20 March 2003, Volume 6, Number 12
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LEADING IRANIAN OFFICIALS EXPRESS SKEPTICISM ABOUT U.S. MOTIVES. "The overthrow of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, through whatever means, will be the happiest day for all the Iranian people," parliamentary deputy speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami said on 26 September 2002. Nevertheless, top Iranian officials have expressed great skepticism about U.S. motives for attacking Iraq. The reasons given usually touch on a perceived American desire to control Iraqi oil resources, to deflect attention from events in Israel, and last but not least, to isolate Iran and counter its Islamic revolution.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei asked rhetorically in a 9 January 2003 speech if a United States attack on Iraq would be "for Iraq's numerous oil wells. For dominating the region. For defending Israel. For lording it over the Islamic Republic of Iran?" Khamenei continued, "Today, these are the secrets of the global arrogance that have been exposed. Everyone knows about them." Khamenei said that regional actors no longer trust the United States, saying, "Arab nations and governments, too, have totally lost their belief in America's pledges and statements."
Khamenei said during an 8 February 2003 ceremony for air force officers and personnel, "The Americans are seeking to control the abundant oil reserves of Iraq, secure the interests of international capitalists and Zionists, and ensure presence in the sensitive Persian Gulf region." Khamenei dismissed U.S. concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
Khamenei expanded on his suspicions during a 12 March 2003 speech to Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy personnel: "The Americans, with their 21st-century equipment and with today's slogans, intend to do what the colonialists of the 18th and 19th century did... under the pretext of democracy, under the pretext of human rights, under the pretext of campaign against terrorism." People are now aware of their own power and are alert to the American threat, however, so "there is no doubt that the aggressor will get caught in the swamp and this [attack against Iraq] will speed up its collapse." Khamenei warned, "There is no end to the expansionist policies of the aggressor, America, which is today, with the temptation of the Zionists, entering into a situation that is dreadful for mankind."
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the first and second sermons of the 7 February 2003 Friday prayers in Tehran decried the U.S. attitude toward Iran and accused the United States of having ulterior motives in the region. "Today, Iran is no longer willing to accept the dictates of America or any other former master," he said. "This is very important, and this is very bitter for them [Americans]." Rafsanjani also said that the United States faces an energy shortage, so, "they think that acquiring energy from this region necessitates their military presence."
U.S. concerns about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are just a ruse, according to Rafsanjani during the 7 February Friday prayers. "America is threatening to use nuclear weapons itself. Even if takes control of Iraq and puts a ruler in power over there, it will use the same instruments against Iraq's neighbors.... What is even worse than Saddam's possession of such weapons, is the American presence in our region. Therefore, we explicitly oppose America's coming here."
Officials who deal with security issues are especially concerned about U.S. intentions. Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Secretary Hassan Rohani on 31 July 2002 offered an explanation of Western interest in the region: "The main cause of problems in the region is the desire of the West to dominate [our people]. Thanks to the very sensitive situation of the region and its huge resources, the West has adopted new slogans and is seeking to realize its old colonial ambitions in the region."
IRGC deputy commander, Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, said at the 23 January 2003 meeting of the air force's politico-ideological tutors that the United States wants to dominate the Middle East's energy resources. "After America dominates Iraq and the region, it will try to exert pressure on Iraq's neighbors, who are against the policies of the United States and the Zionist regime." Zolqadr added that the United States also intends to dominate Central Asia so it can pressure Iran, Russia, and China.
Air force chief Brigadier General Reza Pardis said on 2 February 2003, "The aim of America, which has come to the region under the pretext of fighting terrorism, is to control energy resources and dominate the world." Navy commander Admiral Abbas Mohtaj told an audience at Qom's Chahar Mardan Mosque on 2 February, "America's main and principal objective in the region is to control energy so that it is able to lead the world economy, save Israel from its critical situation, and control Islam and Islamic Movements."
IRGC ground-forces commander Brigadier General Mohammad Ali Jafari said on 21 February 2003 that the United States wants to disarm Iraq, change the country's ruling regime, and control its oil. Jafari then claimed that U.S. President George W. Bush has said, "'After Iraq, it will be Iran's turn.'" Jafari claimed that the United States wants to eliminate Iran's governing principle of the Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult (velayat-i faqih) and block the expansion of the Islamic revolution.
