The following is the first chapter of my Iran-Iraq war memoirs that has been published in a book titled "A Path To Nowhere".
After three days of intense street fighting in Tehran: the Capital City of Iran between young revolutionaries and the mighty army of the last king of Iran (King Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi Ariyamehr ruled: 1941-1979), on February 11, 1979 the revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy in the country. What seemed a sudden, shallow, and short-lived movement to foreign observers in no way was a sudden or shallow movement. It, indeed, was a long accumulation of causes and elements that erupted in the form of a revolution in that specific period of time. At least, some of those causes and elements had their roots in an incident that had taken place a quarter of a century earlier. That incident was nothing besides the 1953 coup against the Iranian nationalist government of Mohammad Mosaddegh.
In September 1980 Iraqi forces invaded Iran and started the First Persian Gulf War (1980-1988). This war, also, had its roots in Post-Mosaddegh Iran and the upheavals of Iraq and the Arab World; but its immediate causes were in the Iranian revolution and its consequences. That the war lasted for almost a decade signified the strength of the links among oil, arms, and Iranian and Iraqi internal problems. Definitely, great developments ensued the fall of Mosaddegh.
Mosaddegh was one of those Post-World-War-II political figures in the undeveloped world that tried to keep aloof from those days’ Eastern Communism and Western Imperialism. And, hence, both blocs and their domestic agents and allies resented his government for its independent foreign policy, some domestic reforms, and, most importantly, nationalization of the Iranian oil industry. The latter especially hurt the British and its domestic allies.
On August 18, 1953 a coup orchestrated by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the British Intelligence Service and their domestic agents and allies with the consent of the Soviet Union and Tudeh Party, they backed, overthrew the Mosaddegh government in favor of the last Shah of Iran; but idea of an Iran free from foreign imperialistic powers’ intervention not only remained alive but also was strengthened. Among the young generation of the middle class the idea of full independence turned to an ultimate goal of every political, literary, and social activity.
After the 1953 coup the nationalization of the oil industry remained valid on paper. Former contracts were renewed; however the British had to share the oil benefits with their main partner of the coup: the United States of America, and the shareholders of an international consortium. Still, the U.K. enjoyed the lion's share of fifty percent of the Iranian oil; the U.S. won forty percent; while the French, the Dutch, and the Italians enjoyed the remaining ten percent. The main factor that contributed to the Mossadegh government remaining in power for almost two years was the dilemma of division of oil amongst the emerging power in Asia: that of the United States, and the decaying colonial power of the United Kingdom that had dominated a large portion of the continent for centuries. The British resented their new rival’s presence in Asia, though Post-World-War-II realities dictated no longer they ruled an empire “over which the sun never set”. For their own survival they needed to share their fading dominance with the Americans. In Iran as soon as they came to terms over their share of the booty, the Mosaddegh government was brought down and the international consortium was established and remained the main party for oil sales until the last days of the Shah.
With constant help and direction of the Americans and the British, and later Israel; the Shah grew to an absolute dictator and ruled Iran for a quarter of a century with free hands. The first victims of his dictatorship were the political rights of the Iranian people. Parties were banned, freedom of speech was taken away; censorship was imposed; free elections were forgotten; parliament lost its autonomy; the judicial system lost its independence; and the constitution was fully abandoned except those sections that sanctioned the monarch’s rights and authorities that practically knew no limit.
In the tumult of the international Cold War and anti-Communist fever of the West the Shah abolished Tudeh Party and the Soviets’ influence in Iran faded. A few years later a network of Tudeh Party’s officers was discovered in the army and CIA established SAVAK (1) to fight Communism in the country. SAVAK became one of the most notorious and brutal secret services in the world that not only attacked Communists; but also persecuted any and all national, religious, or intellectual movements in Iran and abroad. The prosecuted movement could be any disliked activity ranging from just a bad word against the Shah, his family and government, demonstrations or gathering, an article in a newspaper, to an armed-struggle. SAVAK safeguarded the monarchy and Western interests in Iran as long as it remained active.
