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Iran: Tehran Sees A Divide-And-Conquer Policy In The Mideast

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran in October (epa) January 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently denounced what he sees as attempts by the United States to divide Shi'a and Sunnis in the Middle East and to bring Arab states into a coalition hostile to Iran.

Other Iranian politicians have echoed the ayatollah's remarks and, while their interpretations of regional developments are sometimes based on speculation about the motives of Western or Arab powers, the general tendency discerned is a "colonial" tactic of divide and conquer.

The column urged Iranian officials to carefully consider their Arab policy and "find a solution" to the prospect of Arab "cooperation with or...indifference" to strikes on Iran.

Seeking Islamic Unity

Ayatollah Khamenei told a crowd in Qom, central Iran, on January 8 that religious elites and thinkers have a key duty now to avoid religious discord and promote the unity of all Muslims.

Iran's supreme leader continued, saying that "the enemy" wishes to turn longstanding differences between Shi'a and Sunnis into a means for "fratricide and war and bloodshed among Shi'a must not make the slightest remark or move to help this plot," ISNA reported.

Khamanei added that the divisive policies by the United States are a response to its failures in the Middle East, and to the "growing wave of the Islamic awakening" that finds its source in Iran's Islamic regime.

Hostility among Iranian officials to the United States is certainly not new, however the stated concern of Arab states joining Washington is more recent. Khamenei said "certain Arab states" are making concessions to the United States. He referred to "certain analyses, signs, and reports" indicating U.S. plans to form an anti-Iranian coalition including "Great Britain and certain Arab states."

Such a coalition would achieve little, he added, since Iran already withstood eight years of war with Iraq in the 1980s. Iranian officials like to say that Baghdad enjoyed the support of Arab states, the West, and the Soviet Union during that bloody conflict but yet Iraq still did not triumph.

Promoting Discord?

Khamanei made similar remarks on January 15, accusing Western powers of working against Iran and its defense of the rights of Muslims in various places, including Palestine and Lebanon.

His remarks were then repeated by Iranian politicians, who can neither ignore nor criticize the supreme leader's statements. Khamenei's positions set the tone and general direction of Iranian policies. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on January 9 that "there is no doubt...America and certain powers" are promoting discord in the region, and he said Khamenei had spoken the day before "for the vigilance of nations and governments in the region" and to "prevent discord and divisions," ISNA reported.

He said "it is not about any particular country" while speaking at a joint press conference with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zaid al-Nuhayyan.

Legislator Kazem Jalali, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on January 12 that Iran must be careful with its regional relations, given "America's plot" to divide Shi'a and Sunnis.

Jalali said "naturally we must move [toward] consolidated and strong relations with neighbors," ISNA reported. As "all the governments around us are Sunni Muslims, we have to be duly careful with this plot, so they do not create a difficult and cold atmosphere against Iran."

He said Iran should not relive the time when Western powers isolated it by "frightening" neighboring states about Iran. Jalali may have been referring to the 1980s, when Iran's newly-installed revolutionary state was considered a danger to neighboring monarchies and free-market economies. He said "neighboring countries must know that any radical event happening in this region will harm everyone's interests, and it is not just about the Islamic republic."

Yahya Rahim Safavi, the head of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), warned more forcefully that "the Arab states that wish -- in a sinister alliance with the Americans and British" -- to plot against Iran, should consider "[former Iraqi leader] Saddam [Hussein's] fate."

He said the "blood of martyrs" has pushed Iran's "oppressive enemies to their destruction." Safavi referred to the Soviet Union, Iraq, and "some of these Arab states that boosted Saddam's war machine with billions of dollars," ISNA reported. He said Iran's foreign policy is peaceful but "the enemies should know" that any "plot" will be "firmly suppressed."

Unfriendly Neighbors?

Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati (Fars file photo)

On January 16, Guardian Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati also warned that "America's influence and temptations" might create concern about Iran among "certain regional states," IRNA reported. He warned about a bid by "colonial powers" to "create religious divisions" in Saudi Arabia. Jannati said the Hijaz -- where the holy cities of Mecca and Medina are found -- should be secure "but unfortunately negative policies have recently been noted there." He accused the United States of backing "Iraq's terrorists."

Several Iranian officials, as well as the media, see a threat to Iran in the Sunni hostility to Iraqi and other Shi'a, as these are seen as Iran's friends.

Concerns have also been expressed in past weeks at moves to present Saddam Hussein's execution as Shi'ite revenge rather than justice for a cruel dictator. A columnist in the reformist daily "Etemad-i Melli" discerned signs of growing hostility to Shi'a and Iran on January 17 in demonstrations in Jordan following Hussein's execution, and the December resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as Saudi ambassador in Washington.

The prince is seen as a promoter of moderation with Iran, while the daily observed that Jordanian security forces seemed not to have put restrictions on the demonstration, which was even attended by Saddam Hussein's daughter. The daily also termed undated comments by Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt -- who has reportedly accused Iranians of buying large tracts of land in Lebanon, "in the Zionist manner" -- as "another example of official anti-Iranian inclinations."

Noting many examples of hostility in Arab media to Persians, the columnist said the United States "cleverly" managed the execution of Hussein to foment anti-Iranian feeling and reduce the main obstacle to a military strike against Iran: hostility to such a move among Arabs.

The column urged Iranian officials to carefully consider their Arab policy and "find a solution" to the prospect of Arab "cooperation with or...indifference" to strikes on Iran. "In such conditions, could one witness the presence of Arabs in the defend Iran and oppose the hostile acts of the United States?" the columnist asked.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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