Not every official is convinced about Iran's safety in case there is a war in Iraq. Iranian Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 20 October 2002, "If a U.S. assault on Iraq starts, it would be a process with no end in sight and nobody will be secure. Therefore we believe that an international resolve [sic] must be shaped to stop the unilateralism worldwide."
On the other hand, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 18 December 2002 told a planning session of the IRGC that Iran would not be the next American target. He said, "The enemy will not have the courage to attack Iran thanks to our forces' epic-making capability and courage." (Bill Samii)
Sources: Agence France Presse (AFP), Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA), Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
TEHRAN PROMOTES MULTILATERALISM... In spite of Tehran's doubt about U.S. motives, it has not done anything drastic or surprising to counter U.S. efforts regarding Iraq. State officials have called for any action against Iraq to take place in a multilateral context, while at the same time they have met with Iraqi officials and tried to persuade them to cooperate fully with the UN. On its own behalf, Tehran has adopted a policy of "active neutrality."
Iranian officials welcomed Iraq's September 2002 agreement to permit United Nations weapons inspectors to return. President Mohammad Khatami said on 18 September, "Iraq has accepted the return of UN inspectors and we hope that we move toward a direction where Iraq submits to the resolutions of the United Nations under the supervision of the Security Council." Khatami urged Baghdad to comply with UN resolutions, and he spoke out against the possibility of a conflict in the region.
Furthermore, when asked at an 18 September press conference about Iran's stance on the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iraq, Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said that Tehran opposes the use of force outside the UN framework. He added, "We support any punitive action that the United Nations might decide for a country as long as there is no discrimination and it is applied to all the violators, including Israel."
Continuing to express Tehran's preference for multilateralism, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a January 2003 visit to Athens that Iran is ready to work with the European Union to avoid a war in Iraq.
Foreign Minister Kharrazi on 22 January called on Iraq's neighbors to work together to forestall a war in Iraq and the "interference" of foreign countries in its domestic affairs. The next day he traveled to Istanbul to participate in discussions about Iraq with his counterparts from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey. "We have to stick to multilateralism and urge the United States not to resort to unilateralism," Kharrazi said.
Top Iraqi officials have visited Tehran several times in the last year. The visits by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri in January 2002, September 2002, and February 2003 all were met with great disdain by the legislature (see below). Indeed, parliament has threatened to interpellate the foreign minister for meeting with Sabri and giving the impression that Tehran is friendly toward Baghdad.
Kharrazi, however, did not give the impression of being friendly. Kharrazi said on 29 September 2002 that it was up to Iraq to avoid a war by cooperating with the United Nations and allowing UN weapons inspections. When Sabri visited Tehran on 8-9 February 2003, he delivered a message from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to Iranian President Khatami. An unidentified "Iranian Foreign Ministry source" said that Saddam Hussein proposed that Iran and Iraq settle all outstanding issues. Iraq would end its support for the Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization if Iran ended its support for Iraqi opposition groups, according to Hussein's proposal, and they would settle border-demarcation issues in compliance with the 1975 Algiers Accords.
Sadri is not the only Iraqi official to visit Iran. Saddam Hussein's son Qusay allegedly visited Iran, too. The secret visit took place sometime in July 2002 "without the knowledge of President Khatami and his aides," and an anonymous source close to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) command confirmed the rumors. Qusay reportedly met with deputy IRGC commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr at Mehrabad Airport and then at Sadabad Palace. The Iraqi visitors expressed an interest in buying Iranian military equipment and they offered to buy back the airplanes they had flown to Iran at the outset of the 1991 Gulf War. The Iranians quickly rejected the prospect of military and security cooperation with the Iraqis. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi dismissed such rumors on 22 July 2002. (Bill Samii)
Sources: Alireza Nurizadeh writing in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," 21 July 2002 and 11 February 2003; Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA); IRIB; IRNA; ISNA; "The Washington Post," 24 January 2003.
...AND PROFESSES NEUTRALITY. Iranian Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai said in a 6 August 2002 interview with ISNA that the United States probably would succeed if it attacked Iraq. He therefore advocated neutrality, saying, "Any support for the present Iraqi government would be a blunder because it would turn the future Iraqi government into an enemy of Iran."
