- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 18, 2006

Iran’s hard-line Islamic spiritual leaders have issued an unprecedented fatwa, or holy order, approving the use of atomic weapons against the country’s enemies.

Muslim clerics for the first time have questioned the theocracy’s traditional viewpoint that Shariah law forbids the use of nuclear weapons.

One senior mullah has now said it is “only natural” to have nuclear bombs as a “countermeasure” against other nuclear powers, a reference considered to be the United States and Europe.

The pronouncement was issued by Mohsen Gharavian, a disciple of the extremely hard-line Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, widely regarded as the cleric closest to Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi’s group opposes virtually any kind of rapprochement with the West and is believed to have influenced Mr. Ahmadinejad’s refusal to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear program.

Separately, an Iranian group that claims its members are dedicated to becoming suicide bombers warned the United States and Britain yesterday that they will strike coalition military bases in Iraq if Tehran’s nuclear facilities are attacked.

Mohammad Ali Samadi, spokesman for “Esteshadion,” or “Martyrdom Seekers,” boasted of having hundreds of potential bombers in his talk at a seminar on suicide-bombings tactics at Tehran’s Khajeh Nasir University, the Associated Press reported from Tehran.

“With more than 1,000 trained martyrdom seekers, we are ready to attack the American and British sensitive points if they attack Iran’s nuclear facilities,” Mr. Samadi said.

Iran’s clerics support suicide bombing, but using nuclear weapons had been frowned on. That’s why the remarks by Mr. Gharavian — nicknamed “Professor Crocodile” because of his harsh theology —are considered significant. His is believed to be the first public statement by the Yazdi-linked clerics on the nuclear issue.

Moreover, his comments appear to be an attempt by Iran’s Islamic hard-liners to begin preparing a theological justification for owning and, if necessary in their view, using atomic bombs.

The pronouncement appeared in Rooz, an Internet newspaper run by members of Iran’s fractured reformist movement, which picked it up from remarks by Mr. Gharavian reported by the state news agency.

Rooz reported that Mr. Gharavian, a lecturer based in a religious school in Qom, had declared “for the first time that the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to Shariah.”

He also said: “When the entire world is armed with nuclear weapons, it is permissible to use these weapons as a countermeasure. According to Shariah, too, only the goal is important.”

Mr. Gharavian did not specify what “goal” would justify a nuclear strike, but it is thought that any military intervention by the United States would be considered sufficient grounds. Ayatollah Mesbah-Yazdi previously has justified use of suicide bombers against “enemies of Islam” and believes that the United States is intent on destroying the Islamic republic and its values.

The latest insight into the theocracy’s thinking follows U.S. signals of a change in strategy on Iran, after the decision earlier this month to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for its resumption of banned nuclear research.

Though Washington has made it clear that military strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites would be a “last resort,” White House officials also are promoting change from within by funding Iranian opposition groups.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the Bush administration would seek an extra $75 million from Congress to help to support Iran’s fractured pro-democracy movement and funding to boost Farsi-language satellite broadcasts.

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