Wednesday, November 22, 1995

Women take charge of Iran’s opposition army

Tehran regime clings to sexism
By Jonathan Wright

The Washington Times
November 22, 1995

ASHRAF CAMP, Iraq — At a parade ground on a desolate piece of brush land northeast of Baghdad, 2,000 Iranian soldiers — men and women — march past the grandstand.

Female commanders, in red head scarves and shapeless khaki fatigues, whisper commands into walkie-talkies, and male platoon leaders salute visiting female dignitaries.

This is the National Liberation Army of Iran, the army of the opposition People’s Mojahedin, which has overturned centuries of sex discrimination and given Iranian women a chance to show their military leadership qualities.

The occasion is also significant — the second anniversary of the selection of Maryam Rajavi as the “president-elect” whom this army in exile hopes to install in place of what it sees as male chauvinist rule in Tehran.

In the two years since the new prominence of Mrs. Rajavi, wife of Mojahedin leader and National Liberation Army commander in chief Massoud Rajavi, the proportion of women among rebel army commanders has risen to 70 percent, compared with 30 percent among the rank and file, said Ozra Alavi-Thleghani, the deputy commander in chief.

The election of Maryam Rajavi has struck at the ideological heart of the Khomeini regime, which is based on sexual discrimination,” Mrs. Alavi-Taleghani told the assembly.

“The slogan our members shout everywhere is that we shall take Maryam Rajavi to Tehran as president in Operation Overthrow.” she told reporters at Ashraf Camp, the army’s main base, about 40 miles west of the Iranian border.

The women serve as helicopter pilots, tank mechanics, logistics officers and infantry armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Mojahedin members explain this extraordinary reversal of roles, which goes much further than in the national army of any Muslim state, as both ideological and pragmatic.

The Mojahedin say they are committed Muslims, and some of the female commanders do not shake hands with men.

But their Islam is a liberal variety, based on the idea that the disadvantages women suffered in early Islam should no longer apply in the circumstances of the 20th century.

“The god of the mullahs, like the mullahs themselves, is a misogynist torturer. They view women as the embodiment of sexual desire, the source of sin and the manifestation of Satan,” says the Mojahedin booklet “Women, Islam and Equality.”

“Everything about the Khomeini regime depends to some extent on the oppression of women. Whenever they feel threatened, they choose women as scapegoats,” said Mojahedin spokesman Farid Suleimani.

Javad Ghadiri, an operations officer, said he thought women showed greater commitment to the struggle because of the Iranian government’s gender policies.

“The mullah regime denies even the humanity of women. They stone them to death and make them wear the chador,” he said.

The movement quotes Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as making overtly sexist remarks. “Men are stronger and more capable in all fields. Men’s brains are larger. Men incline toward reasoning and rationalism, while women tend to be emotional:’ he is alleged to have said in 1986.

The men of the National Liberation Arms, which came to Iraq in 1986 and now has a moderately impressive array of military hardware, strongly dispute Mr. Rafsanjani’s prejudices.

“Women commanders have shown themselves to be very reliable and competent,” said Shahram Kiamanesh of the Mojahedin’s public relations department.

“They have shown more courage and more capacity for work, and the men have found this very encouraging. It is something they have earned, and now that they have done so, it has set us apart from the Khomeini system and its backward ideology” he added.

“It was under Maryam Rajavi that we evolved from an infantry army to an armored force, so it’s a great source of pride to be commanded by women,” said Mahboub Sabahati, deputy to tank-repair workshop commander Mahboube Ali, a woman.

“It’s something we welcome, not merely accept, and there will be an explosion of women’s energies when the mullahs are overthrown,” he added.

Maryam Rajavi was deputy commander in chief for several years. Her husband remains commander in chief, but the position is largely nominal and he does not play an active role in the day-today running of the army.

Mr. Suleimani said male and female members of the National Liberation Army could marry and have children.

Some live together off the base and send their children to day care centers. But during the Persian Gulf war over Kuwait in 1991, when the Mojahedin bases were vulnerable, many sent their children away to relatives abroad and they have not come back.