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, on the other hand, rejected the possibility of neutrality in a 24 August 2002 statement to IRNA. He said, "Interpreting Iran's stance over the current Iraqi crisis as neutral is unreal and contradicts the country's clear and official position on this.... Iran has announced its opposition to the American unilateral action and considers any military action against that country as totally void."
Iranian policy is therefore one of "active neutrality." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi explained this policy on 30 September 2002, according to state television. "The Islamic Republic of Iran's regional position and national interests necessitate that it should actively hold talks with all the parties involved to prevent the outbreak of war in the region." Iran will therefore talk with all the concerned parties "to resolve the Iraqi crisis." (Bill Samii)
PARLIAMENT RECOMMENDS CAUTION IN DEALING WITH IRAQ. The Iranian executive branch's conduct of bilateral dialog with its Iraqi counterpart has not met with complete approval from the Iranian legislature. From a purely domestic political perspective, the parliamentarians' sentiments reflect those of their constituents. The parliamentarians' concern also can be traced to the inclusion of Iran in the "axis of evil" described by U.S. President Bush in his January 2002 State of the Union address.
Veterans of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War and the families of its casualties oppose normalization of ties with Iraq until all outstanding issues are resolved. For example, the two sides continue to exchange the remains of soldiers still missing in action (MIA), and all the Iranian prisoners of war (POWs) are not accounted for. There also are demands for financial compensation.
After Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri visited Tehran in early February 2003, some 100 members of parliament submitted a motion to interpellate Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Ardabil representative Nureddin Pirmoazen, who signed the interpellation motion, said on 17 February that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trying to save himself from international isolation, whereas the Iranian Foreign Ministry should be hosting United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) chief Hans Blix to show him the evidence of Hussein's chemical-weapons attacks during the Iran-Iraq War. The interpellation motion also notes Hussein's failure to apologize for invading Iran, his annulment of the 1975 Algiers Accords, failure to fully implement UN Resolution 598 that ended the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, failure to pay reparations, and failure to account for all the POWs and MIAs.
A more serious concern is the possibility of Iran being targeted by the United States if it is seen as overly friendly towards Iraq. During the 26 May 2002 session of parliament, parliamentarian Nureddin Pirmoazen asked Foreign Minister Kharrazi, "In view of the sensitive and particular situation in the region, what was the reason for a visit by the Iraqi foreign minister [to Tehran] in the second week of last Bahman [late January 2002], two days before the American president termed Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as an 'axis of evil.'" Kharrazi responded that the visit was in exchange for his own earlier visit to Iraq, but Pirmoazen was dissatisfied and forwarded the question to the relevant parliamentary committee for further review.
The legislature's National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee met with the deputy ministers of foreign affairs and of intelligence and security to discuss developments in Iraq, Tehran parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai said on 17 December. Kulyai said that the parliamentarians asked how Tehran is protecting its interests, about American motives, and for predictions on future developments. Kulyai said there was some criticism of state policy on the Iraqi issue. "The officials gave some answers, some of which were accepted. But on the whole, most of the commission members did not think that Iran's policies in respect of regional developments would safeguard our people's interests," Kulyai said.
Khoi parliamentary representative Ali Taqizadeh in a 26 January 2003 speech to the legislature criticized the performance of the Foreign Ministry in dealing with Iraq. He said that trying to make friends with certain countries is illogical and Iranian diplomacy should not create new enemies for the country. Taqizadeh said that inviting Iraqi Foreign Minister Sabri to Iran is not beneficial. (Bill Samii)
Sources: IRIB; ISNA; "Tehran Times," 27 January 2003.
IRAN TO FEND OFF REFUGEE INFLUX. There are various predictions on the number of Iraqis who would be displaced by another war in their country. A January report in "The Washington Post" said that 900,000 people could head for Iran, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey. In February "The Boston Globe" reported that the UN is planning for a two-three month war that could create up to 600,000 refugees, "although some within the UN estimate the number could be double that."
