Iran's divided exiles struggle to be heard
Iranian dissidents are struggling to show the world they're still a force to be reckoned with. Opponents of Ayatollah Khomeini's regime stormed several of their nation's offices in Europe Thursday. They beat the Iranian ambassador in The Hague. In Paris, London, and Frankfurt, demonstrators were arrested without major violence.
But the anti-Khomeini exiles are finding it hard to maintain the momentum of their resistance to the Ayatollah's hard-line rule.
The latest protests, reportedly against the detention of political prisoners in Iran, came on the heels of the split between two key opposition leaders exiled in France: former President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Mujahideen-e Khalq and the National Resistance Council (NRC).
The Marxist Fedayeen-e Khalq, which is not connected with Bani-Sadr or Rajavi , claimed responsibility for the latest violence. An NRC spokesman said Mr. Rajavi's movement ''had nothing to do with the actions.''
When Bani-Sadr and Rajavi decided last month to end their political cooperation, it was believed the move would further weaken the already divided Iranian opposition abroad. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, the question of how to handle Iraq has been a cause for dissension among oppositionists.
The split between the two opposition leaders was triggered by an editorial in the magazine Islamic Revolution, which Bani-Sadr runs. The article, reportedly written by Bani-Sadr himself, condemned Iraq's bombing of Iranian border towns and use of chemical weapons.
The article also criticized ''those within the opposition who fail to condemn such acts.'' He was referring to Rajavi, who maintains contacts with the Iraqi government. In January 1983 Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz visited Rajavi. Mr. Aziz later told reporters he would like to see ''his dear friend Massoud Rajavi become the president or the prime minister of Iran.''
Bani-Sadr, who was Iran's chief of staff during the first 10 months of the 31 /2-year war with Iraq, adamantly opposes any contact with the Iraqis.
A former aide to the Shah explains: ''Many exiled opponents to the Islamic republic run out of money and it is very difficult for them to refuse the help of the Iraqi or the Saudi government.''
Rajavi denies receiving money from any government.
Contacted in Paris, he says he remains the spokesman for the NRC and still enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of its members.
''The only change,'' he says, ''is that we no more consider Bani-Sadr as the president of the republic. The fight against the Islamic regime continues as if nothing had happened. During the campaign for the parliamentary elections (earlier this month), we succeeded in distributing leaflets in major Iranian cities and there were armed clashes between our forces and Revolutionary Guards.''
Bani-Sadr, who is Rajavi's father-in-law and was living in Rajavi's residence in Auvers-sur-Oise, near Paris, has returned to the Paris apartment where he spent many years before the revolution fighting the imperial regime.
But Bani-Sadr remains optimistic.
''I was elected president of the republic by a huge majority of the voters,'' he says, adding that the Islamic regime is very weak and will soon crumble.
Bani-Sadr claims that his call for a boycott of the recent elections was heeded by 90 percent of the voters. He says he will pursue his political fight but won't create a new party. He refused to say whether he had gained the support of any NRC members.
''Bani-Sadr and Rajavi have two totally different personalities and they can't get along,'' an NRC member told the Monitor.
''Both erred in 1981,'' he continued, ''when they thought the Islamic regime was on the verge of collapse. Neither of them recognizes his mistake. They should realize that the Islamic regime is growing firmer every month and prepare themselves for a very long fight.''
For at least one NRC member, the departure of Bani-Sadr was good news. Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, who leads the fight for autonomy in Iranian Kurdistan, despises the former President. Bani-Sadr has always been a strong supporter of Iranian territorial integrity. It was he, as chief of staff, who ordered the Iranian forces to bombard Kurdish rebels.
Before their split, Rajavi had supported Bani-Sadr for a number of years. After he became president, he clashed repeatedly with the parliament, which was dominated by the Islamic Republic Party. In June 1981 he was impeached.
In retaliation, Rajavi's group lanched a wave of attacks against the Islamic regime. Bani Sadr's escape to France was organized by supporters of Rajavi within the Iranian armed forces.
When in hiding in Iran during the summer of 1981, Bani Sadr and Rajavi set up the 20-member NRC. Its mission was to rule the country under the presidency of Bani-Sadr.