- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 20, 2006

WASHINGTON — The grandson of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who inspired Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, has broken a three-year silence to endorse a U.S. military overthrow of Tehran’s clerical regime.

Hossein Khomeini’s call is all the more startling because he made it from Qom, spiritual center of Iran’s Shi’ite strand of Islam, in an interview to mark the 17th anniversary of the ayatollah’s death.

“My grandfather’s revolution has devoured its children and strayed from its course,” he told Al Arabiya television. “I lived through the revolution, and it called for freedom and democracy, but it has persecuted its leaders.”

Mr. Khomeini also made clear his opposition to Iran’s suspected development of a nuclear-weapons program. “Iran will gain real power if freedom and democracy develop there,” he said. “Strength will not be obtained through weapons and the bomb.”

Mr. Khomeini is a Shi’ite cleric, but he believes that the clerics who have run the country since 1979 — whom he dismissively calls “wearers of the turban” — abused their power after the overthrow of the shah.

The Arabic news channel’s Web site mentioned his backing for armed intervention by the United States, a country excoriated as “the Great Satan” by his grandfather and Iran’s current rulers.

Said Al Arabiya: “As for his call to President Bush to come and occupy Iran, Hossein Khomeini explained that ‘freedom must come to Iran in any possible way, whether through internal or external developments. If you were a prisoner, what would you do? I want someone to break the prison [doors open].’”

His approach is even more hard-line than that of fiercely anti-regime Iranian exiles, who oppose military action while urging the United States to back a domestic uprising.

It was the first time Hossein Khomeini voiced his bitter opposition to the regime since Tehran engaged in its nuclear confrontation with the international community under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, its virulently anti-U.S. president. At home, the regime recently faced protests from ethnic Azeris and demonstrations by student and women’s groups.

Mr. Khomeini emerged as a critic of the Islamic Republic in 2003, when he called for armed invasion during a visit to Washington and New York. The cleric returned to Iran at his family’s insistence and was protected from retribution by his grandfather’s widow, Batol Saqafi Khomeini.

It is not clear why he has chosen to speak out again now, or whether the government was aware he would be talking to Al Arabiya after the regime barred other media from interviewing him. A translation of his comments, made May 31, was first issued last week by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Hossein Khomeini said that if he came to power in Iran, one of his first acts would be to make wearing the hijab (veil) optional for women. Mr. Khomeini’s mentor is believed to be the regime’s best-known religious critic, Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, who was released in 2003 from six years of house arrest in Qom for criticizing the rule of the Ayatollah Ali Khameini.

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