The Rahbar's analysis of the background and implications of the Iraq war

Developing Just Leadership

Sayyid Ali Khamenei

Safar 29, 1424 2003-05-01

Islamic Movement

by Sayyid Ali Khamenei (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 5, Safar, 1424)

On April 11, the day after American forces proclaimed the capture of Baghdad and the fall of Saddam Hussain’s regime, Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the Rahbar of the Islamic State of Iran, presented a detailed and broad-ranging analysis of the background and implications of the US’s war on Iraq as the first part of his jum’a khutbah in Tehran. Here we publish an abridged translation of this khutbah.

A massive, historical change has taken place in Iraq. An invasion has been launched against the country, and the government has been toppled. What is left is a people who have their own demands, ideals, desires and capabilities, surrounded by a number of internal and external claimants to their power and resources.

Iraq has encountered many difficulties in the last century. Its history has been bloody. After the fall of the Ottoman government, the British put a non-Iraqi family in charge as a ‘royal’ family. The third ‘king’ of this line was overthrown by Iraq’s people in 1958. There followed a series of governments that came to power by coups d’etat. In 1968 the Ba’athist government came to power, in which Saddam was the number two man, the president being Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr. Saddam was the third Ba’athist ruler, and now his government has been defeated and nobody knows where he is. The 35 years of Ba’athist rule may be considered Iraq’s hardest period.

The situation that has unfolded in Iraq involve four key issues. The Americans and the British, and their propaganda organs, have tried to make it a simple, black-and-hite scenario: Saddam was bad and we have come to liberate you. That was the gist of the message presented to the Iraqi people (which most could not receive because they have no electricity as a result of the war). But such attempts to simplify and misrepresent the situation are futile. Even in this simple message there are two major mistakes.

First, it implies that the Iraqi people do not have the ability, strength and competence to do the job themselves, and that the Americans must do it for them. Secondly, one does not liberate a people by attacking them with fire, bombs and missiles. One does not destroy cities, villages and residential areas on such a scale or cause such tragedies on the pretext of destroying a military regime.

No, the issue is not one of liberating Iraq. Rather there are four issues, which should be considered separately. On each of these issues, the Islamic Republic of Iran has its stance, which is based on Islamic thinking and Islamic wisdom. The first issue concerns the fall of Saddam. Problems had arisen between the interests of Saddam and the interests of the ruling American administration. Ultimately the Americans proved stronger and toppled Saddam. The second issue concerns the tragedies which have been inflicted on the Iraqi nation. The third issue concerns the fact that an act of military aggression has been carried out by foreign forces against an independent country under various pretexts. But these are not grounds for launching a military invasion against a country and violating its borders. The fourth issue concerns the management of Iraq’s future, for which they have detailed plans, programmes and projects, which will ultimately prove futile. We will outline our position on each of these issues below.

American policy towards Saddam

It must be remembers that, earlier on in his rule, Saddam did not have any conflicts of interest with America. The Americans themselves acknowledge that the CIA played a part in the Ba’athist coup of 1968. Their interests subsequently remained intertwined, especially after the Islamic Revolution and the formation of the Islamic Republican state. Until then America and Saddam worked with the Iranian tyrant, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi [the Shah]. After the Revolution they still had common interests: Saddam coveted the territory of our country and America opposed the establishment of the Islamic Republican state. So when Iraq started its war on Iran in 1980, the Americans did not even so much as scowl at him. In fact, they increased their assistance to him every day. These are the facts of the case.

It may well be that Saddam had already coordinated his activities with America beforehand, as is widely reported. During my visits to other countries, when I was president, several Muslim heads of state told me that he had coordinated with certain quarters. I cannot make any claims about that because I simply do not know what happened. What we are sure about is that after the war started, America gave Saddam maximum support. They supported him and they even compelled the UN to support Saddam in various ways. We had to fight that war for eight years because Saddam served their interests by keeping the Islamic Revolution busy for eight years. If a fledgling government or Revolution is not involved in war, then they will have the opportunity to focus on reconstruction, and will be able to accomplish great tasks. So Saddam took advantage of the best period of our lives, that is eight years, and he kept us busy in a way that served American interests. Their interests were interwoven.

