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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 June, 2003, 10:59 GMT 11:59 UK
Profile: Maryam Rajavi
Addressing a women's conference at Earls Court in 1996
Maryam Rajavi urges equality for Iranian women at a rally in London

For over 20 years Maryam Rajavi and her husband Massoud have been high on the Iranian Government's wanted list.

This is because their Iraq-based Mujahideen-e Khalq Organisation (MKO), or People's Mujahideen , is accused by Tehran of waging an armed struggle against it.

Since the fall of Baghdad the fate of the group and its leaders has looked uncertain.

Experts believe they could be used as a bargaining chip by Washington, as tensions rise with Tehran over a post-war order in Iraq.

Others say the MKO cannot survive without Iraqi support, while its very association with Baghdad has hardly helped its image.

Iranian officials refer to the movement as "Hypocrites", or Munafeqin, a pun on the word Mujahideen.

They have offered its members an amnesty if they return and repent.

But this does not extend to the leaders, whom Tehran wants handed over to stand trial.

US attitudes to the MKO have been ambivalent. Officially, Washington sees it as a "terror" group.

But as it campaigns for "regime change" in Iran, it has attracted considerable support in the US Congress.

The US military must now decide what to do with possibly several thousand fighters trapped in Iraq.

Female fighters

Maryam Rajavi, maiden name Qajar-Azedanllo, was born in 1953 in Tehran to a middle class family. She became involved in the movement to oust the former ruler, the Shah, in her late teens, and joined the MKO while at university.

Sharing the goal of removing the Shah with Ayatollah Khomeini, the MKO took part in the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But soon the group, with its blend of Marxism and Islam, fell foul of the new regime.

Some members, including Mrs Rajavi, stood against pro-Khomeini candidates in the general elections of 1980.

With her future husband, Massoud Rajavi, she helped stage anti-Khomeini demonstrations, which provoked a violent backlash from the new government.

A number of MKO leaders were executed and in 1981 the leadership was forced to decamp to Paris.

Addressing fighters near the Iranian border in 1996
Massoud rallies troops on anniversary of wife's election as 'president'

The early 1980s saw assassinations of top Iranian officials, generally attributed to the MKO.

In 1985 Maryam was made joint leader of the organisation with Massoud Rajavi, whom she married in Paris the same year.

Following apparent pressure from Paris, the MKO leadership left France in 1986 and moved to Baghdad.

The MKO said this was to be closer to the war Iraq was waging against the common enemy: the mullahs in Tehran.

In 1987, the National Liberation Army (NLA) was formed as the MKO's military wing.

Mrs Rajavi became its Deputy Commander-in-Chief. During 1987, the group claimed credit for military incursions into Iran.

Women are said to account for one-third of MKO fighters in Iraq. Some experts see this as a propaganda ploy to challenge Tehran's restrictions on women.


In 1993, the MKO was officially subordinated to the National Council of Resistance of Iran, or NCR, an umbrella group set up in 1981 by Massoud Rajavi and exiled former President Bani Sadr.

Now calling itself the Iranian Resistance's "parliament", the NCR promptly elected Mrs Rajavi as Iran's future interim "president".

She then gave up her posts in both the MKO's military wing - the NLA - and the MKO proper, leaving leadership of the latter to her husband.

As the movement's figurehead, Mrs Rajavi made trips to Western cities in the mid-1990s to address Iranian exiles and canvas support.

But the US State Department classified the MKO as a "terrorist" group in 1997, and the NCR likewise in 1999. While in May 2000, the MKO was added to the European Union's list of banned groups.

Since then, promotional "appearances" by Maryam and her husband abroad have been made by video, rather than in person.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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