Maziar Bahari and Reza HaghighatNejad write: Every few days a crowd gathers at the Leadership Complex in central Tehran, chanting “Death to America” and “Death to Hypocrites.” The group varies in size: sometimes there are hundreds of people, and other times only a handful. Supporters range from prominent government officials to farmers from remote villages. But everyone who attends these ritual gatherings is rewarded in some way. It might be extra food rations or a higher government position. People at risk of losing their jobs might be told their positions are now secure. What’s important to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is to have his supporters there with him, lending further legitimacy to his words. Whatever they may be.
Last week, during a ceremony attended by Iranian judges and prosecutors, Khamenei expressed his doubts on Iran’s potential cooperation with the U.S. in Iraq. He accused the American government of exploiting the advances made by extremist Sunnis in Iraq to gain control over the country. As his audience sat before him, many of them crossing their hands over their crutches or their chests — a very Iranian sign of submission — Khamenei said that the current crisis had nothing to do with the sectarian divide between Shia and Sunni Muslims. The crowd chanted on cue. The Ayatollah added, “Americans are trying to undermine the stability and the territorial integrity of Iraq, in which the last remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime are used as proxies and those formerly outside this network of power are treated as pawns.”
Khamenei’s words were echoed by his supporters, who see the rise of the extremist Sunni group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, as an important threat to Iran’s dominance in Shia-majority Iraq. “After the victory of the Shias in Iraq, Arab countries, America and Israel started causing trouble because they were not happy with a Shia democratic government in Iraq,” said Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, former Chief Justice of Iran. “The people of Iraq should remain united,” he said. “Only the U.S. would benefit from a split.” Shahroudi’s comments are particularly important because he was born and raised in Iraq, and was among the leaders of the opposition against Saddam Hussein. He is also widely regarded as Khamenei’s mentor.
Khamenei’s supporters call him “The Leader of All Muslims around the World.” The gist of their conspiracy theories is that the whole world is united to undermine Khamenei’s leadership. The U.S. presence in Iraq and the region is regarded as the main challenge to dominance in Iraq, but they also include ISIS in an American scheme against Iran. “Command centers for the ISIS fighters were in the White House and Saudi Arabia,” said a revolutionary guards commander, and a Khamenei appointee. “The ISIS conflict is an American and Zionist conspiracy to reverse Islamic awakening in the Middle East,” added another appointed commander. [Continue reading…]