- The Washington Times - Monday, August 4, 2003

BAGHDAD — The grandson of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the fiery cleric who launched an anti-American Islamic revolution in Iran, said in an interview that his countrymen would accept U.S. military intervention to liberate their nation.

“In Iran the people really need freedom, and freedom must come about. Freedom is more important than bread,” Hussein Khomeini, 45, a midlevel cleric who has taken up temporary residence in Iraq, told The Washington Times.

“But if there’s no way for freedom in Iran other than American intervention, I think the people would accept that. I would accept it, too, because it’s in accord with my faith.”

Mr. Khomeini — here ostensibly on a religious pilgrimage to Shi’ite holy sites in Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad — also praised the U.S. takeover of Iraq, saying American forces were seen by Iraqis as liberators rather than occupiers.

“I see day by day that the country is on the path to improvement,” he said. “I see that there’s security, that the people are happy, that they’ve been released from suffering.”

The United States has accused the clerical regime in Tehran of harboring terrorists, trying to build nuclear weapons and oppressing its own people.

During the 1979 Iranian revolution, followers of the young Mr. Khomeini’s grandfather stormed the American Embassy and kept employees hostage for more than a year.

These days the United States and its Iraqi allies also accuse Iran of attempting to subvert postwar Iraq by allowing militants to enter the country and using its pull with Shi’ite clerics, such as Moqtada al Sadr, to shake the Iraqi government.

Nevertheless, the new Iraqi Governing Council has begun meeting with Iranian officials.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Sadeghi began a visit to Iraq several days ago, meeting with Iraqi officials, said Adnan Pachachi, Iraq’s former foreign minister and a leading member of the 25-member Governing Council.

“We discussed all aspects of relations between the two countries,” Mr. Pachachi said.

Mr. Khomeini crossed the Iranian border into occupied Iraq about a month ago for a visit.

Iran and Iraq have been regional rivals for decades. Iraq harbored Ayatollah Khomeini after the shah of Iran kicked him out of the country.

During his exile years in the Iraqi city of Najaf, Ayatollah Khomeini masterminded the revolution that ousted the shah and established the world’s first modern-day theocracy.

Iran and Iraq fought a war from 1980 to 1988 that left a million dead and strained relations between the two countries. Now, nearly 25 years later, the grandson has returned to Iraq and begun speaking out against the legacy of that revolution.

A longtime reformist silenced and shut out of Iran’s hard-line inner circle of power, Mr. Khomeini in the interview laced his sentences with religious references and spoke in the roundabout manner of Shi’ite clerics.

Like many religious Iranian reformists, he confined his critiques of the Islamic republic to scholarly rather than political arguments. He said a religious government can come only once the 12th Shi’ite prophet Mahdi, who disappeared in the ninth century, returns.

Mr. Khomeini condemned Saddam Hussein’s regime in the most strident terms, criticizing those countries opposed to the war against his Ba’athist government as ignorant of the conditions under which Iraqis suffered.

“The people here were subject to crimes unprecedented in world history,” he said.

He praised the late Ayatollah Asad Abdul Majid al Khoei, the American-backed moderate Shi’ite cleric killed in the first days after the war, as “freedom loving” and honest. “He was the first martyr on the path to freedom in our region,” Mr. Khomeini said.

Nationalism has no basis in religious doctrine, he said, and freedom is more important than independence from foreign rule. “Freedom is a basic right. It supercedes all,” Mr. Khomeini said.

“America is nothing special,” he said. “It’s just another superpower like Russia or China. The important issue is freedom.”

The pudgy, chain-smoking Mr. Khomeini also said that he is considering starting a Shi’ite seminary in the holy city of Karbala to spread his reformist theology, and that he expects Najaf to regain its status as the most important place of Shi’ite learning in the world.

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