Later, in 1990, Saddam attacked Kuwait. That was when their interests became incompatible. America saw that this man was so ambitious that he was endangering American interests in the region. From then on, the UN started to put pressure on Saddam and there was a massive propaganda campaign against him as well. Saddam was not a person who could stand up to America. He was prepared to make concessions or do a deal. However, Iraq is a country that has vast oil and other resources. It has a population of approximately 20 million people. It was attractive to America in this important part of the Middle East. The policy America has pursued since 1990 has enabled it to maintain its presence in the Middle East and press its interests. This is why the confrontation between America and Saddam’s regime became more serious. Eventually they decided that it was time to eliminate Saddam and make things easier for themselves. This is what has now happened. So when the Americans and the British claim that they went there to remove Saddam to help the Iraqi people, they are telling a blatant lie. They did not do this for the Iraqi people at all. They removed Saddam because their interests started to come into conflict with Saddam’s interests. Otherwise, when their interests were the same, they used to support him, just as they supported him during the war with Iran.

Well, they came, applied some military pressure on Saddam, and Saddam has left. Is the Iranian nation happy or not? Of course it is happy. The Iranian nation has been demanding "Death to the hypocrites and Saddam" for 20 years. Now, death has come to Saddam. Our position is exactly the same as that of the Iraqi people. Both of us are happy to see Saddam’s departure. He was a dictator, bad, cruel, unmindful of obligations and commitments, utterly brutal. His regime was bad both for the Iraqi people and for us as a neighbour of Iraq. But the idea that any happiness shown by the Iraqi people is because of the presence of the occupiers is worthy of derision. No, the Iraqi people’s happiness is because of Saddam’s departure.

A few days ago a European television channel showed a sight from Baghdad. They asked something of a youth; the youth clenched his fist and replied in Arabic: "Death to Saddam; death to Bush." He said death to both of them. It was only shown once before it was censored. But if they asked 1,000 people in Iraq, 900 of them would give the same answer. Happiness about Saddam’s departure has nothing to do with the arrival of the occupiers; it cannot be put to their account. It is clear from the information we have from various sources that neither in Basra, where the British have come, nor in other towns where the Americans have come, have the people shown any delight at seeing the occupiers. But any happiness the people of Iraq had about Saddam’s departure paled as a result of the bombardments of the American and British forces. During those few weeks they truly inflicted a great deal of hardship on the people.

The people of Iraq remained neutral in the war between Saddam and the invaders and aggressors. The Iranian government also announced its neutral stance towards this war. Both sides are oppressors, both fronts are oppressors. The Iraqi nation did not support any of the sides in this war and the Iranian nation and government did not support any of the sides either. That is the meaning of being neutral. We neither helped Saddam to save himself nor helped the invaders to win faster. We used all our resources to make sure that none of the sides was helped. Obviously, if the advance of the invaders was swift it was because the Iraqi nation stayed neutral. If the Iraqi nation had been behind Saddam in this war, the aggressors know well that they could not have advanced in the manner which they did. That is what happens when a people does not believe in a system and its officials. The Iraqi nation had been assaulted, hurt, insulted and tyrannised by the country’s officials, and therefore it did not extend any kind of support to them. That is how the enemy, the enemy of the country, the invaders, managed to make swift advance, and there are things to be said about that too.

While we are happy to see the fall of Saddam, however, we also have questions. One is why Baghdad did not resist in the same way as Basra had. After the first week of the war, the situation changed. For the first week there was serious fighting and the aggressors were held up. But once they began to move forward, there was no proper defence. Baghdad surrendered in two or three days; that is to say it fell. No one defended Baghdad properly, although in Baghdad itself, according to the information that we had, there were about 120,000 armed troops. The defensive lines that they had arranged around Baghdad, 100 kilometres apart, contained many more troops. The divisions of Saddam’s Republican Guards were also there. Yet they were unable to resist for more than two or three days in the face of the attack. Either they were unable or they were ordered not to resist; which is not clear yet. The future will clear up these ambiguities.

The suffering of Iraq’s people

We should also note the atrocities committed against the people of Iraq by the Americans during this period. This was an attack on the people of Iraq. The most important right of human beings is the right to live and exist. Those gentlemen claimed that they were defending human rights and they denied the peoples of those cities the right to live by bombing them. Thousands of Cruise missiles were fired; we do not have accurate figures yet. Thousands of super-heavy bombs were dropped. There were innumerable rounds of artillery fire. Basra, al-Nasiriyah, Diwaniyah, al-Hillah, Baghdad and many other cities, were attacked. People lived in those cities.