Iran currently hosts some 2.55 million refugees, and 203,000 of them are Iraqis. The Iraqi refugees came to Iran in several phases. The first phase occurred in 1980, when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein expelled Iraqi Shia and Iraqis of Iranian nationality after some Shia tried to assassinate Iraqi government officials. The expulsions continued during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, on the pretext that the Iraqi Shia had divided loyalties -- regardless of the fact that Shia make up 60 percent of the country's population and fought loyally against Iran. More Iraqis migrated to Iran in the early 1990s, after Baghdad put down a Shia uprising in the south. Iraqi Kurds also migrated to Iran in the late 1980s and during the 1990s, when they were subjected to chemical-weapons attacks by Baghdad's forces.
Most of the Iraqi Shia congregated near Iran's southwestern borders, while the Kurds congregated in the northwest. Others are in camps farther inside Iran and have been there as long as 15 years. Rangin Abdullah Majid, a Kurd in Songhor's Hejrat-3 Refugee Camp, said: "I think of Iran as my real home. I can't remember Iraq."
The presence of millions of refugees in Iran for over 20 years is seen as imposing an increasingly unbearable cost. Tehran says that each refugee costs it $674 annually, whereas the international community only provides $6 per refugee. Moreover, the refugees take jobs in a country with an estimated 25 percent unemployment rate, use social services, and allegedly contribute to crime.
So it is that, while dealing with an already-sizeable refugee population, Tehran is preparing for a possible new influx of refugees. Ahmad Husseini, who heads the Interior Ministry's Bureau of Aliens and Foreign Immigrants Affairs, said in September 2002 that no Iraqi refugees would be allowed to enter Iran, and in December, the Interior Ministry's Javid Mahmudi described the preparation of 19 camps along Iran's western border. Husseini in mid-January also mentioned 19 camps and said that none of them would be any further than 10 kilometers inside Iran. He said that up to 200,000 Iraqi refugees could be accommodated in the camps and predicted that up to 800,000 Iraqis could head toward Iran if there is a war in their country.
Husseini said in late January that Iran has a "closed-door policy toward Iraqi refugees." Husseini added that Iran has not allocated any funds toward helping Iraqis who would be displaced by a conflict in their country, explaining, "The Iraqi government and the UN are responsible for the allocation of funds for housing Iraqi refugees." (Bill Samii)
Sources: U.S. Committee for Refugees website (http://www.refugees.org); UN High Commissioner for Refugees (http://www.unhcr.ch); IRNA; IRIB; "The Boston Globe," 27 February 2003; "The Washington Post," 5 January 2003; Agence France Presse; Reuters.
THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR, 1980-1988. The war's continuing legacy. Much remains unsettled nearly 15 years after the end of the Iran-Iraq War, and the lingering animosity Tehran harbors toward Saddam Hussein outweighs its unease about a U.S.-led attack to remove him. Tehran and Baghdad have made periodic attempts to reconcile since the war's end in 1988 and their reestablishment of diplomatic relations in 1990. Just how controversial such attempts still are in Iran is seen in the current efforts by the Iranian parliament to interpellate Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamal Kharrazi for unexpectedly inviting his Iraqi counterpart to Tehran last month.
Each country claims the other still holds prisoners of war, despite the repatriations of POWs done with great fanfare over the years.
The POW problem relates to the knottier problem Iran and Iraq have with militant oppositionists based on each other's territory. Baghdad claims that as many as 20,000 Iraqi prisoners of war are unaccounted for, but the bulk of them may be members of the Badr Corps, the military wing of the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Similarly, many of the POWs Iran claims are still in Iraq likely are members of the "National Liberation Army" of the Mujahedin-i Khalq Organization (MKO), the anti-Tehran group given refuge by Saddam. These exile armies pose do real security threats with their pinprick, cross-border attacks. On several occasions since 1990, Iran has launched missile attacks against Mujahedin bases in Iraq, particularly in response to periodic assassinations in Tehran by MKO operatives.
Larger, more intractable problems remain from the war. Iran claims more than $1 trillion in war damages, which it can never expect to collect even though a UN commission eventually led Secretary-General Peres de Cuellar to assign blame to Iraq for starting the war. As a small part of the reparations it demands, Iran has kept 140 Iraqi aircraft that Iraq flew into Iran for sanctuary during the 1991 Gulf War (see below).
Another legacy of the war is Tehran's continuing hostility toward Washington insofar as it reflects the continuing conviction of Iran's leaders that the United States encouraged Iraq to start what they regard as the "imposed war," aided Iraq during the war, and actually entered the war against Iran during its final year.
