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Iran: Islamic Groups
Country Study > Chapter 4 > Government and Politics > Political Parties > Opposition Political Parties in Exile > Islamic Groups


In 1987 the principal Islamic party in opposition to the government of Iran was the Mojahedin, which had been founded in 1965 by a group of religiously inspired young Shias. All were college graduates who believed that armed struggle was the only way to overthrow the shah. In the early 1970s, the Mojahedin engaged in armed confrontations with the military and carried out acts of terrorism, including the assassination of an American military adviser. The Mojahedin was crushed for the most part by 1975, but it reemerged in early 1979 and revitalized itself. Its interpretations of Islam, however, soon brought the organization into conflict with the IRP. During the summer of 1981, the Mojahedin unsuccessfully attempted an armed uprising against the government. More than 7,500 Mojahedin followers were killed during the conflict, and within one year the organization had once again been crushed.

Rajavi, the leader of the Mojahedin, managed to escape from Iran with Bani Sadr in July 1981. In France he reorganized the Mojahedin and tried to broaden its appeal by inviting all nonmonarchist parties to join the National Council of Resistance, which he and Bani Sadr established to coordinate opposition activities. Although most of the political parties refrained from cooperating with the Mojahedin, it nevertheless was most successful in recruiting new members and establishing a loyal following in United States and West European cities with sizable Iranian communities. From the perspective of the other political parties, one of the Mojahedin's most controversial positions was its public endorsement of direct contacts with Iraq, beginning in 1983. This was a contentious issue even within the National Council of Resistance and eventually led to Bani Sadr's break with Rajavi in 1984.

The Mojahedin maintained clandestine contact with sympathizers in Iran, and these underground cells regularly carried out isolated terrorist acts. For this reason, Tehran was more concerned about the Mojahedin than any other opposition group based abroad. The freedom of operation that the Mojahedin enjoyed in France became one of the issues that led to increasingly strained relations between the Iranian and French governments after 1982. When Paris actively sought to improve relations in late 1985, Prime Minister Musavi set restrictions on the Mojahedin as one of the conditions for normalizing relations. In June 1986, France pressured the Mojahedin to curtail its activities. This move prompted Rajavi to accept an invitation from President Saddam Husayn of Iraq for the Mojahedin to establish its headquarters in Baghdad. Following the move to Iraq, the Mojahedin set up military training camps near the war front and periodically claimed that its forces had crossed into Iran and successfully fought battles against the Pasdaran. In June 1987, Rajavi announced the formation of the newly reorganized and expanded National Army of Liberation, open to non-Mojahedin members, to help overthrow the government of Iran.

Data as of December 1987

Last Updated: December 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iran was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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