We know what it is to be bombed. We have experienced the bombing of Tehran, Dezful and other cities. We know what that means. Tens or hundreds of missiles were fired on a particular city over the course of only one hour. They claim that they wanted to destroy only military targets. Is that a joke? How many military targets were there in Iraq that they had to be attacked with thousands of Cruise missiles and thousands of bombs? These are things that exterminate people. They created a reign of terror for the people. The people’s children were killed. Those who survived went hungry. Infants could not be fed with milk; their mothers did not have any food. They do not have drinkable water to give their crying, hungry and thirsty children. These are the people who understand what it means when a city is bombed.

Then they have also insulted the people. They have entered their homes and attacked them there, handcuffing a man in front of his family. They cover his head and blindfold him, then insult and threaten him, just because someone may have accused him of something, or because they may have unfounded suspicions about him. Are these things not important? These foreign troops assault these Arab men from behind, make them lie down on the floor, stand over them with their rifles. American troops frisked veiled women: women who were wearing veils, cloaks and long coats; they were covered from top to toe. Then a young American whom no one knows starts frisking them. Is that the meaning of human rights? Is that the meaning of showing respect for human beings? Is that the meaning of respecting human liberty, which these liars claim they are doing? Such things cannot be resolved by apologizing. They have hit them and they are saying that they are sorry and they made mistakes.

That is just what they have done so many times since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. Only a few days ago there was another such case. They bombed an entire crowd and then they said that they were sorry and that they had made a mistake. Can one erase the impact of one’s crimes by saying : "Sorry, we made a mistake"? We sympathize with the Iraqi people. We condemn the aggressor. If the aggressor claims that he is defending human rights, then we say that the aggressor is a liar.

America as a rogue state

The pretext on which Iraq was invaded also needs to be considered. Iraq was invaded under the pretext of its possession of weapons of mass destruction, even though the conscience of the people of the world condemned this pretext as untrue and illegitimate. I remember the anti-American demonstrations of the Vietnam War, but they were nothing compared to the gatherings that we saw in all parts of the world during this affair. Then, it was said that the Soviet Union organized the assemblies and demonstrations. Who is organizing them today? Thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of people marched against America in India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia and Africa, as well as in Europe and even America itself. All of them chanted the same slogans. Who organized them? No one. It was an expression of the conscience of the people of the world which condemns such things as they should be condemned. A truly ugly precedent has been set. This means returning to the era of wars of aggression and the kind of expansionism that prevailed in the old days.

They found a pretext against a country and no matter how many times UN inspectors told them that they were wrong, they insisted they knew better and that the inspectors did not know what they were talking about. They claimed that they knew what they were saying was right, so they launched their aggression. That was really wrong. We condemned it and we shall condemn it again.

We, of course, believe that the UN failed to carry out its obligations in this matter of war on Iraq. Why did the Security Council not condemn the American and British attack against Iraq? Whey did they not issue a resolution against them? That would have been something even if America and Britain had vetoed the resolution. The actual issuing of a resolution at the Security Council would have been a move against them. Why did they not do that? Why did they not hold a UN General Assembly meeting so that the action could be condemned by the General Assembly? There was a great deal the UN secretary-general should have done. Of course, it is years since we stopped expecting anything from the UN, because we see its record and the influences that affect it. Nonetheless, such possibilities exist. The UN and the Security Council failed to carry out their obligations.

With this act of aggression, America proved that it is a rogue country. That is the label that the previous American president placed on a number of other countries of the world. But the definition of a rogue state should be that it does what they have done to Iraq. That is what a rogue country does against humanity, against other countries’ stability. They proved the establishment of an axis of evil in the true sense of the word. They proved that they are what our honourable Imam Khomeini called them: the Great Satan. It is indeed the Great Satan.

The British have also made a big mistake: they have followed America to get a share of the spoils. But they have made a mistake. This is because in this region, particularly in Iran, Iraq and India, the British have a hateful and shameful reputation because of the sort of things they have done there. Over the years, as they came to be superseded by a government even more evil than they were, this reputation was gradually being forgotten. Mr Blair has once again revived the memory of this reputation in the minds of the people. It was a great mistake.

So in this third case, which is a military attack, we were in harmony with the world’s people and deplored this action; we still deplore it. We believe it to be an unprecedented departure in international relations and an aggression against an Islamic country, against Islam, against Muslims and against the Ummah.

America’s domination of Iraq

The fourth issue is the domination of America over Iraq. Iraq is now divided between Britain and America. They have made a division between themselves, or so they imagine. Basra, which is closer to the oil regions, is under British rule — the British like the scent of oil. And Baghdad is the centre for the Americans’ power. The Americans like making a show of power and acting like a brawny actor. So Baghdad is for them. Of course they have many differences, and these will increase and become known to the people. However, for the time being they seem to be agreed on this kind of arrangement.

