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Friday, 24 October 2014 17:41

Religious decree “no to nukes”

The nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran, which are now nearing their November deadline, remain deadlocked over US demands that Iran dismantle the bulk of its capacity to enrich uranium.

The demand is allegedly based on the suspicion that Iran may have worked secretly to develop nuclear weapons in the past and can't be trusted not to do so again; an allegation that has never been substantiated. Gareth Porter, an independent American historian, investigative journalist, author and policy analyst specializing in US national security policy, has written a commentary in this regard, released on Foreign Policy Magazine. Let’s read more on the power of fatwa or religious decree, this time “no to nukes”.

Iran insists that it has rejected nuclear weapons as incompatible with Islam and cites a fatwa of Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei as proof. American and European officials remain skeptical, however, that the issue is really governed by Shiite Islamic principles. They have relied instead on murky intelligence that has never been confirmed about an alleged covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

But the key to understanding Iran's policy toward nuclear weapons lies in a historical episode during its eight-year war with Iraq. The story explains why Iran never retaliated against Iraq's chemical weapons attacks on Iranian troops and civilians, which martyred 20,000 Iranians and severely injured 100,000 more. And it strongly suggests that the Iranian leadership's aversion to developing chemical and nuclear weapons is deep-rooted and sincere.

A few Iranian sources have previously pointed to a fatwa by the Founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (may God bless his soul), prohibiting chemical weapons as the explanation for why Iran did not deploy these weapons during the war with Iraq under Saddam. But not much detail have been made public on when and how Imam Khomeini issued such a fatwa, so it has been not much in focus for decades.

Now, however, the wartime chief of the Iranian ministry responsible for military procurement has provided an eyewitness account of Imam Khomeini's ban not only on chemical weapons, but on nuclear weapons as well. In an interview with the writer of the article, Gareth Porter, in Tehran in late September, Mohsen Rafighdoost, who served as minister of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, IRGC, throughout the eight-year war, revealed that he had proposed to the late Imam that Iran begin working on both nuclear and chemical weapons -- but was told in two separate meetings that weapons of mass destruction are forbidden by Islam. Rafighdoost was personally involved in every major military decision taken by the corps during the Iran-Iraq War.

Iraqi dictator Saddam began using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after Iran repelled the initial Iraqi attack and began a counterattack. The Iraqis considered chemical weapons to be the only way to counter Iran's superiority in manpower. Iranian doctors first documented symptoms of mustard gas from Iraqi chemical attacks against Iranian troops in mid-1983. However, Rafighdoost said, a dramatic increase in Iraqi gas attacks occurred during an Iranian offensive, indeed defensive, in southern Iraq in February and March 1984. The Iraqi attacks involved both mustard gas and the nerve gas tabun. Rafighdoost told me, Gareth Porter, that he asked some foreign governments for assistance, including weapons, to counter the chemical-war threat, but all of them rejected the requests. This prompted him to decide that his ministry would have to produce everything Iran needed for the war.

Rafighdoost, the war time IRGC minister, prepared a report on all the specialized groups he had formed and went to discuss it with the Father of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini, hoping to get his approval for work on chemical and nuclear weapons. When Imam Khomeini read the report, he reacted to the chemical-biological-nuclear team by asking, “What is this?" Rafighdoost recalled that Imam Khomeini ruled out development of chemical and biological weapons as “inconsistent with Islam”. He reiterated that instead of producing chemical or biological weapons, they should produce defensive protection for our troops, like gas masks and atropine.

Rafighdoost also told Imam Khomeini that the group had "a plan to produce nuclear weapons." Imam closed the door to such a program. Ayatollah Khomeini instructed him instead to "send these scientists to the Atomic Energy Organization," referring to Iran's civilian nuclear-power agency. That edict ended the idea of seeking nuclear weapons. The chemical-warfare issue took a new turn in late June 1987, when Iraqi aircraft bombed four residential areas of Sardasht, an ethnically Kurdish city in Iran, with mustard gas. Iran's civilian population was targeted by Iraqi forces with chemical weapons, and the population was completely unprotected. Of 12,000 inhabitants, 8,000 were exposed, and hundreds lost their lives.
As popular fears of chemical attacks on more Iranian cities grew quickly, the then IRGC minister undertook a major initiative to prepare Iran's retaliation. He worked with the Defense Ministry to create the capability to produce mustard gas weapons. Rafighdoost was obviously hoping that the new circumstances of Iraqi chemical weapons attacks on Iranian civilians would cause Imam Khomeini to have a different view of the issue. In a meeting, Imam Khomeini was told that the Iranian experts had high capability to produce chemical weapons.