In the meantime to make Iran a strong buffer against the Soviets military might, the U.S. modernized the Shah's army. American weapons flooded Iran; her military experts began to establish discipline, give modern training, and initiate military projects in return for oil; monitoring stations against Soviet Union activities were founded in northern Iran; and CENTO military pact was signed by Britain, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and the United States to contain the southward movement of the Soviet Communism.
With the booming of the oil price in 1970s, Iran rapidly became more militarized. The most advanced American and British weapons were shipped to Iran. The largest arms-deal in the history of arms-sales was concluded between Iran and the United States. Some part of the oil money went to the Soviet Union as well. Many new weapons and military vehicles were bought from that country. The size of Iranian army, navy, and air force swelled a few times larger than before. Huge military projects were undertaken; and forty-five thousand American military advisers with high salaries were hired to work in Iranian armed forces; and Iran became the so-called "Island of Stability" and the “fifth most powerful military power in the world”. This military power was essentially an imperialistic power. It neither held itself within Iranian borders; nor acted only for the interests of the Iranian people. Rather, it was an army which was to police Western interests in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea against any popular movement especially of the leftist kind. It was in pursuit of this policy that the British navy vacated the Persian Gulf in 1971 leaving its policing to the Shah's navy. Also, it was in pursuit of the same policy that in 1973 the Shah’s army suppressed the popular socialist movement of Zafar in southern Oman in behalf of pro-British King Qabus. This intervention put a bloody end to the movement and saved the king’s throne. Meanwhile, in Iraq a similar process was under way. Enjoying abundant oil revenue, the dictatorship of the Baath Party began to militarize the country to fight the Israeli occupation of the Arab lands and to defend Iraq and the Arab World against Shah's expansionism that was mostly acting against neighboring Arab aspirations of full independence from Western powers. It is not incidental that the Shah's government was the only regional ally of Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict and it always acted as the force behind the Arab lines. Resultantly, the tension between Iran and Iraq grew. In Iraq Arabic nationalist feelings were directed against Iran and Iranians. In its own turn, Iranian nationalism had mostly an anti-Arab tinge. Some border disputes further marred the relationship between the two neighbors. In late 1960s some limited border clashes occurred and border disputes continued until the signing of the 1975 Algiers Peace Accord between the Shah and Saddam Hossein: leaders of the two countries. The Algiers Accord brought peace, but the arms race did not recede; though sources of arms-supplies differed: while the West mainly supplied Iran, Iraqi arms mostly came from the Soviet Union.
In this way, in the region of the Persian Gulf a triangular relationship between dictators, arms, and oil was established and kept the tranquility of the region. The longest side of this triangle with the most important roles of the middlemen was regional dictators. Industrial arm-suppliers that prospered from petroleum dollars were the second side of the triangle. Finally, the oil that financed the dictators and bought political support of the arm-suppliers was the third side of the triangle. This relationship was to insure a fragile stability in a region that had been divided into many nations without distinctive differences and differentiating characteristics.
While the established relationship worked for the unpopular despots and arm-producers, it always acted against the basic human rights and interests of the people of the region. Masses were impoverished day by day. Shantytowns mushroomed around big cities; illiteracy was prevalent; the gap between the have’s and the have-nots widened; local cultures were shattered; masses’ way of life dramatically changed; domestic products disappeared; and medical services were at the lowest level. Consequently, uprisings and mass movements became an endemic phenomenon. The armies that imperialists had trained always suppressed these movements; but they were never able to quell the movements for too long. As long as causes existed, effects followed.
