Tue Apr 10, 2007 20:32

On April 12, 1981, another attempt was made to assassinate a member of the Iraqi Government, this time Latif Nsaif Jassim, Minister of Culture and Information. The assailant was soon arrested and confessed his ties with the al-Daawat Party.
The Al-Mustansiriyah bomb was therefore part of a long series of incidents having begun long before April 1, I'JHO, the inevitable consequences of which increased the tension between Baghdad and Teheran to the point of rupture. Iran's President Bani Sadr himself openly recognized “that the state of tension between Baghdad and Teheran exists since the founding of the Islamic Republic..." (6) Furthermore, Dr. Saadoun Hammadi, Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, had pointed out the gravity of the situation when he declared:
The Arab nation, and especially Iraq, is linked to Iran by very close ties coming from their common geographic location, from the unity of their religion and from their both belonging to one and the same Islamic civilization. .. However, Iran, since the return of Khomeini, has opted for fanaticism, and has again become as in the Shah's time a threat to the sovereignty and security of the neighboring Arab countries around the Gulf and Iraq in particular (7).
The positions taken by each capital confirm that Khomeini’s arrival at the top coincided with a multiplication of the incidents between Iraq and Iran. (8)
After the aggression at the University the crisis continued to deteriorate until September 4, 1980, the day Iran took the initiative to bombard several Iraqi cities and oil installations. This discreetly publicized attack by the Iranians fixed the real beginning of the war between these two countries. The University bombing is not an arbitrary reference point selected as the actual commencement of events; it was chosen from the latter chiefly because of the oath taken by the Iraqi President on that occasion. Saddam Hussein repeated this pledge in his press conference of November 11, 1980 in asserting: '' We set forth the truth of the situation to the Iranians and we took an oath that the bloodshed at Mustansiriyah would not be an act without repercussions ".

• The period when Khomeini was still in Iraq

When the Shah's regime tried to carry out reforms under the name of the White Revolution at the end of 1963, the Iranian Parliament met to ratify them. The amendments adopted partly undermined the privileges that the mullahs had acquired over the centuries. Imam Khomeini voiced their opposition by denouncing the reforms decided upon by the Parliament. The Shah reacted by deporting the Ayatollah, who took refuge in Iraq at the beginning of 1964. Baghdad took the necessary precautions to guarantee his security. However, in order to avoid any incidents with Teheran, Iraq put some restrictions upon the political activities that Khomeini would be able to exercise on Iraqi territory, and the Ayatollah promised to respect those conditions.
The Shah took offense at the welcome reserved the religious leader by Baghdad. On several occasions he requested that the latter be handed over. Expelling Khomeini from Iraq was one of the basic conditions he attempted to impose before undertaking an official visit to that country. The Iraqi authorities refused this kind of pressure and continued to guarantee the safety of Khomeini.
In January 1978, at the outbreak of incidents at Qom and Tabriz between the Iranian security forces and demonstrators from the opposition, the Ayatollah's followers obtained additional protection from Baghdad so as to eliminate any possibility of Khomeini being assassinated by the Shah's agents. The Iranian Revolution brought about a movement of sympathy in Iraq that can be seen by reading the press. The latter defended the struggle of the Iranian people whose demands — takeover of the power by the masses and deposition of the Shah — were in perfect agreement with the principles defended by Iraq, a democratic state intending to remain independent of all alignment with any foreign power whatsoever. In this respect, the Imperial regime represented exactly the opposite option for the Ba'ath leaders: according to them, the reinforcement of the American presence in Iran was aimed at stifling the liberation movement in the Arab world.
At the end of 1978, the events in Iran acted as a spearhead in strengthening the position and influence of Khomeini, who then became involved in activities which went well beyond the limits defined by the authorities and agreed to by him, besides violating Iraq's international obligations towards Iran. Baghdad was to give the Ayatollah a choice, that is, greater discretion or his departure from the country. Khomeini thus decided to leave Iraq and to settle in France at Neauphle-le-Chateau in the Parisian suburbs.
In the atmosphere of collective exaltation then reigning in Iran, the news of Khomeini’s departure from Iraq raised a general outcry, and all the more so as certain collaborators of the Ayatollah misrepresented the real circumstances. For example, it was said that Khomeini had been placed under house arrest by the Ba'athist authorities. The publication of this false information brought on mass demonstrations in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Teheran and its Consulate in Mohammarah (Khorramshahr).