A brief history of the war. Though rooted in more ancient Arab-Persian animosities, and sporadic bilateral tensions during the 1970's, the Iran-Iraq War was a consequence of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. Saddam Hussein launched the Iraqi invasion on 22 September 1980 in large part out of concern that Iran would export its revolution to Iraq's large Shia population, a fear raised by Radio Iran's increasingly strident attacks on Iraq's Ba'athist government. Baghdad mistakenly expected that Iran would be an easy target as a result of its revolutionary turmoil, which had brought purges of its armed forces' most experienced officers, and its international isolation as a result of its American embassy takeover and hostage crisis.
Iraq's surprise invasion was initially successful. Simultaneous with air attacks on Iranian air force bases, six Iraqi army divisions invaded on three fronts, capturing the border towns of Qasr-i Shirin and Mehran and advancing into the southwestern oil province of Khuzestan where they captured the port city of Khorramshahr and surrounded the refinery city of Abadan. But Iraq made no further significant gains after November 1980, in large measure due to the unexpectedly strong resistance it encountered from Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC, known as the Sepah-i Pasdaran in Persian) and volunteer forces (Basij). Also, Iraq was disappointed in its expectations that the large Arab population of Khuzestan would revolt against Tehran.
With increasing cooperation between the IRGC and the regular armed forces, a counteroffensive that began in early 1981 eventually paid off. Baghdad ended its siege of Abadan in September that year and Iran retook Qasr-i Shirin by January 1982. Following a string of Iranian victories culminating with the liberation of Khorramshahr in May 1982, Saddam Hussein announced that Iraqi units would withdraw from Iran.
Had Iran been content to stop in 1982 with the expulsion of the Iraqi invaders, the security of its revolutionary government and its prestige in the Islamic and wider Third World would have been assured. But the clerical leaders opted to pursue the war into Iraq, beginning a long war of attrition with high casualties. Iraq's artillery and defensive flooding easily stopped human wave attacks by "martyrs brigades," but Iran nonetheless made some gains. In March 1984 Iranians captured parts of the oil-producing Majnun Islands, and in February 1986 captured the oil-exporting port of Al-Faw. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rebuffed Saddam's pleas to end the war and showed no interest in UN Security Council efforts to draft a cease-fire resolution.
By early 1987 both the United States and the Soviet Union had grown increasingly concerned about the war's effects on the security of the region, particularly if an Iranian conquest of Basra were to lead to a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in Iraq's Shia south. At the same time, attacks by both Iran and Iraq on tankers in the Persian Gulf were alarming to both superpowers. Iran in particular attacked the tankers of Kuwait on account of its support for Iraq, leading the United States to re-flag many of Kuwait's tankers and to protect them as American ships. Internationalization of the war appeared to be an increasingly likely prospect, and the growing American military presence in the Persian Gulf inevitably led to minor clashes between Iranian and U.S. naval forces. American naval ships attacked Iranian oil platforms in retaliation for nuisance attacks by IRGC speedboats.
In the final year of the war Iranian forces suffered a string of setbacks in Iraq, eventually losing the Faw Peninsula. Iraqi usage of chemical weapons certainly played a role and in their hasty retreats from several key positions the Iranians lost great amounts of artillery and armor. Those setbacks, coupled with the American military presence in the Persian Gulf, caused the Iranian leadership to reconsider their pursuit of the war. The accidental shoot-down of an Iranian civilian airliner near Dubai by the "USS Vincennes" in July 1988 was the impetus that caused Tehran, claiming that America was now at war with Iran, to agree to end the war. Ayatollah Khomeini, famously declaring that in agreeing to do so he was "drinking a cup of poison," agreed to accept UN Security Council Resolution 598, which called for a cease-fire. Ali Khamenei, then Iran's president, flew to New York in August to sign the resolution. (Steve Fairbanks)
IRAN DURING DESERT STORM. Tehran remained neutral during the 1990-91 Operation Desert Storm, but in minor ways was helpful to the U.S.-led coalition forces. It rebuffed repeated entreaties and expressions of goodwill by Saddam Hussein both before and after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. Whether or not Baghdad has made similar efforts to curry Tehran's favor this time around is a matter for speculation, particularly in light of a visit of an undisclosed nature by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to Tehran last month (see above).