After the 1953 coup and the ensuing atrocities, popular uprising subsided in Iran for about ten years. In 1963 upon Khomeini's criticism of the Shah's policies especially granting judicial immunity to American military experts crowds of people demonstrated in the streets of Tehran. The Shah deployed his army and killed many. Regardless of the exact number of the victims, it was widely believed that thousands had been put to death. Suppressors’ expectations were not fulfilled: killing begot another crisis. The younger generation of Iranians concluded that killing of demonstrators had put an end to the peaceful opposition to the Shah’s mainly unconstitutional power. In other words: the time for peaceful anti-Shah activities was over. The young activists that mainly came from university students decided that an armed resistance was not only the legitimate means of standing the Shah, but also it was the only method that could succeed against his repressive machine. Establishment of underground guerrilla organizations with the aim of militarily toppling the Shah’s government started.Influenced by international armed-struggle movements especially those in Latin America and the victory of the Communist Revolution in China, a few armed organizations with Communist and Islamic tendencies came into existence. The younger organizations broke away from their Communist and Islamic parties of Tudeh Party and Freedom Movement. In some places armed clashes occurred between the revolutionaries and SAVAK; however the armed movements remained unknown and failed to draw popular support. Consequently, the whole armed movement was crushed: only to give birth to new organizations that highlighted the ideas and ideals of the suppressed movements. As time advanced the gap between people and the Shah widened. Shah’s army and SAVAK remained the ultimate means of dialogue between people and government. A single-party political system was imposed upon the nation; forceful registration in the party was implemented; and opponents of the system were offered to leave the country to anywhere they desired. The outcome of such a policy was that the ideals of the suppressed armed political organization received popular momentum and a popular civil revolution took place.
Due to its vast popularity in comparison with many revolutions of the twentieth century, the Iranian 1979 Revolution was less bloody a revolution; however, it was deeply rooted in Iran. The best illustrations of its roots were the slogans of the revolution: "Independence, Freedom, and the Islamic Republic". No one had a doubt that “Independence” meant severing the relations that the Shah had created with imperialistic powers. Freedom meant no dictatorship and was in accordance with a profound desire for a sort of democracy in Iran. An Islamic Republic was a new version of government proposed by Ayatollah Roohollah Khomeini (death 1989) and some religious thinkers of his circle. Although this kind of government did not have practical example on the world stage, it was supported by the majority of the Moslem people who had lost faith in many Western political "isms" that were alien, irrelevant, and even hostile, to their political and cultural environment and identity.
Application of the same slogans was to disrupt the long-established relationship between arms, oil, and dictatorship. Many leaders of the revolution and their followers were convinced the country did not need stockpiling weapons that mainly were arising suspicion among neighbors. Iran was not at war with any of her neighbors. Even the Islamic Revolution was to heal the wounds that had stemmed from recent Iranian, Arabic, and other forms of nationalism that had swayed different nations in the region. So, in essence the revolution was a peaceful movement that intended to unite different nations around the axis of Islam. Domestically, the seeds of trouble lay in the ambiguities and different interpretations of the revolutionary slogans. Different political trends had different and even contradictory notions and expectations of the revolutionary slogans. Khomeini never was in favor of freedoms in the form they were known in Iran and the world especially the Western World. What he was interested in above all was establishment of a theocracy to run the country according to the seventh century Islamic laws that for a brief period of time had ideally governed the Moslems society at the time of Prophet Mohammad and Imam Ali in the Arabian Peninsula. That kind of law hardly recognized modern days secular materialistic anti-religious attitudes toward freedoms. Therefore, it was natural to expect conflicts to erupt right after the victory of the revolution over the implications of freedoms. From the very first weeks after the victory the phenomenon of club wielding against freedoms started. In all instances the phenomenon was directed by Khomeini’s associates. As the heir of the Shah, Khomeini inherited the phenomenon from his predecessor. In addition to direct military repression of demonstrations in last years of his reign, the Shah had organized some country people, or SAVAK agents disguised as villagers, and brought them to the cities to attack demonstrators, mosques, and political gatherings. With clubs in hands, they were chanting: "Long Live Shah" and "God, The Shah, and Homeland" and battering peaceful protestors. In these rampages some places were set on fire, and some men, women, and children were either wounded or lost their lives.
