remain part of the "martyrdom" portfolio of what may soon be a regional nuclear superpower.



React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick