Since the turn of the century Iran has experienced three major political upheavals in her relentless, but so far unsuccessful, struggle to democratize her political system. The 1906-11 constitutional revolution attempted to introduce a Western-style liberal parliamentary monarchy to Iran, but instead led to the rise of the first Pahlavi dictatorship by 1925. The nationalist movement of the Mossadegh era in the early 1950s sought to secure Iran’s economic independence as a precondition for a popularly based constitutional democracy, but resulted in the emergence of the second Pahlavi dictatorship. The authentic revolution of 1978-9 tried to terminate all forms of dictatorship once and for all, and instead paved the way for an even more despotic theocracy. The last revolution inaugurated an era of such unprecedented turmoil that in some ways it may be regarded as not one, but three consecutive and on-going revolutions. The first overthrew the Shah, the second utilized anti-American radicalism to institutionalize an Islamic Republic, and the last transformed the republic into a one-party fundamentalist theocracy.
While a consensus on the need to overthrow the Pahlavi dynasty emerged by the autumn of 1978 among the overwhelming majority of politicized Iranians, revolution meant different things to the different groups which had coalesced around that goal. Consequently, the anti-Shah coalition broke up as soon as the Shia fundamentalists started establishing a theocracy rather than a pluralistic democracy or a Marxist People’s Republic, as at least two other claimants to power had contemplated. In a real sense of each of the last two revolutions was waged not only to deny them a share of power, but also to divest them of the right of challenging the authority of the Shia fundamentalists.
In the process the secular forces, some of which had spearheaded the insurrectionary seizure of power in 1979, began to be devoured by the revolution itself. The progressive elimination of the opposition forces culminated in the ousting of the first President of the Islamic Republic in June 1981, and the subsequent armed struggle against the regime by the more militant of these forces. This struggle continues to date. The prospects of its success depend as much on the ability of these forces to attract massive public support as on the Islamic Republic’s determination to retain power.
To develop the above themes, this study will begin by raising the question of why and how Khomeini succeeded. Chapter 1 will try to provide at least a partial answer to this question. The American connection with the revolution and the disintegration of the armed forces will be considered in the answer. The process of the institutionalization of the revolutionary regime, despite the lack of consensus on its ideological and constitutional foundation preceding the enactment of the Islamic Constitution, will be the focus of Chapter 2. The hostage crisis which interrupted that process, the leadership of the militant students and the phases of evolution of the crisis, with an emphasis on its internal ramifications, will be examined in Chapter 3. A closer look at the presidency and the Majlis will be attempted in Chapter 4, along with the first manifestations of political disputes between these top institutions of the new regime. Chapter 5 will focus on the resurgence of the opposition, which though dating back to the dispute concerning the constitution, had been temporarily submerged during the hostage crisis. Under separate headings the Shia opposition, the Kurdish insurrection and the intellectual alienation will be probed. Since the left emerged as a dominant political force in the year-long revolutionary upheaval and began to disagree on the legitimacy and viability of the Islamic Republic, Chapter 6 will be devoted to the parties of the left — both those which are presently in the forefront of opposition to Khomeini as well as those persisting in their support for him.
The political rift between secular and fundamentalist forces which culminated in the demise of the Islamic Republic’s first President is considered in Chapter 7, while Chapter 8 focuses on the outbreak of armed struggle against the regime. The acts of political terrorism and the brutal response that they evoke, as well as a realignment of opposition forces both inside and outside the country, will be emphasized. Chapter 9 will discuss changes in Iran’s relations with the world at large beginning by a discussion of US-Iran relations since Khomeini’s accession to power, and ending with the Islamic Republic’s international outlook. Iran’s changing threat perception both before and after the Iraqi invasion, along with the ramifications of that war, will constitute the main inquiries of this chapter. A prognosis of the prospects of the opposition forces and the chances of the viability of the Islamic Republic will be offered in the concluding chapter.
Research for this study was begun immediately after the revolution. A deliberate effort has been made to rely, as much as possible, on original Iranian sources. Over the last few years I have travelled extensively in the USA, Western Europe and the Middle East to collect data and to conduct interviews with scores of Iranian writers, diplomats, civilian and military officials and politicians representing all shades of political opinion. Of particular value to me has been the vast collection of Farsi newspapers and other publications originating from Iran, Europe or the USA. Together with those put out by various exile groups, these constitute the bulk of the original sources used in this study. Equally indispensable to me has been the availability of powerful short-wave radios to monitor Iranian state-controlled broadcasts directly, rather than relying on the summary of their English transcripts available in several Western countries and often used exclusively by non-Farsi-speaking authors.
