By Track Persia

April 27, 2019

It is widely viewed that the current sectarian conflict in the Middle East is primarily attributed to Iran’s involvement in the internal affairs of the countries of this region and to the sectarian policy of the regime in Iran of exporting 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The war on terror that targets the most extremist Sunni terror groups, notably the Islamic State (IS), formerly called Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) whose acronym in Arabic is ‘Daesh’, has further given the revolutionary regime in Iran a pretext to increase its interference in the regional countries through what the claims that it supports this war.

The Iranian aggressive foreign policy has not only played a key role in inflaming the sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims but also it has increased the ethnic tension between Arab and Persians.

Khomeini’s revolutionary ideology

One of the main pretexts for the revolutionary regime in Iran interfering in the affairs of the regional and neighbour countries is that their governments are weak and they do not represent aspirations of their people.  The truth is, however, that since the success of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that deposed the Shah, the Iranian regime has been dedicating itself to spreading the revolution’s ideology that enhances Shi’i dominance in the region.

The late Iranian Supreme leader and the founder of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, developed a despotic theory in the Shi’i Islam that allows a Shi’i cleric to enjoy absolute powers over the public, including ruling nations. To implement this theory which is called wilayat al-faqih (or vilayt e-faqih in the Persian language), there is needed an Islamic revolution to be exported to the entire world.

In this respect, Khomeini said, “We will export our revolution to the entire world”. He added that he wanted to hear the call that “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger” is over the world. Khomeini clearly expressed his intentions of overthrowing what he called the “tyrannical and puppet regimes” and replacing them with an Islamic government that serves its people and based on justice.

For decades the Iranian officials have been challenging the legitimacy of the neighbouring and regional countries which do not see they are unfriendly, describing them as not entirely sovereign, therefore Iran gives to itself the right to interfere in their affairs.

The theory of the absolute powers of a cleric over public has being applied in Iran since the success of the 1979 revolution and was included in Iran’s constitution early in December of that year.  The new constitution declared that the rule in the new republic is an Islamic based on the values of Iran’s revolution. The new constitution also states that the revolution will continue inside and outside Iran. This means that the new theocracy in Iran intends to establish an Islamic Shi’i state for all Muslims in the world, that will be governed by Tehran under the leadership of Iran’s Supreme Leader, even though the majority Muslims in the world are Sunnis.

Khomeini’s theory even denies the right of minorities in Iran such as Sunni Muslims and non-Persians including Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen. When they protested and demand to practise their cultural autonomy away from the Shi’i-religious ideology of wilayat al-faqih, Khomeini decisively ordered their suppression.

Impacts of Iranian Regional Involvement

Iranian involvement in the regional countries’ affairs provoked and alarmed the governments of these countries. In the early days that followed the success of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Iranian ayatollahs encouraged Iraq’s majority Shia to overthrow the secularist government there under Saddam Hussein. Khomeini urged Iraqis to rise up against Iraqi government calling it corrupt.

A few months later, the Iranian officials escalated their support for the Iraqi Shi’i underground opposition movements and Kurds separatists in the north. The assassinations of several Iraqi officials carried out by the Iranian- sponsored Shi’i militants led to the outbreak of Iran-Iraq war that lasted eight years. The war led to the death of thousands of people from both sides and million more affected majority of them were civilians. The war also created instability and sectarian tensions and divisions between Sunni and Shi’i Muslims in the entire world and its impacts are still visible to the present day.

Iran’s strategy of exporting its revolution to the entire world did not only caused upheaval in the Middle Eastern countries, but it also alarmed Western powers such as the United States of serious threat. However, most Arabs view the United States’ soft policy towards Iran in previous years encouraged Iran to continue with carrying out its strategy of exporting its Islamic Revolution. The Gulf states, in particular, accused the United States of being responsible for Iran’s influence in Iraq and for empowering the Shi’I Islamists there when it supported formerly Iran-exiled Iraqi Shi’i Islamists to reach power and turned a blind eye to the discrimination policies the Iranian-allied Shi’i Islamists towards Iraq’s Sunni Arabs. They also accused, in particular, the administrations of Presidents W. Bush and Barak Obama of creating momentum for Iran to gain power over the Middle East.

The emergence of the IS extremist groups in Iraq and Syria in the last few years led Iran to speed up the implementation of exporting its Islamic Revolution. Iran has used Shi’i militias from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in the name of fighting the extremist Sunni jihadists. However, Iran has also used its proxy militias against civilian Sunnis to suppress them and displace them from their lands to make a demographic change that allows it to create a route leads to Lebanon through Iraq and Syria. This route enables Iran to supply weapons to its ally Hezbollah, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the United States and other Western powers because it has been accused of terrorist attacks and money laundering. All Iran’s proxy militias from Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan are sponsored by Quds Force, the external wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Targeting Iraq and the Gulf States

Iran’s strategy of exporting its Islamic Revolution has mainly affected regional countries and caused instability in the Middle East.  In the early years that followed the success of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the regime in Iran created a widespread turmoil and sponsored terrorist attacks carried out by Shi’i opposition groups in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain that left dozens of causalities. These incidents culminated with a number of suicide attacks. Non-Arab Sunni Muslims who are majority populations in the east, such as Pakistanis and Afghanis, were also alarmed by the bloody attacks sponsored by Tehran.

Over the past decade, the regime in Iran has exploited the collapse of the regimes in Iraq and in Afghanistan by the US-led invasions and used them for as an opportunity to implement its strategy of exporting its revolutionary ideology, given the obstacles these regime presented were cleared. Being a neighbour of new weak regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan which are not strong enough to pose a security challenge to Iran has also encouraged the Iranian leaders to pursuit its revolutionary strategy.

A Failed Revolutionary Strategy?

Khomeini’s strategy of exporting the Islamic Revolution proved a failed strategy because of various factors some of them are the social, ethnic, political, ideological and religious divergences of the targeted populations.  In addition, governance in most of the targeted countries is based on secularism. Interestingly, the Shi’i populations in these countries do not follow Khomeini’s revolutionary theory of wilayat al-faqih, rather, they follow the moderate Shi’i school of Najaf, that does not allow clerics to rule or hold government jobs. Furthermore, the majority of populations in these countries, including the Shia, targeted by Iran, are, in fact, Arab nationalists. This explains why Iran could not gain victory over Iraq during its eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, despite the majority Iraqis participated in the war were Shi’a.

About Track Persia

Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.