To establish his seventh century version of Islamic state, Khomeini needed his own club-wielders. According to political change the club-wielders’ slogans, appearance, and aims changed. This time they were fanatic Moslems who called themselves “Hezbollahis: Partisans of the Party of Allah”: the name had been derived from a verse in the Holy Qur’an. Organized by Islamic Republic Party (IRP) and armed with clubs, stones, knives, daggers, chains, and sometimes firearms, the Hezbollahis were chanting slogans different from the slogans of the Shah’s club-wielders. They were shouting: "Party Only Party of Allah; Leader Only Roohollah"(2). And thus, in the name of Allah and Khomeini, they were attacking political parties' offices, meetings, newspapers, and supporters. When Khomeini heard complaints about their rampages he said: “You hold back clubs of your tongues before they hold back their wooden clubs”. Thus he drew a parallel line between verbal criticism and clubweilding and rewarded freedom of speech by taking lives of many young men and women. In 1981 Khomeini publicly and explicitly deployed the well-organized and well-armed paid Revolutionary Guards to back the Hezbollahis. Freedom, the most precious achievement of the revolution, went under attack and never recovered. Khomeini's perception of freedom was freedom for himself and his circle, not for the nation as a whole, not even for all Iranian Moslems as he saw evil in freedom.
In the absence of political liberties the other parts of the revolutionary slogans could be interpreted as Khomeini wished; though, the main questions were still unsolved. Did Khomeini have enough programs to divert attentions from the dictatorship he was thus founding? How would he keep people engaged?
Passage of time clarified that Khomeini lacked a vast re-construction programs to develop the nation. A large percentage of the youths were unemployed; inflation was on the rise; housing supplies had fallen behind the growing demand; new expectations had been added to the old expectations; and as the problems of post-victory showed themselves, Khomeini needed more crises to agitate the people in order to keep them in line with his ideas. Following the outbreak of civil war in Kordestan, Torkmansahra, Gilan, and Khuzestan, he understood that the best way for mobilizing people was directing the flow of crises. Pursuit of this policy ultimately led to taking American diplomats hostage in their embassy in Tehran.
Capturing American Embassy was a spontaneous move undertaken by some university students who were furious about Americans’ accepting the Shah on their soil for what they claimed to be medical and humanitarian grounds. In Iran many assumed the move was spearheaded against the revolution. Many thought the move was a gathering of the head of the former government with those American elements who had arranged the 1953 coup against the Mosaddegh government. Therefore, capturing the staging base of 1953 coup: that was the American Embassy in Tehran and could be re-used, was a revolutionary move. The move could neutralize a new conspiracy. Again, the young generation took the initiative. They occupied the embassy on the anniversary of the Tehrani students’ massacre that had happened on the 13th of the Iranian month of Aban a year ago.
Capturers of the American Embassy were demanding repatriation of the Shah in order to stand trial for the crimes he had committed against Iranian people. Of course, the West and the United States in particular were not in favor of the Shah’s repatriation. Any such move would have been regarded a great blow to the Western allies in many parts of the world. These allies in many ways had ruled their own countries similar to the ways the Shah had ruled Iran.
Although it is widely believed that Khomeini was not aware of the planning and early stages of capturing American Embassy, there is no doubt that due to the wide public acceptance of the students move Khomeini put his full support behind the move. In a speech after the incident he attacked the United States for her involvement in Iran and called the students’ move “a revolution greater than the first revolution”. In fact, he welcomed every mass movement and deep crisis that covered his lack of program for internal development.