This is a return to the very first era of colonialism. This is how it was in the early days of colonialism. European governments seized countries by force in Asia, in Africa, and put military rulers in place with absolute power over the region. They did this in India; they did this in Australia, in Canada, in Africa, and in many other countries. Then, after a while, they realized that this is wrong, this is a mistake. So they changed the formula. They would find rulers from those countries and put them in power, so that they would be entirely obedient to them. They would help them, provide them with facilities. And they would allow the colonialists to pillage the country freely and openly; so that they could do whatever they liked with that country.

Then as time passed, they realised that that method was not correct either because peoples rose up against such rulers because they were affiliated to the big powers and were tyrants and oppressors. So the colonialists adopted a so-called democratic method through cultural domination and hegemony, and arranged the election of rulers who would support them. This is precisely what happened during the era of the taghut rule of the former Shah. First of all, the British brought to power Reza Pahlavi, and then Mohammad Reza, who was Shah until the Revolution. Then they realised that there would be problems. So, they forced the Shah to appoint Ali Amini as prime minister so that he could introduce so-called reforms. Then the Shah realised that he might lose his authority, so he said that he was going to introduce the reforms himself. He introduced the disgraceful six-point reforms during the era of the taghut.

Now, though, the colonialists have returned to the first period. That is, they occupy a place with the force of arms, and then they themselves appoint a ruler. That is a very strange, reactionary, ugly, insulting action which derives from arrogance which will eventually topple them. Such lack of understanding of the situation and time! Almost the whole world has condemned such an action. They have said that such an action cannot be successful.

Now, having attacked the country, and committed such atrocities and crimes, they plan to install an American military ruler, who may well be a Zionist or totally subservient to the Zionist lobby, at the head of a Muslim country and a brave Arab nation. This is adding mistake to mistake. The ruler should neither be foreign nor Zionist. The Iraqi people want a ruler who has been elected by themselves without the support of the aggressive powers. Of course the Americans think that they have everything planned. They think that they will install him [Jay Garner] and then take control of the state of affairs and give some help to the Iraqi people and, at the same time, change the people’s culture by controlling the education system.

This is precisely what they are trying to do in Afghanistan. The Americans have published tonnes of Farsi and Pashto primary school textbooks in an Asian country so that they can distribute them in Afghan schools. This is so that alongside their lessons, the Afghan children’s culture, religion and historic outlook changes completely, and America’s image is not tarnished in their eyes. This is what they think they can do in Iraq. Such a thing will most certainly not happen. The hatred of the Iraqi teachers and people for the Americans and British because of their atrocities is so deep-rooted that, without a doubt, it will be transferred to the next and later Iraqi generations.

This, at least, is what the Americans plan. But even if this does not happen, the aggression, which is a great mistake and sin, would still exist. Regardless of whether their future plans are successful, every other issue which I have mentioned is independently a great sin and mistake. It is an insult to the Iraqi nation. It is amazing how shameless they are. We believe all that has happened in this affair to represent a total disregard for the rights of the Iraqi people. We deplore and condemn such a thing. The Iraqi people will not accept another dictator. The Iraqi nation has not come out of Saddam’s ditch to fall into the well of an American military ruler. Even if they bring an Iraqi national to power in such manner, the people will most definitely not accept him. What they are saying and doing now is an act of aggression against the sanctity of Islam and Muslims.

America’s losses and failures

Military victory, with all the ambiguities which surround it, does not mean final victory. The Americans have endured losses and they have suffered defeats in war on Iraq, even if they do not see them yet. They have experienced defeat in three main areas. One is their defeat on the slogan of Western democracy and freedom, the kind of liberal democracy that they propagate throughout the world. That concept is lost as a result of the war. They have shown that liberal democracy cannot bring freedom to a nation in the true sense of the word. When America’s financial interests are concerned, it is prepared to trample upon the peoples’ freedoms, lives and right to choose.

If they genuinely believed in democracy and the rights of the people, then they should have been aiming to withdraw their military forces from Iraq after overthrowing Saddam, not to interfere further in Iraq’s affairs. But that will not happen. It is obvious. They have been defeated from an ideological standpoint. Their slogans have turned out to have been false. The people around the world also see that. This became apparent in the slogans they broadcast around the world. It is obvious that people around the world have become aware of their mendacity.

