Sunday, November 01, 1987

Ayatollah’s men join rebel army

by Kamran Khan

TEHRAN - THE protests against “Great Satan” - the United States - continue in Tehran as a matter of course, presenting a picture to the outside world of un-paralleled unity.

But it is becoming clear that the rule of the ayatollahs is not total. There is inner conflict and even armed insurrection in which rebel forces are waging war on the regime.

The National Liberation Army of Iran — backed and financed by Iraq and allegedly supported by Saudi Arabia too has been inflicting heavy casualties on Iranian forces, according to government officials and foreign diplomats.

They are reported to be rapidly undermining the Iranian regular army and thousands of soldiers are said to have deserted to the rebels.

The NLA was formed in June by the leaders of the Mujaheddin Khalq — the “warriors of the people” — who were the principal armed left-wing opposition to the Shah. They started an underground campaign against the Ayatollah Khomeini when he took power and are now based in Baghdad , having been forced out of Paris last year through official Iranian pressure on the French government.

The NLA leadership claimed last week that its forces had killed or wounded more than 4,000 soldiers or officials in 94 attacks in western Iran this year. It said there were 400 Iranian casualties in the most recent operation on October 16.

The Tehran authorities, branding the NLA as traitors collaborating with the Iraqi enemy, conceded that at least 1,200 soldiers and officials had been killed by the “terrorists” in recent months.

Iranian sources also confirmed that there had been large-scale desertions from the regular army. An Asian diplomat with extensive contacts in the Iranian defense ministry said at least 3,000 soldiers had fled the country to join the liberation army.

Tehran asserts that the NLA’s salaries and weapons are supplied not just by Iraq , but also Saudi Arabia and even Pakistan . Pakistan has consistently denied any involvement.