An ex-envoy expounds on his mission in Iraq

A former Iranian ambassador to Iraq offers explanations about his Iraq mission.

A former Iranian ambassador to Iraq has reacted to a claim that the late Imam Khomeini had insisted on war with Iraq despite advice by his inner circles to avoid such a conflict.

A memory from the days predating the Iran-Iraq war has changed hands on social networking sites despite the fact that Iran’s former ambassador to Iraq – Seyyed Mahmoud Doaei who was a main player in the memory – had already denied it outright.

Sharq daily’s Marjan Towhidi had a Q-and-A with Mr. Doaei about his time as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, his contacts with Saddam and the controversial memory on the eruption of war. The following is the translation of the Second and Final Part of the interview ( Part One ):

Q: Did you have any meeting with Saddam Hussein during the time you were Iran’s ambassador to Iraq?

A: When I was appointed Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, there were two spectrums in that country: One spectrum was moderate and comprised of seasoned individuals, and the other included hardliners who barely tolerated each other.

I was assigned as Iran’s ambassador to Iraq during Hassan al-Bakr’s tenure [as Iraq’s president]. He welcomed the designation. He completely understood the late Imam Khomeini’s goodwill, and we had a very good meeting.

However, the hardliners – Saddam and his supporters – were opposed to my designation. They had hatched plans for Iran-Iraq relations and they were pursuing what they had planned since much earlier.

I arrived in Iraq on June 5, 1979 and I was called home in February 1980 which marked the end of my assignment in Iraq. During the eight months or so that I was in Iraq, I had several meetings, mainly with Iraqi Foreign Ministry officials. My first meeting was with Hassan al-Bakr. It was a positive meeting based on goodwill and lasted two hours.

But, Hassan al-Bakr was not tolerated in Iraq and was toppled in a coup after which Saddam Hussein took over. During Saddam’s tenure, I had two ceremonial meetings with him, but I never had any talks with Saddam.

Q: Would you please explain those two ceremonial meetings?

A: There were festive occasions for which presidents would usually hold ceremonies and receive foreign ambassadors. I was invited to one such ceremony as the ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran. I offered congratulations on the occasion in that meeting and since it was my first meeting with him (Saddam), I raised a request. My request revolved around the release of Iranians in Iraqi prisons to mark the auspicious occasion. Saddam had apparently ordered [the release] and a number of prisoners had been set free.

Except for that, I did not have any meeting with Saddam. Of course, on another occasion, when Saddam returned home from a trip overseas, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry invited me to be at the airport to welcome Saddam. It was customary to invite diplomatic delegations to welcome the president. I stood along with fellow political representatives. Saddam walked past us and shook everybody’s hand, including me. I did not have any other meetings with Saddam.

Q: After the coup when Saddam became president, did you – as the Iranian envoy to Iraq – convey any message to him? As part of diplomatic protocol, was any step taken on behalf of Iran?

A: It was not customary for ambassadors to convey any messages. If any message was to be conveyed, it would be conveyed through comments by high-ranking officials on different occasions. I was not at a level to carry any message.

Q: The meetings you had with Iraqi foreign ministers, both under Hassan al-Bakr and Saddam, seem to have been mostly critical ones during which the two sides slammed each other….

A: There were two kinds of meetings. In some meetings, they summoned the ambassador to hand in a message in protest at the remarks that had been made in Iran and I passed along those messages. If there were responses from Iran, I notified the Iraqi officials afterward.

Or I would contact Iraq’s Foreign Ministry to relay a message or a protest note to them.

They would usually protest against the comments our officials made in interviews published by newspapers and during official ceremonies, and our objections to them focused on stances they took in newspaper articles, and radio and television programs.

Q: Can you provide examples of Iran’s objections to Iraqi officials and vice-versa?

A: One example was the sermons by the Late [Ayatollah] Montazeri in Tehran Friday prayers in which he officially made remarks against the Ba’ath party and Iraqi officials. Subsequently, Iraqi officials called me in to signal their objection to those statements and called for compensation.

I had told them in previous meetings that after the revolution, freedom prevailed in Iran and that the media corps as well as politicians had their own words and what we attached significance to were the official comments aired by political and Foreign Ministry officials. What mattered were the comments made by the president or foreign minister, I said.

In response, they [Iraqi officials] said: “The most important body you have in your country is the Constituent Assembly which is headed by Mr. Montazeri [who has made such comments]. This means the most senior political official of your country has made such comments.” I was supposed to convey their protest to our officials.

Q: What was the response Iran produced when you handed in this protest message?

A: They said it is incumbent upon us and it is a religious duty [to shed light on what is going on in the region] and words like that.

Our objections to them focused on their stance against Iran. After coming into office, in his first speech Saddam made certain claims about three Persian Gulf Iranian islands and about our Arab-speaking compatriots. I handed over a note of protest to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.

Q: Did they produce any remarkable response?

A: No, I made one objection and they would not respond.

The End