Some of the slogans that have been raised against America in demonstrations around the world indicate the fact that the people have understood the exact truth. For example: ‘This war is a war for oil, not a war for freedom and human rights’; ‘This war is for saving the bankrupt American economy’; ‘This is a war of aggressive occupation just like Hitler’; ‘America, Britain and Israel are the axes of evil.’ These were slogans chanted by people around the world, not just the people in Tehran. The people of Iran raised these slogans years ago, thanks to their clear-sightedness. Today world public opinion is repeating them, and many similar slogans. Clearly their attempt to convince people of their commitment to freedom and democracy has been defeated by their own actions.

Their second defeat is their political defeat. Today America is isolated around the world from a political standpoint. This American formula, this American solution, which is to install an American military ruler — a retired American major-general in Iraq — has been rejected by almost every country in the world, apart from two or three. It has been rejected by Arab states, by Muslim states and by European states.

Their third defeat is that their military awe is smashed. They thought they could overcome the Iraqi forces within three to four days. It quickly became clear that far longer was needed, and that if the Iraqi forces had decided to fight, this story would have continued much longer; even if military victory had been achieved, it would only have been at a large cost and with many casualties. But the Iraqi forces did not fight when they needed to, for reasons which are not yet clear.

Their fourth defeat was the defeat of their media credibility. The credibility of their news media was totally lost. The whole world realised that they censor reports and they target and kill journalists who refuse to accept their line. During this war they have repeatedly attacked the media and then said that they made a mistake. No one believes any more that they were mistakes.

They have also disseminated false reports about the number of their casualties. They have said that less than 100 of their forces have been killed. Everyone knows this is not accurate. We do not know the exact number of their casualties; perhaps we should ask the workers in Kuwaiti mortuaries. The Americans will only find out later. During the Vietnam war they had mentioned small numbers such as 10, 20, 100, 200. After the war they admitted said that they had suffered 50,000 casualties.

The role of the Zionists

Let me say a few words at the end of my remarks about the role of the Zionists. It is my reading that the Zionists had the biggest role in the decisions and planning that resulted in the war on Iraq, both in laying the groundwork for this task, and in encouraging the American administration go ahead. For the Zionists, the new map of the Middle East which Bush and his cronies talk about repeatedly is a map for the spreading out of the Zionists in the Middle East, in the Arab and non-Arab countries around us. By this I mean spreading out in terms of both political power and economic influence, as well as — if it gets the chance — spreading out territorially. This is what the "new map of the Middle East" means. Meanwhile, the Israelis, led by Sharon, have fully exploited the war situation. While the world’s attention is on Iraq, the Palestinians are under constant attack, being killed daily. Massive and heart-rending calamities and tragedies are taking place. This is a reality we must never forget.

A word to the Iraqi people

Finally, let me address the political activists of Iraq. Today they are facing a massive test, a historical test. They must be careful not to commit strategic mistakes. They must neither be over-excited by America’s military victory over Saddam, nor terrified by it. Both over-excitement and fear will harm them. Those who are politically active and responsible in Iraq must be aware of two things.

The first is the risk of internal chaos, irrational acts of revenge and the emergence of destructive rivalries. Chaos will damage the people of Iraq and the future of Iraq; it would give the occupiers an excuse to make their presence lasting there. They must also prevent futile rivalries and wrong-headed acts of revenge. Instead they should be calm and reflective in making their plans. The second point they must be aware of is the error of cooperating with and assisting foreign rule. Today, if anyone assists foreign forces so that they can consolidate their rule in Iraq, this will be recorded in the history of Iraq as a shameful stain for any individual or any group that does this.

The Iraqi people seek independence. They seek freedom. They seek a government that is based on their religious and national ideals. That is what the Iraqi people want. Those who have been speaking in the name of the Iraqi people for many years must remain loyal to the Iraqi people. They must remain loyal to those ideals. They must demonstrate that this is indeed the case in practice. Underhand activities or making deals with foreign powers will make the people turn their back on them. The only things that they must bear in mind are God’s, as well as their people’s, satisfaction. They must know that military victory over the Saddam regime is not tantamount to political and cultural victory over the Iraqi people.

Yes, the enemies have gained military victory over the Saddam regime. However, that does not mean that they have vanquished the Iraqi people, either politically or culturally. We beseech Almighty God to consider the blood shed by the oppressing people, and therefore help the Iraqi people, all the oppressed peoples, and especially the Palestinian people, to confront all the agents of tyranny. We ask Him to enable them to gain victory because of their faith, their commitment and their courage. Ameen.

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