TEHRAN – An old letter by revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini which said the military had asked for atomic bombs to continue Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq has become a focus for factional sparring as elections approach.
The letter was released last week by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a move analysts said appeared aimed at vindicating his role in the 1980-1988 war and taking a swipe at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other hard-liners who could drag Iran into a new crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The move comes as political bickering heats up before elections in December to a powerful clerical body and also coincides with rising tensions over Iran’s nuclear stand-off with the West, which accuses Iran of seeking atomic bombs.
But in the typical fashion of political point-scoring in the Islamic Republic, particularly when touching on sensitive issues like the nuclear case, the message from releasing the letter now is veiled and open to interpretation, analysts say.
“The primary reason (for issuing the letter) is a vindication of himself (Rafsanjani),” said political science professor Nasser Hadian-Jazy.
Rafsanjani, who is expected to run in the December vote to the Assembly of Experts, has been criticised by hard-liners for encouraging Khomeini to end the war. Most analysts say the war had reached a bloody stalemate. In the letter, Khomeini lists why he stopped fighting.
Khomeini wrote that the military had drawn up a long list of weapons needed if Iran was to return to the offensive and win the war, including 2,500 tanks, 300 warplanes and “a substantial number of laser and atomic weapons”.
But faced with such a wish list plus other concerns such as Iran’s financial reserves being “below zero” and a faltering national will to fight, Khomeini reluctantly ended the war, writing “this decision is like drinking a poison chalice”.
Attack on radicalism
The atomic reference was removed in later texts after first appearing on Friday, although the reason was not immediately clear. One analyst said the letter indicated that even in war, Iran did not choose a nuclear weapon option.
Hadian-Jazy said Rafsanjani, beaten by Ahmadinejad in last year’s presidential race, was using the letter as a “general attack on radicalism”.
Political analyst Mahmoud Alinejad said Rafsanjani seemed to be “trying to remind people … there are certain groups who are trying again for their own political (ends) to push the country towards confrontation with the outside world.”
Just as Khomeini took a tough decision when Iran faced ruin, the implication was Iran should consider a deal now as it faces a new crisis over its nuclear stand-off, he said.
The West has been seeking to coax Iran into suspending uranium enrichment, a process which can make material for bombs, although Iran insists its plans are civilian. Tehran now faces the threat of sanctions for failing to halt the work.
Ahmadinejad, a staunch opponent of compromise in the nuclear debate who fought in the war with Iraq, has criticised those seeking to use the letter to political advantage.
“Those who think they can derail the strong determination of the great Iranian nation to achieve progress and development by creating doubts … will not succeed,” he was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as telling the cabinet on Sunday.
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