- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 11, 2002

"Death to the Islamic Republic, the Taliban of Tehran." This is the challenge tens of thousands of Iranians chanted to their government yesterday, marking the third anniversary of peaceful demonstrations that left students lying dead outside of their dormitories. The United States should listen to what the people within Iran are demanding since it may affect the outcome of our war against terrorism.

The U.S. war against terrorism is about rolling back Islamic fundamentalism. The enemies of America are not ordinary Muslims living in Tehran, Istanbul, Baghdad or Dearborn. Those who wish to see us dead are the self-proclaimed radical Islamists who have been inspired, supported and funded by the Islamic Republic of Iran, among others, for more than 23 years. If the United States is interested in winning the war against terrorism, then it must pay attention to what happened in Iran yesterday because, for the first time in 23 years, the people of Iran are taking the lead in exposing the bankruptcy of Islam as a form of governance.

Indeed, yesterday's nationwide uprising against the ayatollahs of Iran points to three fundamental flaws in U.S. policy assumptions toward Iran that need to be immediately addressed. The first assumption is that the Islamic regime of Iran cannot be overthrown. Wrong. This demonstration yesterday may very well mark the beginning of the end for the ayatollahs. Iran is on the verge of implosion. During yesterday's demonstrations six senior members of the notorious Revolutionary Guards Corp. issued a communique in support of the people of Iran. In their communique, they mention the "bankrupt rulers who have abused Islam for their selfish interests." Furthermore, after yesterday's demonstrations, the Grand Ayatollah Taheri of Esfehan, Iran's second-largest city, openly sided with the student demonstrators, calling on the ruling theocracy to give up power. Equally important, ayatollahs in Iran's holy city of Qom have been in clandestine contact with the son of the late Shah of Iran, asking him to send cassettes verbalizing his message of nonviolent civil disobedience against the regime. With the right moral support from Washington, these demonstrations could turn into a million man/woman march calling for the overthrow of the Islamic regime.

Broadcasting images of Muslims casting off their own Islamic government to the Arab and broader Muslim world would go a long way toward draining the swamp of Islamic militancy from Morocco to Pakistan.

The second assumption is that the struggle inside Iran is between the "reformist Khatami" and the "radical conservatives." This, too, is patently false. The "down with Khatami" slogans of yesterday confirm that the vast majority of Iranians are looking beyond the whole Islamic regime, of which Mr. Khatami is an integral element. The real political question being asked by millions of Iranians is not which one of the ruling clerics can address their socio-economic problems, but what options, other than a theocracy, can save them from permanent Third World status and continued repression.

Furthermore, Mr. Khatami is not a moderate. He has been an ardent supporter of terrorism against Israelis and is in full support of suicide bombings, calling them "the proper jihad against Zionism."

The final assumption is that Washington is impotent when it comes to shaping the course of events in Iran. Not true. Most Iranians would welcome any direct and transparent dialogue that the Bush administration pursued with members of Iranian opposition groups (both inside and outside Iran) dedicated to a secular democracy in their homeland. In fact, at this critical juncture in their history, the people of Iran look to Washington for moral clarity: "Are you with us or with the regime?"

Yesterday's demonstrations provide an opportune time for the Bush administration to reassess its policy toward Iran. The administration could continue to appease the regime in a "constructive dialogue" (the EU approach), all the while hoping that the ayatollahs will change their behavior. Or, it could take a hands-off approach and hope that the regime will change before the ayatollahs gets their hands on a nuclear device courtesy of sympathizers in Pakistan or greedy Russian scientists and mafia bosses. Alternatively, Mr. Bush could expand upon his State of the Union address and send a message via the Voice of America directly to the Iranian people saying that he stands with them and against their government.

We may not know exactly when we have won the war against terrorism but we can be certain that if freedom and democracy reign in Iran, the United States will have made a giant step toward this end.

S. Rob Sobhani is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and president of Caspian Energy Consulting.

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