WASHINGTON — Armed with charts, maps and reports of increasingly successful military engagements that would have done credit to Robert S. McNamara in the early days of the Vietnam War, a small corps of Iranian dissidents is roaming the United States to drum up support for the overthrow of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Like McNamara, secretary of defense from 1961 to 1966, the well-barbered and impeccably tailored Iranians hope to overwhelm Congress and the American public with facts, figures and reports from the front intended to show that their policy is the only one with any chance of success.
During the last year and a half, scores of congressmen have signed letters condemning Khomeini's anti-American regime in Tehran and praising the opposition group, which calls itself the National Council of Resistance. A council spokesman contended that more than 130 lawmakers have signed such statements, although it is believed that that figure may be somewhat exaggerated.
The organization's anti-Khomeini line finds a willing audience in the United States, where the ayatollah and his government of mullahs is high on the hate list of a broad cross section of the nation. However, the polished lobbying effort obscures a rough history.
The council is dominated by the Moujahedeen, a left-leaning faction that once included "Death to America" in its book of slogans and enjoyed close ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization. The Moujahedeen is led by Massoud Rajavi, a one-time supporter of Khomeini who broke with the ayatollah and fled Tehran in 1981, along with former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr.
Since 1981, the Moujahedeen has waged a determined battle against the Tehran regime, using a variety of techniques inside Iran ranging from leaflets and graffiti to bombs and sabotage. Hundreds of its members have been shot by Khomeini's firing squads.
The guerrilla campaign has been buttressed by a public relations campaign in the United States and Europe. The Moujahedeen's representatives in the United States emphasize the human rights abuses of the Tehran regime, while glossing over the organization's own past.
However, the National Council's success in telling its story on Capitol Hill has generated a remarkable backlash from the Reagan Administration, which usually accepts any organization--no matter how unsavory--that opposes regimes Washington considers enemies.
The State Department issued a white paper denouncing the National Council of Resistance, and one U.S. official said that a regime run by the Moujahedeen "would be far worse than Khomeini."
Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy, the Administration's top Middle East expert, recently told a congressional subcommittee that the Moujahedeen "remains a militantly Islamic, anti-democratic, anti-American and anti-Western collectivist organization which continues to employ terrorism and violence as standard instruments of policy."
The department's attack appears to have hit home. A spot check of congressmen who a year ago signed letters endorsing the National Council of Resistance revealed a near-total reversal of opinion.
For instance, on June 8, 1984, California Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark (D-Oakland) signed a letter addressed to Rajavi that included these sentences: "I admire your efforts on behalf of regional peace and democratic rule. The nature of the Khomeini regime is well known. Courage such as yours is not."
But, an aide now says, "After we checked this group out, we didn't sign any more letters like that one."
Mohammad Sedaghat, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance, conceded that some drop in congressional support has occurred, but he insisted that many congressmen still endorse the organization's objectives.
When a reporter said that many lawmakers have disavowed the council, Sedaghat suggested a call to California Rep. Mervin M. Dymally (D-Compton). However, a Dymally aide said that the congressman "has changed his mind--he was misled by this group."
The Moujahedeen's anti-American past is well documented.
The Feb. 25, 1980, issue of the organization's magazine was replete with praise for Khomeini ("Fired by the inspiration of Imam Khomeini, the masses call out for a people's army") and attacks on the United States ("We behold the mounting urge and burning fervor of the masses insisting that we take up arms and pursue the battle against American imperialism. . . . After the Shah, the turn of America. . . . America and its puppets, the King Hassans, the Sadats and so forth, will be buried in the debris of history. . . . Death to America.").
The same issue extols the Moujahedeen's revolutionary partnership with the Polisario Front in the Western Sahara and the PLO. It quotes Rajavi: "We will always consider ourselves the apprentices of Palestine's revolutionary camps."