Many sources and individuals from all walks of life have contributed to my research. Those who could be identified are cited in the text. Others must remain anonymous for compelling personal or family safety reasons. The valuable co-operation of still others who gave me numerous useful and extended off-the-record interviews must also be acknowledged.
To Robert Hershman, formerly of the MacNeil-Lehrer Report of the Public Broadcasting Service, Washington, DC, I owe special thanks for putting at my disposal much-needed communication facilities at the height of the uprising in Tabriz in December 1979. Equally significant were the contributions of Dr Mehdi Rouhani, the leader of the Iranian Shiite community in France, and Mahmoud Khayami and Hossein Kho-dadad for their understanding of the intricacies of intra-clerical relations among the Shias in Iran and Iraq. To Charles Naas, John Stempel, formerly of the US embassy in Tehran; Ralph Lindstrom, presently the US State Department’s Country Director for Iran; and Professor Geoffrey Kemp of the National Security Council staff go special thanks for their generous time and frank co-operation regarding US-Iranian relations during both the Carter and Reagan Administrations.
Some of my former and present colleagues should be mentioned also for extended and often beneficial exchanges over the past few years. Amongst them: Amos Perimutter of the American University, Washington DC; Paul Seabury, Chalmers Johnson and George Lenczowski of the University of California, Berkeley; Adeed Dawishaof the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London; Ahmad Ghoreishi and Ghassam Mota-medi, formerly of the National and Tehran Universities; Nasser Amini and Ahmad Mirfendereski, formerly of Iran’s foreign ministry; Yusof Mazandi, a foreign journalist of long standing; and last but not least, Parviz Raeen of the Associated Press and Time-Life magazine. Robert Moss and Brian Crosier of The Economist and Journal of Conflict Resolution respectively, were most helpful in sharing information with me.
Needless to say, responsibility for the contents of this book remains exclusively mine.
To my family I owe the usual gratitude for putting up with my frequent absences and unavoidable interruptions of our family life to which, they assure me, they have by now become accustomed. Judi Weisgraber of Saint Mary’s College, California has been most gracious and competent in typing both drafts of this manuscript and performing other tedious tasks commonly involved in such an enterprise. Saint Mary’s College and the Institute of International Studies, University of California, Berkeley were also most forthcoming with much-needed support.
Moraga, California, April 1982
Why and How Khomeini Succeeded
Although the focus of this book is on Iran since the 1979 revolution, an understanding of how and why that revolution succeeded in bringing Khomeini to power is indispensable for putting events since 1979 into their proper perspective.
Much has been written on the causes of the 1979 revolution by scholars, journalists and diplomats alike. Some who played a critical role from its inception until the deviation from its original course some time in December 1979, when a controversial Islamic constitution was adopted, have also publicized their accounts. To evaluate the academic worth or the objectivity of all these accounts is beyond the scope of this study. What is evident is that the whole true story of the revolution remains to be told. More time needs to elapse before a definitive account of the revolution can be offered. Thus, for example, former President Carter and his National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, are still to be heard from. On the Iranian side, Mehdi Bazargan, Generals Gharabaghi and Fardoust, Banisadr and the late Beheshti, men who have or had intimate knowledge of the critical events between 16 January and 11 February 1979, have, by and large, been silent or their knowledge has been inaccessible to researchers and specialists.
To contend that the full story of this momentous event cannot yet be told does not mean that aspects of the revolution cannot be studied. This writer and many others have attempted to do so over the last few years.1 Some of the American diplomats serving in the field or in various intelligence and State Department agencies have also disclosed their personal knowledge of these events.
For the purpose of this study, instead of reviewing the totality of circumstances and causes which gave birth to the revolution, the author intends to ask a different set of questions under the general heading of ‘How Khomeini Dominated the Revolution’. This is done because one of the author’s chief assumptions is that Khomeini’s total leadership was unplanned and avoidable. It is further contended that barely three months after his seizure of power, the majority of the anti-Shah political groups and personalities began to realize their errors in pledging loyalty to him, and one after another deserted him.
By the revolution’s first anniversary Khomeini had already lost the support of secular-liberal forces. By the end of another year …