Iran's permanent representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons disclosed the details of Rafighdoost's chemical weapons program in a document provided to the US delegation to the organization on May 17, 2004. It was later made public by WikiLeaks, which published a US diplomatic cable reporting on its contents. The document shows that the two ministries had procured the chemical precursors for mustard gas and in September 1987 began to manufacture the chemicals necessary to produce a weapon -- sulfur mustard and nitrogen mustard. But the document also indicated that the two ministries did not "weaponize" the chemicals by putting them into artillery shells, aerial bombs, or rockets.

The leader of the time was unmoved by the new danger presented by the Iraqi gas attacks on civilians. Imam Khomeini said "It is haram, religiously forbidden, to produce such weapons. You are only allowed to produce protection." Invoking the Islamic Republic's claim to spiritual and moral superiority over the secular Iraqi regime, Rafighdoost recalls Imam Khomeini asking verbally, "If we produce chemical weapons, what is the difference between me and Saddam?"

Imam Khomeini's verdict spelled the end of the IRGC's chemical weapons initiative. The 2004 Iranian document confirms that production of two chemicals ceased, the buildings in which they were stored were sealed in 1988, and the production equipment was dismantled in 1992. Imam Khomeini also repeated his edict forbidding work on nuclear weapons, telling the ministers and commanders, "Don't talk about nuclear weapons at all."

Rafighdoost understood Khomeini's prohibition on the use or production of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons as a fatwa -- a judgment on Islamic jurisprudence by a qualified Islamic scholar. It was never written down or formalized, but that didn't matter, because it was issued by the "guardian jurist" of the Islamic state -- and was therefore legally binding on the entire government. When Imam said it was haram, he didn't have to say it was fatwa.

Rafighdoost did not recall the date of that second meeting with Khomeini, but other evidence strongly suggests that it was in December 1987. The then Iranian prime minister said in a late December 1987 speech that Iran "is capable of manufacturing chemical weapons" and added that a "special section" had been set up for "offensive chemical weapons." A few days later, a report in the London daily, the Independent, referred to the fatwa of Imam Khomeini against chemical weapons. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian, now a research scholar at Princeton University, confirmed for that article that Khomeini's fatwa against chemical and nuclear weapons.

In February 1988, Saddam stepped up his missile attacks on urban targets in Iran. He also threatened to arm his missiles with chemical weapons, which terrified hundreds of thousands of Iranian civilians. However, Khomeini's fatwa forced the powerful IRGC to forgo the desired response to Iraqi chemical weapons attacks.

Imam Khomeini's Islamic ruling against all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, was reaffirmed by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, who had served as president under Imam Khomeini and succeeded him as the Leader in 1989. However, certain mainstream media in the United States and Europe have tried purposefully to regard the Leader’s fatwa as a propaganda ploy.

The analysis of Ayatollah Khamenei's impeccable fatwa has not been duly grasped by the West not only due to a lack of understanding of the role of the "guardian jurist" in the Iranian political-legal system, but also due to ignorance of the history of the Leader's fatwa. A crucial but hitherto unknown fact is that the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, had actually issued the anti-nuclear fatwa without any media fanfare in the mid-1990s in response to a request from an official for his religious opinion on nuclear weapons. Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian, now a research scholar at Princeton University, recalls seeing the letter in the office of the Supreme National Security Council, where he was head of the Foreign Relations Committee from 1997 to 2005.

Since 2012, the official stance of the US President Barack has been to welcome the Leader's anti-nuclear fatwa. Obama even referred to it in his UN General Assembly speech in September 2013. But it seems clear that Obama's advisors still do not understand the fatwa's full significance, most probably under the influence of the Zionist lobby.

As it seems, they even confused, knowingly or naively, fatwas issued by any qualified Muslim scholar with fatwas by the Leader on matters of state policy. The former are only relevant to those who follow the scholar's views; the latter, however, are binding on the state as a whole.

The full story of Imam Khomeini's wartime fatwa against chemical weapons shows that when the "guardian jurist" of Iran's Islamic system issues a religious judgment against weapons of mass destruction as forbidden by Islam, it outweighs all other political-military considerations. The late Imam's fatwa against chemical weapons prevented the manufacture and use of such weapons -- even though it put Iranian forces at a major disadvantage in the imposed war in front of the West-backed Iraqi dictator Saddam. Yes, it is very difficult to imagine a tougher test of the power of the leader's Islamic jurisprudence over an issue.

Presumably, the Western negotiators, the Americans in particular, who are unaware of the real history of anti-nuclear fatwas will be prone to potentially costly miscalculations.

EA

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