• Khomeini’s return to Iran and aggravation of the crisis

After the return of Khomeini to Iran in February 1979, relations between Baghdad and Teheran became more embittered, despite the support affirmed by the Iraqi leaders towards the Iranian Revolution on several occasions and their desire to see the ties between the two countries renewed. Baghdad's demonstrations of good will, however, were incapable of disarming the hostility of the Iranian leaders. When the former President of Iraq, Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr, addressed a telegram of congratulations to Khomeini on the occasion of the founding of the Iranian Republic, April 5, 1979, the Ayatollah had a response printed that largely exceeded the rules of courtesy existing between states. It represented “the incarnation of aggressivity itself... ““On two occasions Iraq invited Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan to make an official visit to Iraq in order to clear up their divergences and create the basis for bilateral cooperation. These offers were never answered ". (9) Such initiatives had the effect of spreading the anti-Iraqi tendencies of Khomeini and his partisans throughout the Iranian masses. Another instance was the appeal to overthrow the Iraqi regime as well as the attacks against the Arab Revolution broadcast by the Iranian media. This interminable campaign was soon transformed into more and more violent demonstrations outside the Embassy of Iraq, located on Mossadegh Avenue in Teheran. That Embassy also became the target of various aggressions and threats on the part of the demonstrators (such as arson and occupation of the premises) who returned each day before its walls to scan hateful slogans against Iraq, the Ba'ath and the Iraqi President, and entreating the people to revolt against the Iraqi regime. The walls of the Embassy were blackened by graffiti insulting the Ba'ath and the Iraqi Revolution. The Iraqi Ambassador himself became the object of a press campaign accusing him of spying, led chiefly by the newspaper "Joumhouri Islami ", organ of the Islamic Republican Party, stronghold of the Iranian Revolution. In spite of repeated requests for the Iranian authorities to intervene in order to put an end to these acts of aggression, they did not react. At the end of 1979 the Iraqi Consulate in Mohammarah was attacked four times (October 11th and 26th, November 1st and 7th), the mobs breaking both the doors and the windows of the building, wounding the guard and civil servants. On October 7, 1979, Iran demanded that Iraq close its Consulate in Mohammarah within three months. Nevertheless, on January 11, 1980, before the expiry date, the Iranians attacked the Consulate. They seized diplomatic mail and other consular documents, tore up the Iraqi flag and portraits of President Saddam Hussein, before expelling the diplomatic corps they had already insulted and beaten. Iraq reacted by closing the two Iranian Consulates of Basra and Karbala.

The Iranian authorities refused to prolong the residence permit of the Iraqi teachers working at the Iraqi schools in Iran. Different methods were used against these institutions. The Revolutionary Guard besieged several schools, threatened the students, ripped up Iraqi flags and multiplied its acts of provocation so as to find a reason for closing them down. In his press conference of November 11, 1980, the Iraqi Head of State incriminated the behavior of the Iranian state employees posted in the Iraqi schools in Iran and accused them of assisting in the preparation of attacks against these institutions. On this subject, Saddam Hussein was to explain that “these schools teach Arabic to our compatriots in Iran in the same way that the Iranian schools do for their citizens residing in Iraq, in conformity with the agreement signed between the two countries ".
Subsequently, the Iranian authorities took their own decision to close all of these schools. The teachers were either deported or arrested for "concealing explosives", and only released after the Iraqi government protested energetically. Next, it was Iraq's turn to close the Iranian schools on its territory, because of subversive goings-on. Furthermore, the Iranian authorities arrested a considerable number of Iraqi citizens inhabiting the region of Arabistan.
These demonstrations took on a new dimension once the Iranian leaders proved to be tacitly in agreement with the acts of aggression committed by the Revolutionary Guard against the Iraqi Embassy, consulates, schools and personnel. The stands taken by those leaders revolved around several main themes:
- Attack against the Iraqi regime and appeal to the Iraqi people to revolt against it.
- Provocative behavior toward the Arab regimes in the Gulf area, in particular, Bahrain, threatened by annexation.
- Refusal by the Iranian leaders to honor their agreements concerning withdrawal from the three islands (the Greater Tumb, the Lesser Tumb and Abu Musa) occupied by the Shah in 1971.
- Finally, profound animosity against Arab nationalism.
The accentuation of the revolutionary process in Iran, shown notably in the elimination of the army's higher echelons and the founding of the Islamic Republic, brought about an aggravation of the conflicts between the various ethnic, political or confessional groups in that country.
Rather than concentrating their efforts on bringing about internal unity and maintaining pacific relations with the neighboring countries, the Iranian leaders tried to export their revolution beyond the borderline.

