According to the granddaughter of former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani recently condemned the use of chemical weapons by “a government,” a distinction that other Iranian officials have not made, and reminded those at the meeting of the fate of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Since accusations of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government surfaced, Iranian officials have taken varying positions. While not placing blame on either the Syrian government or the rebels, President Hassan Rouhani struck the most diplomatic tone, condemning the use of chemical weapons in general terms and emphasizing the importance of allowing the UN inspectors to complete their investigation. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that Western intervention would lead to a “disaster” in the region, and the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Mohamamd Ali Jafari, warned the United States of a “second Vietnam” if it intervenes in Syria.
Naeimeh Eshraghi, the granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini, wrote on her Facebook page, “In a meeting with governors of Isfahan in a hosseinieh [religious center] in Jamaran, [Rafsanjani said that] a government that uses chemical bombs against its people will face hard consequences, just like Saddam, who earned eternal shame in the bombing of Halabja and suffered such a horrible fate.”
Halabja is a Kurdish town that was attacked with chemical weapons in 1998 by Hussein. Thousands were killed in the attack, most of them civilians. Hussein was executed in 2006.
The Facebook post was shared widely and after accusations that she had lied, Eshraghi responded that while she was not present at the conference, the quote was confirmed both by her husband and a journalist from Reformist Shargh newspaper, both of whom were there.
Opposition website Kalame, which is close to Mir Hussein Moussavi, also carried parts of the speech by Rafsanjani. While the article included the comparison with the bombing conducted by Saddam’s forces, it did not include the condemnation of any government.
According to Kalame, Rafsanjani said, in regard to Syria, “In this country, they are bombing people with chemicals, just like the chemical bombing against Iran during the imposed war, and many people died.” The “imposed war” is a reference to the Iran-Iraq war, in which Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers, killing thousands and wounding many more.
According to Kalame, Rafsanjani continued, “The people of Syria for two years have witnessed the sacrifice of their loved ones, the destruction of their homes and displacement. We have to show the world a path [toward] peace, moderation and rationality.” He continued, “It’s been proven for everybody that force, fear and intimidation against people and “securitizing” [an issue] has no use, and this [type] of security will be a security for a cemetery, not security for the living, and we need security for the living.”
Rafsanjani has long been critical of the influence of the IRGC in political, security and economic matters and has been indirectly pushing for a sort of rapprochement with Western countries. Websites close to the IRGC and the security establishment in Iran have very harshly criticized his recent comments about rapprochement. Although it appears that Rafsanjani may have more influence with Rouhani as president, Iran’s Syria policy will still be largely determined by the supreme leader and the Revolutionary Guard.