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Khomeini's Ghost

Khomeini’s Ghost

As the Obama administration prepares to engage Iran diplomatically, one question is paramount: Who are the men with whom the White House hopes to reach accommodation with?

Con Coughlin’s new book “Khomeini’s Ghost: The Iranian Revolution and the Rise of Militant Islam” is designed to answer that question. He identifies the “Supreme Guide” as the final decision-maker in the Islamic Republic and thus the interlocutor for Obama. “The powers entrusted to the Supreme Guide.. compare favorably to those claimed by Europe’s fascist dictators… with the added benefit of claiming divine inspiration.” Next to the “Supreme Guide”, Coughlin suggests the Islamic Revolutionary Guard (Corps), the parallel army created by the mullahs, as the key element in shaping Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.

One of Britain’s best-known Middle East correspondents, Coughlin draws on years of direct contact with Khomeinist movements. He shows how Khomeinism, a radical doctrine based on Shiite Islam, has influenced and, in some cases, rejuvenated militant movements within Sunni Islam as well. Coughlin rejects the claim of many self-styled Iran experts who insist that militant Shiism cannot enter into even tactical alliances with Sunni radicals. According to Coughlin, by the time 9/11 happened “the links between Al Qaeda and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards went back nearly a decade, and there was evidence that Iran might have had some involvement in the September 11 attacks.” Moreover, Imad Mughniyeh, the chief terror mastermind of the Lebanese Hezbollah ” accompanied the 9/11 hijackers on their flights between Iran, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia and had meetings with Saudi Hezbollah which had links with the hijackers the majority of whom were Saudis.”

Coughlin then goes further by asserting that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force created by Khomeini to protect his regime, was responsible for training Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda fighters in special camps set up in Sudan. These camps were run by the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards set up for the purpose of “exporting revolution.”

Coughlin writes: ” Apart from continuing to build Hezbollah’ operational infrastructure in south Lebanon, one of the Quds Force’s most notable early successes was to establish an alliance with the Sudanese regime of Hassan al-Turabi. A Sunni Muslim Turabi was keen to develop links to any radical Islamic government even a Shia regime like Iran. Soon afterwards, Osama bin Laden moved to Sudan and contacted the Iranians through Turabi. “Iran and Al Qaeda were prepared to pool their resources cooperating in terrorist operations,” Coughlin claims.

The 9/11 Commission’s Report had already suggested contacts between Tehran and al Qaeda without offering any specifics. Coughlin broadens those suggestions by providing a detailed narrative of the deadly alliance against the United States.

Coughlin’s account depicts Khomeinism as a movement that has been at war against the United States from day one of the mullahs’ rule 30 years ago. He dismisses claims that diplomacy could persuade the Khomeinist regime to change its behavior on any of the key issues that has led it into conflict with all its neighbors not to mention the Western powers. Coughlin writes: “From Khomeini through to Ahmadinejad, Iran has maintained its uncompromising devotion to its unique expression of revolutionary Islam, no matter how much hostility from the outside world. And so long as the heirs to Khomeini’s revolution maintained their iron grip on power, the Islamic republic of Iran would continue to uphold the banner of radical Islam and proclaim its defiance of the rest of the world.”

The only way to appease the Khomeinist regime is to surrender to it. Even then, it is almost certain that the more radical elements in Tehran, people like President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who dream of world conquest in the name of Islam, would demand more.

While the historical background of the Khomeinist regime takes up more than two-thirds of the book it is the part dealing with current issues that deserve special attention. (In fact, he gets many details of Khomeini’s biography wrong. For example, Khomeini was not “a poor student from a remote area of southern Iran” but hailed from a reasonably well to do family in Khomein, a small town in north-central Iran some 120 miles from Tehran.)

Coughlin refutes some popular misconceptions about the regime. For example, apologists for the Islamic Republic claim that it never had a strategy to develop nuclear weapons or that, even if it did, the whole program started after Khomeini’s death. Coughlin, however, shows that Khomeini personally ordered the launch of the nuclear program after some of his commanders, backed by Hashemi Rafsanjani, a businessman-cum-mullah who acted as the ayatollah’s advisor at the time, argued that they needed the bomb to win the war against Iraq as the first phase of a grand plan to conquer the Middle East.

“In 1983, a special unit devoted to nuclear research and technology was set up by the Guards and located in a suburb of north Tehran… Mohsen Rezai, who had assumed overall command of the Revolutionary Guards in 1981, revealed that the regime had allocated a budget of $800 million for the bomb program. “Around the same time, Rezai told an Iranian nuclear scientist who later defected to the west that Iran needed to “arm itself with anything needed for victory, and we need to have all technical requirements in our possession to even build a nuclear bomb, if and when needed.”

Tehran is determined to develop a nuclear arsenal and would not hesitate to use it when and if it deemed necessary for advancing its strategy of global domination, Coughlin avers. The message to President Obama is clear: the mullahs would never abandon their nuclear ambitions in exchange for any “carrots” that Dennis Ross, the president’s newly appointed advisor on Iran, might imagine.

Coughlin also portrays the ayatollah as the godfather of Islamist terror and directly responsible for scores of kidnappings, assassinations, suicide attacks and a range of “low intensity operations” against the U.S. and its allies.

The author links the Khomeinist regime to virtually all terrorist operations in which Muslims have been involved in the past 30 years. Broadly speaking, this might well be true if only because the Khomeinist revolution and its tactics, especially suicide attacks, have inspired radical Islamists of all persuasions. In some cases, however, Iran’s involvement is less than certain. The Lockerbie tragedy of Pan Am flight 103 is one example. Coughlin asserts categorically that the operation was “commissioned” by the mullahs in Tehran. However, years of British and American investigations, followed by a trial that also took years to complete, identified Libya as the guilty party…

The new U.S. administration would, however, benefit from Coughlin’s account of Khomeinist involvement in the insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Coughlin writes: “Tehran took the view that its own strategy of fueling the insurgency {in Iraq} by all means at its disposal was working. The longer the United States and its allies were bogged down in Iraq, the less likely they were to act over Iran’s nuclear program.” He adds: ” By the spring of 2007 senior NATO commanders found compelling evidence that the Revolutionary Guards had set aside their traditional antipathy towards the Taliban and were supplying them with roadside bombs and rockets to attack NATO positions, particularly British forces deployed in southern Afghanistan.”

As Coughlin shows, the real question is not whether or not to go to war against Iran but how to end the war that Iran has been waging against the US for three decades.

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri

Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. Mr. Taheri has won several prizes for his journalism, and in 2012 was named International Journalist of the Year by the British Society of Editors and the Foreign Press Association in the annual British Media Awards.

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