Path to Mideast peace via Iran?

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There is a political solution to three grave Mideast dangers facing the United States and its allies. These risks include expanded terrorism, the new Iraq coming under the control of pro-Iranian Shi’ite extremists and an Iran already armed with ballistic missiles obtaining nuclear weapons. Rather than using military force or relying only on diplomacy, providing political assistance to help the people of Iran establish constitutional democracy would be consistent with their wishes and would move the entire Middle East in a positive direction.

Since 1979, oil-rich Iran under a clerical dictatorship has been the progenitor of Islamic terrorism directed against the United States, Israel and the governments of many Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars annually for propaganda and in support of terrorists such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, Iran has been co-responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians, including more than 1,500 Americans. These attacks include the 1983 truck bombs in Lebanon that destroyed the U.S. Embassy and later killed 241 Marines in their barracks as well as the 1996 attack against U.S. personnel in Saudi Arabia.

After September 11, 2001, Iran held a series of terrorist summits in which it openly increased its budget for Hamas and other terrorist organizations while also providing additional millions for the families of homicide bombers who would kill civilians. Iran also publicly announced training for terrorists volunteering to strike in America and for the destruction of civilian passenger aircraft with shoulder-fired missiles. Iran is complicit in the recent upsurge in violence against Israel, and Iran’s leaders have said that, when they have nuclear weapons, they will be ready to “annihilate” the Jewish state.

Published CIA reports sent to the U.S. Congress make clear that Iran, which the State Department calls “the most active state sponsor of terrorism,” is developing nuclear and biological weapons and already has large stocks of chemical weapons. It also has hundreds of ballistic missiles built with the assistance of China, Russia and North Korea. As a result of new information about Iran’s nuclear activities indicating a weapons program, the International Atomic Energy Agency recently issued a unanimous ultimatum requiring Iran to cooperate fully by the end of October. Iran’s response was to criticize the U.S. for “extremism and expansionism” and deny any intention to produce weapons of mass destruction. This is false and, as with North Korea, will in time be revealed as a delaying tactic.

While pro-Saddam armed groups and outside Islamic terrorists are using violence to prevent emergence of a moderate constitutional government in Iraq, the most serious danger to Iraq derives from Iranian open and covert action aimed at bringing about an allied Shi’ite extremist regime.

Iran is acting to bring about a “second Iran” in Iraq in three ways:

(1) Iran is using those Iraqi Shi’ite clerics who agree that the clergy should rule to build a power base from the mosques and their associated social services.

(2) Iran established the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq to build a political movement that could win elections or take power town by town with the help of covert Iranian funds and propaganda. This organization also has an Iranian-trained armed paramilitary of about 30,000, which has been moving into Iraq.

(3) Iran is working covertly with a pro-Iranian, Iraqi extremist Muqtada al-Sadr to use political and coercive means including murder to intimidate and take over the Shi’ite leadership in Iraq. The murders of several prominent Shi’ite clerical leaders who favored democracy and cooperation with the Coalition repeats some of Iran’s covert actions in post-Taliban Afghanistan, where a number of moderate Muslim clerics also were killed.

As the Saddam Hussein regime was falling in April, Ayatollah al-Haeri, an Iraqi-born cleric who has lived for the last 30 years in Iran and is a strong advocate of strict clerical rule, sent a handwritten note to Shi’ite clerics in Iraq appointing al-Sadr as his official representative. Days later, al-Sadr’s followers murdered Ayatollah al-Khoei, a proponent of friendly relations with the West and son of Iraq’s previous grand ayatollah. Next, a mob of al-Sadr supporters surrounded the home of Iraq’s current Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani and demanded he leave the country immediately. A moderate and leader of the majority Shi’ites in Iraq, Ayatollah al-Sistani favors democracy and had issued an edict commanding his followers not to impede the Coalition forces. Ayatollah al-Sistani is a longtime ally of the al-Khoei family.

A few weeks after the murder of Ayatollah Kohei, al-Sadr visited his allies in Iran. There he met with Ayatollah al-Haeri, who seems to be Iran’s candidate as the successor to the current, moderate Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani. Indicative of his covert cooperation with Iran , Muqtada al-Sadr also met with a key person responsible for Iranian terrorism and covert operations, Qasim Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp’s Quds forces in Tehran to arrange financial and covert assistance for his followers in Iraq.

Following his return to Iraq, al-Sadr announced formation of his “Mahdi Corps” a militia opposed to the Coalition forces and transitional government. A number of terrorist bombings then followed since August including the Oct. 11 attack on a Baghdad hotel used by Coalition personnel. These are all similar to the Iranian-initiated attacks on U.S. Embassies and the U.S. Marines in Beirut in the 1980s.

The clerical dictatorship in Iran is contrary to the precepts of Shi’ite Islam, which prohibits direct clerical rule until the return of the 12th Imam. It is opposed by the majority of the people and clerics of Iran as can be seen in the 70 percent who voted in 1997 and 2001 against the most hard-line ruling faction and for the announced more moderate clerical group. Both the 50 percent of the population younger than 25 and a large proportion of women are severely disaffected from the regime, as are important elements of the military. The Iranian people have staged dramatic protests against this regime several times since 1999.

Just as the people of Eastern Europe peacefully liberated themselves from communist rule and as the people of Serbia were helped to rise up and remove the dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000, so too the Iranian people will be successful. Political and moral support from the U.S. and other democracies would encourage them and contribute to their effort to reclaim their lives and country from the clerical dictatorship, establish moderate government with respect for Islam and its traditions and become a peaceful neighbor internationally.

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