PEOPLE in the West probably know as much about the cease-fire in the Iran-Iraq war as those involved. They probably know as much about its conduct as well. In Tehran, there were the usual exhortations and the declarations of new mobilisation initiatives for the basij (volunteer movement). Moslems (which means Iranis, with a token nod to other, supportive Shia's) were to gird ourselves for new struggles, any talk of compromise could be taken to the grave. There were a few setbacks, strategic regroupings and the like but the outcome was in no doubt. Now we have a cease-fire, apparently more or less holding, and face to face peace talks, supervised by the United Nations, until recently a gang of hypocrites.
Distilling the rumours, probably more reliable than consulting the media, gives some perspective. The regime was becoming anxious. Supplies of cannon-fodder and supplies were becoming difficult, the calls to martyrdom met increasing selfishness. Ticking over underneath everything is the diminishing span of the earthly existence of Imam Khomeini. Various political factions are anxious to consolidate their positions under the sunshine of his approval. This has been discussed in Freedom before. Nominal heir-apparent is Montazeri, living off his past as chief organiser of the underground movement during Khomeini's exile. He has been in something of a decline. When his son-in-law dabbled in the Lebanon underground and leaked details of secret arms deals via USA and Israel, Montazeri had his knuckles rapped, in public and the junior relative was executed. More interesting is the front person for the major opposition faction, Rafsanjani.
His political career has been noted in Freedom. At home he is seen as sharp and devious. He is certainly well in with those that matter, including our interface with god. He is particularly close with the celestial telephone's son, Ahmad. He has a strong following among the mass who attend Friday prayer around Tehran's chief mosque.
He is bright enough to turn muttering, for instance he was long called 'shark', a traditional nickname for those unable to produce a respectable mullahly beard, with obvious punning undertones. Now, he preaches that the devious Iraqis are including full growth in the peace terms. Then, a few weeks ago, he was appointed in charge of the war. There were many problems. The army was still held back, waiting for the final offensive. The Pasdaran (revolutionary militia) were taking the brunt of the fighting. The Mojehedin (radical Moslem party), with Iraqi support, invaded and briefly controlled a couple of towns. There was even an antiwar demonstration in Tehran. In a few weeks tactical withdrawals on the front resulted in both sides holding more or less their pre-war boundaries. Then, there is a cease-fire.
The poor old Imam is distraught. Like drinking poison he says. However, he has gone along with it. He is obviously failing these days. A couple of years ago, a week's absence from the TV would set off the rumours; now he can barely manage a show for important occasions. When he is wound up, some of the old fire is still there, but he falters.
There are people who don't like these developments. Revolutionary Moslems mutter. The well-known putters like Forgham, famous for motor-cycle hit squads (they nearly got Rafsanjani) have been yelling. Speculators are upset; there has been a thriving 'free market' outside the mosque distribution system. Every- body else breathes a sigh of relief. They, or their son, brother, cousin, or whatever has a reprieve. Nobody knows for how long. Opposition movements dare to come above ground, surreptitiously.
There is still royalist nostalgia. The Mojehedin are compromised by suspicions about centralist tendencies, personality cults and Iraqi connections. The Fedayin have splintered. The poor Kurds are back where they started, facing central government attacks with the innovation, on the Iraqi side of the border, of poison gas.
Where does it all lead? Play your own chess game. The peace talks are ongoing, presumably indefinitely. (They include ex-hanging judge, Khalkhali, god help us) Militant Islam has something of a setback here, something of a victory in Afghanistan. The loss of Zia in Pakistan is borne with courage.
Glaring over it all is something like a million deaths, to return to where everybody started. They include ten year olds, brainwashed into martyrdom, civilians crushed in rocket attacks, villages gassed to death. The positive side is seen by arms suppliers, politicians manoeuvring for advantage and speculators ready to help rebuild. If it all holds.
They call anarchy 'chaos'. It makes me very angry.
(FREEDOM MAGAZINE September 1988)