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Iranians Worry About a Possible American Attack

Iranians Worry About a Possible American Attack

By Delphine Minoui
Le Figaro - Translated For
Tuesday 30 January 2007

He remembers it as though it were yesterday. But times have changed. In April 2003, Ali watched with envy as Saddam Hussein's statue got knocked off its pedestal. "My friends and I dreamed of one thing only: seeing American tanks come to Tehran to get rid of the mullahs for us, so we could finally taste freedom!" recounts the 20-year-old Iranian salesman in American-style sneakers and crew-cut hair. But "today, when I see the chaos in Iraq, I say: No thank you. We don't want any GIs here!" he adds, leaning on the counter of his clothing shop, close to the Imam-Khomeini Square in south Tehran.

Here, rumors of possible American strikes are rampant. They are fed by - among other things - Washington's decision to send a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. We're still far from a level of paranoia that would impel Tehran-dwellers to leave the capital. But one sign of growing concern is that some political figures - mute until now about the question - have begun to seriously bring up the probability of an attack.

Mohsen Rezai, the present secretary of the Iranian Expediency Council and former commander in chief of the Pasdaran (Islamic Revolution Guard Corps) during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) is an example. "The Iranian nation is on the point of experiencing a new confrontation," he declared last week during a trip to Dacht-i Azadegan, which is along the Iranian-Iraqi border. A few days earlier, he talked about an "inescapable confrontation" during an interview by Dubai's daily government newspaper, Al Bayan.

This perspective upsets President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's detractors from the right and the left equally, as they reproach him with having already sent the Iranian nuclear issue to the Security Council. Today, they fear seeing his provocative slogans on nuclear issues and the Shoah used as pretexts by George W. Bush to attack Iran, in spite of opposition from the American Congress and European countries.

"Bush demonstrated with the Iraqi invasion that he's capable of being a lone ranger," panics the Kargozaran newspaper in an editorial. According to the on-line reform journal Aftabnews, former President Ali Hashemi Rafsandjani also supposedly communicated during a recent meeting with Iranian MPs that "the Supreme Guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei takes the American threats seriously." The latter, said to be ill and weakened by prostate cancer, did not contradict that news.

"The Region Will Be Set Ablaze"

The Iranian population remains incapable of decoding the tenets and the thrust of the Bush-Ahmadinejad conflict, but they fear, in the end, finding themselves hostage to a war they don't want.

"If America attacks Iran, the whole region will be set ablaze," worries Sadegh Tirafkan. For this 41-year-old Iranian artist, the risks of war are too great to allow him to remain silent. His last work, something between a painting and a photo-montage, presents images of everyday Iranians framed by Persian graphics, like contemporary figurines for an old-fashioned miniature. At each end of the canvas, photos of American soldiers in combat gear threaten this apparent serenity. "I wanted to show that a war would send all the rich culture of the Middle East up in smoke," confides Sadegh Tirafgan. He adds: "Perhaps our leaders have problems between one another, but not our peoples! A war would mean thousands of young Americans and Iranians forced to go die at the front É Look at what's happening in Iraq!"

In his little shop in the south, Ali says he feels the consequences of American threats. "My clientele has already dropped by half since last December's UN vote in favor of sanctions. Today, it's getting worse with fears of an attack. Business is bad!" he says.

Mohammad, a client from nearby, wearing a beard and a black shirt, is a fervent defender of the Iranian regime. He has a word to put in. "Tell the Americans we're not afraid of them. If they attack us, we'll defend our honor ("numous," in Persian) up to the last drop of blood! Our country is like our mother. If a person rapes her, we're ready to kill!" he blurts.

"You know, he's not wrong," murmurs Ali, once the client has slipped out. "It's stronger than we are: Iranians are nationalists. I myself - even though I'm against the government, even though I dream of regime change - I would take up arms if it were necessary," he says. "I love Madonna's songs and Spike Lee's films. But Bush, I can't even stand to see a picture of him!" he continues.

A young woman has just pushed open the shop door. It's Ali's sister, Narguess. She complains about having to put up with the veil all day long. But she doesn't want American-style democracy imposed by force. "At the moment, our security is more important than our freedom," she says.


Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.

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