April 17, 2004
The Weekly Standard
A. William Samii
Tehran's anti-American propaganda campaign.
In light of Iran's growing political role in Iraq (to say nothing of reports of unofficial activity by Iranian agents), there is cause for concern in the steady stream of anti-American and anti-Coalition propaganda, including inflammatory lies, that continues to flow from Iran to audiences in Iraq and other countries in the region.
Even as a delegation from the Iranian foreign ministry arrived in Baghdad on April 14 in response to a British request for Tehran's help defusing the current unrest, radio and television stations in Iran were sending out messages tailored for Iraq and the rest of the Arabic-speaking world. Thus, on April 13, the Arabic-language Voice of the Mujahedin'which is run by the Iraqi Shiite group the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and transmits from Iran'claimed that the unrest in Iraq is part of a "scenario" launched by "the Zionist lobby that controls the White House." It explained that the closure of Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Hawzah newspaper and the arrest of al-Sadr's aide are part of a plan to cancel the transfer of power to Iraqis so the United States can stay in the country indefinitely, plunder its oil wealth, and eliminate a culture that does not conform with Israeli interests.
A few days before, on April 8, SCIRI's radio station encouraged violence by speaking of resistance and saying, "The coming days may give many Iraqis a chance to emerge as national heroes." It went on to say that Iraq's foremost Shia religious authority, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, might be forced to issue a decree calling on all Iraqis and Shia to launch a holy war against the Americans.
From the beginning, Tehran has reacted to the American presence in Iraq by fanning hostility to the United States, on state broadcasts as well as those of SCIRI, which until last year was based in Iran. Virulent commentary is hardly something special in response to the current crisis. On March 31, for example, the Voice of the Mujahedin claimed that if U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is appointed ambassador to Iraq he will turn the country "into a base for the Zionist entity." The Zionists, explained the broadcast, want to control all the country's resources and to eliminate all national and Islamic symbols. The occupation of Iraq has brought "the Zionist entity" millions of dollars through its participation in Iraq's reconstruction. And a February 10 Voice of the Mujahedin broadcast accused the United States of involvement in a "holocaust" and "genocide" against Iraqis.
This kind of thing is typical of Tehran's broadcasts, heard throughout the Middle East. Like Voice of the Mujahedin, the Arabic service of the official Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting can be heard in Baghdad on four am and fm frequencies. Iran also transmits in Arabic on the 24-hour Al Alam satellite television and on the Sahar television station. Sahar TV carried an interview on March 17 in which there was a discussion of alleged U.S. attempts to settle Jews in Iraq. A series about the destruction of Iraqi cities on Al-Alam in March was entitled "The Harvest of One Year of American Occupation."
Nor are Arabic-speakers the only audience Tehran targets. It has responded to the replacement of the Taliban by a pro-American government and the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a relatively sophisticated multi-lingual broadcast operation designed to exploit ethnic differences in Afghanistan. This began in December 2001 and continues to this day. Afghanistan's largest minority, the Pashtuns, were the main backers of the Taliban, and Iran's Pashtu-language broadcasts have kept up a constant stream of anti-U.S. insinuation and outright lies that play on ethnic sensitivities and nationalism.
Referring to the late-March unrest in the western Afghan city of Herat, Iranian state radio said in Pashtu on March 30 that locals there were protesting the foreign presence. Another Pashtu-language broadcast that day accused U.S. troops of attacking local Afghan forces in the city of Jalalabad.
A February 2003 Pashtu-language commentary claimed "the majority of experts" believe that the United States is pursuing colonial goals in Afghanistan and Central Asia, and the United States wants to use Afghanistan as a base. Reports of Taliban and al Qaeda remnants are only a pretext for a long-term U.S. presence, according to the commentary, which concluded by stating, "The lasting presence of American forces in Afghanistan will not only lead to failure to ensure security in this country but also will add to the lack of security and give rise to more confrontations."
One recent event that provoked a rash of disinformation from Iranian state radio was the spate of bombings and attacks in late March in Uzbekistan, just north of Afghanistan. Commentaries in English and Persian broadcast from northeastern Iran on March 30 asked who stood to gain from the bombings, and accused the United States of using the violence as a pretext for its military presence in Central Asia. In an added flourish for the Persian-speaking audience, mostly in Afghanistan, the broadcast said that the United States would use the incidents as a pretext for a U.S. presence in southern Asia, adding that the U.S. military presence in Uzbekistan already contributes to insecurity there.
Finally, the broadcasts accused the United States of opposing Islam. "It can also be predicted at the international level that the U.S.A. may blame the recent terrorist acts in Uzbekistan on Muslims in order to stress that there is a connection between terrorism and Islam and to implement its anti-Islamic plans," Iranian radio claimed in Persian. The broadcast in English accused the United States of having "anti-Islamic policies."
Iranian hostility to the United States is not new, but it has a new twist since the ousters of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein: Perceiving itself as surrounded by an enemy, Tehran is pursuing a systematic effort to arouse the region against the United States and to undermine peace in Iraq and stability elsewhere.
The Weekly Standard, v. 9, n. 31 (26 April 2003).
*A. William Samii is a regional analysis coordinator with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Views in this article are his own. http://www.weeklystandard.com/Check.asp?idArticle=3988&r=hwvdl