Thursday, February 04, 1988

Iranian Rebel Army Forming First All-Woman Battalion

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 4, 1988

By ED BLANCHE, Associated Press Writer

WITH IRANIAN REBELS IN NORTHERN IRAQ - Makhabeh Jamshidi watched approvingly as her women warriors spaced the shots from their AK-47s on the target range, just as the book says.

"I hope we'll soon have women fighting alongside the men in the coming offensives," said the 29-year-old former Tehran University economics student. She commands the first all-woman battalion being formed by the guerrilla National Liberation Army of Iran.

"Women in Iran have suffered as much, if not more, than men under the mullahs," she said in an interview at the northern rebel headquarters near the Iranian border.

The NLA, based in Iraq, is considered the most effective Iranian movement fighting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's fundamentalist regime. About one-third of its members are women, and they undergo the same training as men.

Ms. Jamshidi is a commander, an all-purpose rank for senior officers. She also is on the executive committee of the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Warriors, around which the NLA was formed last June.

Women fighters have not been sent on raids into western Iran, but staff mortar units that support the men and have come under artillery bombardment.

Ibrahim Zakiri, who commands the NLA northern force fighting in Iran's Kurdistan and Azarbaijan provinces, said the new women's battalion will fight alongside the men.

Officials of the Mujahedeen say nearly one-quarter of the thousands of its activists killed or executed since 1981 were women, including scores who were pregnant when tortured. The Mujahedeen helped Khomeini's revolution, but the mullahs got rid of liberal and leftist allies after Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was overthrown in February 1979.

Ms. Jamshidi said: "We've proved our worth in the field and this has helped free us from the restraints that have been imposed on Iranian women.

"I'm no different from thousands of other Iranian women. My generation overcame the repression of the shah and now we're overcoming the suppression of Khomeini, for whom women have no standing."

She and the scores of other women on the base wore olive green fatigues, and khaki-colored head scarves to conform with Islamic tradition. Women in Iran, where Islamic laws are strictly enforced, must wear head-to-toe black chadors that reveal only their faces and hands.

Ms. Jamshidi has a 4-year-old daughter named for Mariam Rajavi, who is the wife of NLA chief Massoud Rajavi and the army's co-leader. The child goes to a Mujahedeen kindergarten near the base and Ms. Jamshidi sees her every night when duty permits.

"I'm a mother with all the responsibilities that entails, as well as being a military officer," she said.

"As fighters, we've opened new doors for women socially and politically as well as militarily. Efficiency in combat is just one way we've helped our women free themselves from the taboos of Iranian society."

Ms. Jamshidi joined the Mujahedeen in 1975. After the revolution she fought Khomeini's Revolutionary Guards in Tehran, fled in 1983 to Kurdistan in northern Iran and later crossed the mountains into Iraq.

Her family is in Tehran, she said, and "the last news I got about my family 18 months ago said my brother and two sisters are political prisoners in Khomeini's prisons. They will be avenged."