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Iran Peace

An Iranian soldier grieves beside the body of his fallen brother in Iran’s Kermanshah province during the early days of the Iran-Iraq War.

The pact with Iran that would reduce international economic sanctions in favor of Iran abandoning any efforts to create a nuclear bomb is a controversial agreement although it now appears that President Barack Obama has the votes in the Senate to prevent Congressional rejection of the deal. The debate often focuses upon issues of verification and whether the United States can trust the Islamic Republic of Iran. After all, large demonstrations in Teheran chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel” seem relatively easy for the regime to organize.

And while Iran is in conflict with the Islamic State, supplying troops to fight alongside the Iraqi army against the terrorist organization, the nation of Iran supports groups such as Hezbollah identified by the American government as a terrorist organization. Essentially, Iran seeks to be a Middle Eastern regional power representing Shia Muslims in opposition to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s championing of the Sunnis. But this description of Iran tends to leave out the reasons why the Iranians might not trust the Americans.

As we move toward concluding the historic nuclear pact with Iran it is worth remembering that many Iranians have a good reason for not trusting the Americans.

Americans tend to perceive themselves as innocents, and we blame the Iranians for launching an unprovoked 1979 assault upon the American embassy in Teheran and the taking of diplomats as hostages who were held for over a year. There is a tendency for Americans to ignore what led up to this act of aggression. In 1953, American intelligence agents played a crucial role in the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after he proposed legislation to nationalize Western oil companies.

After the successful coup against Mosaddegh, the United States helped install Mohammad Raza Shah Pahlavi on the Peacock throne as the Shah of Iran. Backed by the military might of the United States and employing the repressive secret police or SAVAK trained by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Shah ruled until 1979 when he was overthrown by the Iranian people and the Islamic Republic of Iran was established. The Shah was ill and fled to America where he was hospitalized. The seizure of the U. S. Embassy was an ill-fated and illegal effort to force a trade of the hostages for the Shah who would then face trial for his crimes against the Iranian people. President Jimmy Carter refused to make any such deal, and the Shah died on July 27, 1980 in Cairo. The hostages were finally released when Ronald Reagan took the oath of office and replaced Carter.

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Despite the change in Presidential administrations, the animosity between Iran and Iraq continued into the 1980s. The Iran and Iraq War lasted from 1980 to 1988, and over a half-million soldiers perished in the conflict which featured World War I-style tactics of trench warfare. The war began over border disputes and concerns by the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that the Islamic Republic of Iran might encourage unrest among Iraq’s majority Shia population.

The fighting resulted in a bloody stalemate supported by the United States and our man in Bagdad, Saddam Hussein, as a check upon Iranian expansion. And Republicans opposed to the nuclear deal seem to forget that Reagan was willing to deal with the Iranians. In the Iran-Contra Affair, the Reagan administration violated an arms embargo by selling weapons to Iran in order to get the Iranian regime to place pressure on their Lebanese associates to release American hostages. The money from the arms deal would illegally fund the Contra rebels to overthrow the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Thus, as we move toward concluding the historic nuclear pact with Iran it is worth remembering that many Iranians have a good reason for not trusting the Americans. Being aware of this troubling history certainly does not excuse policies of aggression pursued by Iran in the region, but it is important to acknowledge that American foreign policy has exacerbated Iranian distrust of the United State by overthrowing democratic regimes and supporting dictatorships.

Such short-sighted policies often have long range blowback repercussions. Perhaps it is time to take a chance and see if we can break the chain of distrust and forge a new relationship with Iran where over sixty percent of the population is under thirty.

ron briley

Ron Briley