In 1990 Saddam Hussein sent an extraordinary series of letters to Iran's president at that time, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, offering to settle issues still remaining from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. The August 1988 cease-fire had left several Iranian demands unanswered, including payment by Iraq of war damages, an apology by Saddam for initiating the war, and settlement of a longstanding dispute over border demarcation in the Shatt al-Arab River that separates the two countries. Saddam initiated the correspondence in April 1990 with an offer to meet personally with Rafsanjani and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Mecca.
Rafsanjani showed no interest in such a meeting, and the correspondence between the two leaders continued with mutual recriminations regarding the war and allegations of unsatisfactory implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 598, which ended the war. Following Iraq's 2 August invasion of Kuwait, and after making no headway against Rafsanjani's tough replies to each of his letters, Saddam became more conciliatory and on 14 August 1990 made an extraordinary offer. He renounced Iraq's claim to the entire Shatt al-Arab and agreed to Iran's demand for a return to the two countries' 1975 agreement to set their boundary down the center of the river's main channel. In addition, he offered to withdraw immediately from some small pieces of Iranian territory that Iraq still occupied, and agreed to an immediate exchange of POW's. Saddam, it appeared, hoped to secure his eastern flank by acquiescing to Tehran's demands.
Though Rafsanjani expressed satisfaction at Saddam's offer, Baghdad was not rewarded. Iran strongly condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, even though Kuwait had been Iraq's strongest ally during the Iran-Iraq War. And once Desert Storm started, Iran aided the coalition forces in minor ways and took advantage of Iraq's predicament. Despite continuing its anti-U.S. rhetoric, Tehran agreed to allow American warplanes and cruise missiles to pass over its southwestern Khuzestan Province. During U.S. air attacks on Iraq's air bases, Iran accepted Iraqi planes flown to Iran for safe haven -- and then refused after the war to return them. Iraq claims it lost 140 planes in this manner, though Iran puts the figure somewhat lower.
Tehran expected some sort of reward for maintaining a neutrality that in fact tilted toward the anti-Iraq coalition during Desert Storm. Tehran had reason to hope Iran would be made part of a multilateral Persian Gulf security force. That would have been in keeping with one of the paragraphs of Resolution 598, and the Iranians believed that U.S. Secretary of State James Baker had hinted that they would be included. Such a security arrangement, however, never came into being. (Steve Fairbanks)
IRAN'S INTEREST IN SHIA IRAQ. Iran's Shia Muslims, more than 90 percent of the country's population, have a natural interest in Iraq, where more than 60 percent of the population is Shia and where Shia Islam's holiest shrines are located. Those strong affinities do not, however, mean that Iran will seek hegemony over Shia areas of Iraq, should Iraq's unity weaken in the wake of war and the collapse of Saddam Hussein's government. Iran's clerical leaders once held such hopes when they were flush with the success of their 1979 revolution, believing they could inspire the creation of a Shia-dominated Islamic republic that would be a natural ally of Tehran. But Iraqi Shia failed to join with their Iranian coreligionists during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, their ethnic and linguistic differences with Iran apparently outweighing religious ties. That experience probably indicates Tehran's limited ability via Iraqi Shia to influence a post-Saddam dispensation in Baghdad.
Nonetheless, an important aspect of Iran's ties to Iraq will be the pilgrimage traffic to the shrine cities, particularly Najaf and Karbala, where Shia Islam's most revered imams are buried. Pilgrimage to these shrines is an important Shia tradition that became impossible for Iranians during the war years and has continued to be severely restricted in the years since. Last month, Iran closed its border to pilgrims to Iraq, citing safety concerns with war prospects looming.
Most of Iran's senior clerical leaders were educated in the Iraqi Shia centers, particularly Najaf. But they might not altogether welcome the reopening of access to those cities. The primacy of Qom, the Iranian Shia center of learning, is likely to be undermined as rival Iraqi cities become accessible and recover their importance. That would result not only in economic losses for Qom but a diminishment of the importance Iranian ayatollahs now have in the Shia Islamic world. More important, Najaf could become a center for the younger, dissident Iranian clerics who are now kept under close watch by Tehran. They could make Najaf a center of anti-Tehran opposition just as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini did against the Iranian monarchy during the 1970's. (Steve Fairbanks)