The American Embassy crisis defamed some lay politicians who constituted the Interim Revolutionary Government of Mahdi Bazargan: a well-known political prisoner and campaigner for freedoms under the Shah. Many documents were released from the embassy that tied some ministers to the Americans and their embassy in Tehran. Selectivity of the documents was obvious; nonetheless people were so unhappy with the Interim Government and the Americans that they never questioned the pattern and authenticity of the documents and their publication. As a result, the Interim Revolutionary Government lost the remnants of its slight grip on power and resigned. The embassy crisis brought the favorable vote of over eighty-eight percent for the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the same constitution a revolutionary leadership of one religious scholar or a council of religious scholars had been foreseen. According to the constitution, Khomeini assumed the leadership of the revolution as long as he lived. These were only a few fruits of the seizure of the American Embassy that remained the main source of social agitation until the Iraqi invasion of Iran.
As the links in the chain of the crises were following one another, universities remained intact. Students’ long anti-Shah movement was so deep and popular that it was not easy to impose restrictions on their free political activities; and so universities became the only refuge for political activities and freedom of speech. In the spring of 1980 following the American failed attempt to rescue her hostages in eastern Iranian desert near Tabas the Cultural Revolution for the Islamization of universities (3) was launched. Universities were shut down all across the country. Some faculties were re-opened within a year after the closure while others were kept closed for three full years.
With the universities closed the dictatorship was partially consolidated. Still, armaments were needed to complete the triangular relationship of dictatorship, arms, and oil. This element was introduced several months later. September 22nd 1980’s Iraqi invasion of Iran opened the doors for the arms influx. Following the intervention of both Khomeini and Saddam Hossein in one another internal affairs and instigation of the run-away monarchists and Western powers, Iraq invaded Iran all along her longest border hoping to gain a quick victory. In his first reaction to the invasion, Khomeini called the war an act of “a thief who has come and dropped a stone and has fled” and labeled it a “blessing”. Thus, he pledged to fight the war on “even if it lasts twenty years”. All kind of blessings came from Allah to His servants; and from the very first days of the invasion Khomeini articulated that Iraqi president was an infidel because he had invaded a Moslem country; and fighting against the invasion was a sacred task. As need for more agitation was felt, more miracles were taking place at the war fronts. These miracles were receiving vast coverage by the most effective media: radio and television run solely by the government, to prove that the war was indeed a holy one. By December 1986 the shimmering Imam Mahdi (4) clad in white with a sword in hand had many times appeared at the fronts on a white horse back fighting against Iraqis for Iranians. Warriors with tearful eyes had been shown on television claiming they had seen the Imam with their very naked eyes. Ironically, belief in the Hidden Imam was a common faith between majority of Iranians and Iraqis who were followers of the Twelve-Imami Shia branch of Islam. Some claims attributed the early victories of the Iranian forces to “invisible divine assistances” that came to Iranian forces only. Whatever the blessing and the invisible assistances, the war was the worst imaginable disaster for Iran. Because of the war, social agitation up-surged; every minute of life was subjugated to the war; revolutionary atmosphere brought an unprecedented unity behind Khomeini; and, in the uproar he took away all political, social, and individual freedoms with bloodshed, imprisonment, torture, and creating an atmosphere of fear. The war sacrificed freedoms, completed the dictatorship, and re-introduced the arms. The real invisible assistances were the huge bulks of arms hideously coming to Iran in exchange for oil.
By 1986 the war was six years old. Hundreds of billions of oil dollars had been spent on armaments and warfare. Iraqis had been expelled from all Iranian territories except a small area in the western fronts called Naft Shahr: the Oil City. In some areas Iranian forces had occupied enemy territories. International mediations and Iraqi pleas for peace were left unheard. Toppling Hossein's regime was a divine mission for Khomeini; but changing geopolitical map of what is called “The Middle East” by the West was not an easy task. The map had been drawn by the West, based upon their interests, and was protected by them. Was Khomeini aware of almost impossibility of achieving such a drastic change? If not, probably he was aware that he substantially owed the national unity behind his government to the war. Perhaps, he thought the blessing of the war could become an everlasting blessin >>>Part 2
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