The September 11 Commission is scheduled to report that evidence suggests that the September 11 hijackers passed through Iran before arriving in the US:
A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 “muscle” hijackersâ€”that is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengersâ€”passed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guardsâ€”in some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personnelâ€”and otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.
There are only two ways to get out of Afghanistan for terrorists – either over the Hindu Kush into Pakistan or through Iran. It’s unsurprising that many terrorists have used the latter route in leaving Afghanistan. It has also been speculated that the Iranians are hiding members of al-Qaeda.
This only emphasizes the need to continue pushing for democratization in the region. By removing the Hussein regime it has created a fundamental shift within Shi’ite Islam. The Shi’a used to have two primary centers of political and spiritual thought – Najaf and the Imam Ali Shrine, and Qom in Iran. The Najaf brand of Shi’a thought emphasizes the separation of mosque and state, while the Qom brand of Shi’ite thought emphasized theocracy as the only just form of government. When Saddam Hussein took power and began systematically disempowering Iraq Sh’ites, the balance of power shifted dramatically to the Qom worldview.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the reigning Shi’ite cleric in Iraq, and Ayatollah Rumallah Khomeini, the leader of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 were actually contemporaries of each other who bitterly disputed the role of religion and the state. Sistani was an opponent of theocracy, which caused a great deal of friction between Khomeini and Sistani. When Khomeini took over Iran, Sistani remained in Baghdad, unable to challenge Hussein’s brutal regime. Sistani barely survived the Hussein regime, only due to his reclusiveness and his lack of ties to the Shi’a resistance. (In 1980 the popular Iraqi Shi’a cleric Muhammad Bakr al-Sadr (father of Moqtada al-Sadr was executed by Hussein’s regime. In 1997 Sistani himself was nearly killed as well.)
Sistani is a believer that the Iraqis must have self-governance, but he is not a theocrat on the order of Khomeini or Khameini. Now that he is free to preach openly, his brand of Shi’ite philosophy is seeing a new renaissance – especially in Shi’ite Iran where anti-government and pro-democracy protests are becoming more and more frequent. A free and democratic Iraq gives the resistance movement in Iran new hope for democracy, and the fact that one of the world’s leading Shi’a clerics is giving his endorsement to such a state emboldens their position.
There is little doubt that Iran presents a clear threat to the world, both in their support of terrorism and their efforts to create nuclear weapons. It is absolutely critical that the United States continue to support Iraqi sovereignty as well as give whatever support we can to the Iranian resistance movement. The Iranian mullahs can be toppled without the need for direct military intervention – but only so long as we remain absolutely committed to bringing democracy to the region.
UPDATE: The Times is reporting that Iran is the next target in the war on terrorism:
The US will mount a concerted attempt to overturn the regime in Iran if President Bush is elected for a second term.
It would work strenuously to foment a revolt against the ruling theocracy by Iranâ€™s â€œhugely dissatisfiedâ€ population, a senior official has told The Times.
The United States would not use military force, as in Iraq, but â€œif Bush is re-elected there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iranâ€, declared the official, who is determined that there should be no let-up in the Administrationâ€™s War on Terror.
Yet another reason why a Bush reelection is crucial to the war.