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Khomeini’s revolution and CIA declassified documents

Most of the political developments we witness today are linked to the Iranian Revolution and to the year 1979

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

I read some of the documents which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) declassified from the period of the Iranian revolution in the end of the 1970s. Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper published some of these documents. This was a turbulent phase of history and continues to stir academic controversy.

Most of the political developments we witness today, from the rise of Islamist extremism, both in the regional and internationally, the sectarian struggle, failure of peace processes, major regional wars and efforts to possess advanced weapons such as nuclear and chemical arms, are linked to the Iranian Revolution and to the year 1979.

The newspaper published few of these documents and I did not find anything in them that helps understand events from inside this political and security institution, i.e. the CIA, which is supposed to have had good relations with the Shah’s government. Unlike some allegations, the CIA’s estimates in terms of understanding the tactic of the new regime in Tehran were not wrong.

The CIA’s analysts predicted that after Khomeini’s rise in power, and after the war with Iraq erupted in 1980, the Iranian regime will resort to using religion, and particularly sectarianism, as a weapon. Their predications stipulated that Ayatollah Khomeini will use religious slogans to incite the region’s people against their regimes. They estimated that he will succeed in mobilizing the sectarian divide in Iraq and will fail in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries.

On reviewing the eight years of war between Iraq and Iran, one cannot underestimate the massive propaganda which Saddam Hussein government led to stop the Iranian sectarian incitement from infiltrating Iraq. Iran pictured the conflict as a Sunni-Shiite war while Baghdad saw it as a nationalist war between Arabs and Persians.

The CIA’s estimates as to when the war will end were wrong for a clear reason as the decision to stop it was in Khomeini’s hands. He insisted on the continuation of the conflict for three years despite the failures as he thought a popular revolution may alter the balance of war in his favor in Iraq.

At the time of the Iranian Shah’s fall, policymakers in Washington had preferred to accept the religious rise of Khomeini at the expense of leftist parties which had a role in the onset of the Iranian revolution

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Religious revolution

One of the issues which was not addressed in the recently declassified analyses and secret correspondences, and which was not even tackled in the media or in specialized periodicals, is awareness of the threats which the extremist religious revolution in Iran could pose on the region and the world. This may be due to the domination of the national and leftist rhetoric back then.

Former National Security Advisor of the United States Zbigniew Brzezinski made a famous trip to Pakistan and adopted the policy of Islamic jihadist religious war to liberate Afghanistan. This approach was adopted in addition to using advanced weapons against the forces of the “Soviet Union.” The 1o-year war ended in the liberation of Afghanistan and more than 15,000 troops from the Soviet Union and its allies were killed while more than 400 Soviet jets were downed.

We cannot ignore the relation between Khomeini’s revolution and Afghanistan’s war. At the time of the Iranian Shah’s fall, policymakers in Washington had preferred to accept the religious rise of Khomeini at the expense of leftist parties which had a role in the onset of the Iranian revolution. However, there is nothing that indicates that someone at the time predicted what will happen in the region after Khomeini’s rise or anticipated how the prevailing ideologies in the region will change especially with the dissolution of leftist ideology with the collapse of the Soviet camp.

The new Iranian regime back then used religious slogans and later limited these slogans to its sectarian designs and succeeded in using them politically in Lebanon, Palestine and later in Iraq. These slogans are what destroyed the region during more than three decades and they still pose the biggest threat on the region.

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on February 09 2017.
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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.