Leaders of Iran

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati’s appointment to Ahlul Bayt

IranExpert:Why does Khamenei co-opt Iraqi Shiite oppositionists?: "18 March By Ali Nourizadeh Daily Star

Why does Khamenei co-opt Iraqi Shiite oppositionists?

It’s nearly five months since Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cashiered his senior adviser, former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Up to last Oct. 16, Velayati played an influential role in planning and running Iranian foreign policy. It was Velayati who at least twice undermined President Mohammad Khatami’s efforts to normalize relations with Egypt. He was also responsible for making sure that efforts to reduce tensions between Iran and the United States came to nothing.

(In September 1998, and on Velayati’s advice, Khamenei ordered Khatami not to have his picture taken with former US President Bill Clinton at the UN headquarters in New York. Clinton had listened to the Iranian president speak, and then waited 20 minutes to shake his hand. But Khatami, having received orders from Tehran, left the UN headquarters without meeting with the American president).

Until his dismissal, Velayati was also secretary-general of the Ahlul Bayt World Assembly, one of the most important Iranian institutions, supervised directly by Khamenei. It has to be said though that Velayati’s appointment to Ahlul Bayt more than three years ago was a major surprise in its own right. Since its inception, Ahlul Bayt ­ a religious institution ­ was always headed by clerics. Velayati’s predecessor, Hojjatoleslam Ali Mohammed Taskhiri, was an Iraqi Shiite cleric who had been deported to Iran in the 1980s. Taskhiri’s mother tongue was thus Arabic, and he was well versed in the history and heritage of the Ahlul Bayt (the descendents of the Prophet Mohammed).

Velayati, on the other hand, was a pediatrician-turned-politician, who ran Iran’s foreign service for more than 16 years. His knowledge of Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence, though, was modest to say the least. In fact, his expertise in these fields did not exceed those of Iranian high school students, who usually duck these boring subjects.

During the three years Ahlul Bayt was under Velayati’s control, it failed to advance a single step toward fulfilling its objectives (among the institution’s goals are advancing the Shiite cause around the world, and holding conferences and seminars arguing the justice of the Shiite cause). During Velayati’s tenure, dozens of Shiite missionaries who had been dispatched to various locations in Africa and Latin America to spread the word returned to Iran either voluntarily or forcibly.

Even Azerbaijan, the world’s only Shiite state besides Iran, refused to renew the visas of Ahlul Bayt advocates operating in the country. South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Thailand, Singapore, and a number of Central Asian republics all asked Ahlul Bayt campaigners to leave. Under Velayati moreover, Ahlul Bayt failed to publish any remarkable books and periodicals.

Nevertheless, Velayati was not deposed because of negligence. There were other reasons for the supreme leader’s decision to do without his senior adviser and replace him with an Iraqi who had ­ until his appointment on Oct. 16 ­ been leading Ad-Daawa, a Shiite opposition movement to the Baghdad regime.

Ad-Daawa is a militant Shiite opposition movement famous for its daring armed attacks against the Baathist Iraqi regime. One of its most audacious exploits was the attempt on the life of Udai, Saddam Hussein’s eldest son, in 1997. The Ad-Daawa unit that carried out that attack (which only succeeded in injuring Udai) managed to slip out of Iraq undetected and its members have been living in Iran since.

The appointment of Sheikh Mohammed Mahdi Asefi as secretary general of Ahlul Bayt was a surprise to the Iranian regime and the Tehran-based Iraqi Shiite opposition ­ not to mention ordinary Iranians, who saw it as another sign of Khamenei’s lack of confidence in the Iranian clergy, and proof of his increasing reliance on Shiite Iraqi deportees of Iranian descent.

A glance at the number of Iraqis and Iraqi deportees holding senior positions in Iran reinforces the belief that Khamenei trusts them more than he does others ­ including Iranians.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, for example, was the first leader of the Iraqi opposition group known as the Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI). SAIRI is the largest Iraqi Shiite organization, boasting a 10,000-strong militia that goes under the name of the Badr Brigades.

Prosecutor General Ayatollah Abdolnabi Namazi is another Shiite cleric deported to Iran by the Iraqi authorities. So was Ali Mohammad Taskhiri, Velayati’s predecessor at the Ahlul Bayt foundation. Taskhiri currently sits on the powerful Council of Experts; he also holds eight other posts in the Iranian regime.

Another Iraqi deportee is General Mohammed Reza Shams (aka Naqdi), former head of intelligence and security for the national police force and currently a senior intelligence officer with the Iranian General Staff.

In addition, many of Khamenei’s representatives overseas and a large number of heads of Iranian cultural missions in foreign countries are former Iraqi opposition figures who left their original calling after being appointed to posts in the Iranian government ­ on the orders of the supreme leader.

Moreover, it is rumored in Iran that the current leader of the Iraqi Shiite opposition, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim, will soon be appointed head of the Islamic Advocacy organization. With all his senior opponents turning into Iranian government apparatchiks, Saddam Hussein can rest easy.

Whether Hakim joins the ranks of Shahrudi, Taskhiri, Asefi et al, it is a fact that the integration of these Iraqis into the Iranian establishment will strengthen the Iraqi regime, especially among the Shiites of Iraq.

Since SAIRI was founded, it was seen by Baghdad as a non-Iraqi organization controlled by Tehran. It has to be said that SAIRI committed a series of grave errors that seriously eroded its credibility among the Shiites of Iraq.

SAIRI is still committing such errors. A simple comparison between Mujahid, the journal published by the Iraq-based Iranian opposition Mujahideen-e-Khalq organization, and Badr, the organ of SAIRI’s Badr Brigades, shows that despite being under the control of Iraqi intelligence, the Mujahideen still enjoy more freedom than Badr. There are no portraits or news of Saddam Hussein or of Iraq in Mujahid. The journal does not even mention Iraq-Iran relations or the imminent US war on Iraq.

Badr, on the other hand, always prints portraits of Khamenei on its front page, together with quotes from his latest speeches. In addition, the paper usually features news about the latest visits by Khamenei’s representative Hojjatoleslam Ahmed Saleq to Badr camps.

Moreover, graduates of Badr training courses receive their degrees from Khamenei’s representatives. According to Badr, the brigade’s commander is periodically “honored” to meet with “the Guardian of all the World’s Muslims” (as Badr calls Khamenei) to inform him of his men’s exploits against the minions of the “infidel Baathist regime,” and receive the supreme leader’s instructions.

It goes without saying that none of Badr’s columnists and reporters has ever had the courage to ask Khamenei about the frequent visits to Iran by senior Iraqi government officials ­ officials of a regime that the paper itself brands as infidel and atheist.

The responsibilities associated with running a large institution like the Ahlul Bayt will not leave Asefi much time for opposition work. Chances are he will not even be able to lead Ad-Daawa on a part-time basis. In fact, there are those who say that the policy of appointing Iraqi Shiite opposition leaders in senior government and clerical positions in Iran is one of the main reasons why Baghdad is pleased with the Iranian government.

Thanks to this policy, all Iraqi Shiites living in Iran have gradually become Iranian citizens. The yellowed Iranian birth certificates (issued by Iranian consulates in Karbala and other Iraqi cities) of Shahrudi, Asefi, Taskhiri, Namazi and Naqdi bear witness to the fact that those Shiites who dream of ruling Iraq one day are more Iranian than Iraqi."

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