Bani Sadr, at the time Minister of Finances and Economy, declared on December 23, 1979 to the Lebanese newspaper "An-Nahar”: "Arab nationalism presents the same features as Zionism. It is by no means in keeping with Islam". He explained in another interview that "Arab countries like Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Oman, Dubai, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia constituted, in the eyes of Iran, states that are not independent ", before adding "that his country did not at all plan to evacuate the Tumb Islands nor Abu Musa"(10). This assertion was in contradiction with promises made beforehand by the leaders of the Iranian Revolution to give back those territories conquered by the Shah and to guarantee to respect the rights of all minorities.
On the same token, while on tour in the Gulf countries in May 1980, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, attempted to convince his counterparts to support the principles of the Iranian Revolution in overcoming their Arab national feelings. Several Arab leaders advised Ghotbzadeh not to exasperate Arab sensitivity by constantly defying it, and informed him of their conviction that the movement for Arab unity was perfectly compatible with that of Islam.

Iran's threats became more explicit when Khomeini multiplied his declarations urging the Iranian Revolution to be "exported". This idea was very clearly stressed in the speech drafted by Khomeini on March 31, 1980 and read for him by his son, in which the Ayatollah stated: "We are doing everything possible to export our revolution to other countries in the world". This declaration, in addition to the University bombing and the declarations of different Iranian leaders (notably the above-cited interview with Bani Sadr in the weekly "An-Nahar "), caused Baghdad to compose two letters of protest against the provocative acts of Teheran (11). These letters were sent April 2nd by the Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Saadoun Hammadi to Fidel Castro, in his capacity as President of the 6th Conference of Nonaligned Countries, and to Kurt Waldheim, Secretary General of the United Nations. In reply, on April 8, 1980, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister pretended that Aden and Baghdad composed two territories belonging to Persian sovereignty. The same day, Khomeini declared that in the case in which Iraq would continue to demand the evacuation of the three Arab Islands, Iran would lay claim on Baghdad. He also addressed an appeal to sedition to the Iraqi people and army. On April 9, 1980, Ghotbzadeh exclaimed that the Iranian government meant to conquer Iraq.

On April 19, 1980, the Iranian newspaper "Joumhouri Islami" published an appeal of Khomeini: "The Iraqi people must not fall into the hands of its aggressors. Its duty as well as that of the army is to overthrow the Ba'ath, that non-Islamic party".
April 18, 1980, at a meeting with the National Reserve Committee, Khomeini declared : "The Iraqi government is not a real one, it doesn't even have a parliament ; it is a military clique which really holds power and does whatever it pleases. There are neither ties nor communication between the power and the people... Saddam Hussein boasts of his Arabness... It is necessary that all Muslim nations know the real meaning of this notion. 'We are Arabs' is equivalent to saying 'We are not Muslims'... At a certain moment in their history the Arabs stood up against Islam. They want to revive the period of the Umayyads, or that of Jahiliyah, during which force and power were on the side of the Arabs..."
On April 23, 1980, Ghotbzadeh announced in a broadcast message that the duty of the Iranian people was to give its aid to the people of Iraq who were subjected to the repressive measures of a “criminal " regime. He also revealed that only the downfall of Saddam Hussein's regime would satisfy him.
With regard to the Iranian Chief of Staff, he claimed that his army was capable of occupying Iraq and that the population would welcome it with open arms. In addition, on April 23, 1980, Mullah Mohammed Chirazi made the following announcement:
We invite the whole nation to do its duty, that is, to resist by all possible means to and until the fall of the Ba'ath gang:
- Militate within the Islamic factions which offer military training!
- Print and diffuse tracts, books! Intervene in the radio and television and in the newspapers! Cover the walls with slogans!
- Arm the Iraqi people so as to help them resist against tyranny!
Boycott everything that affects the Ba'ath in any way whatsoever!

During his trip through the Middle East, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh announced in Damascus that President Saddam Hussein had been assassinated during an alleged military coup. He also confirmed his government's support of the Iraqi opposition. Furthermore, the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister gave a press conference on April 28, 1980 in Hazmieh (in the outskirts of Beirut) during which he revealed: "We uphold the Iraqi people so that it can free itself of its criminal regime". Then, replying to a question raised about the possibility of war between Iran and Iraq, he declared that "anything can ha

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