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Episode Six: Saddam Sent Secret Messages to Khamenei, Rafsanjani

Episode Six: Saddam Sent Secret Messages to Khamenei, Rafsanjani

Memoirs of Abdel-Halim Khaddam
Saturday, 1 May, 2021 - 10:00
Saddam Hussein and Iran's Health Minister in 1997 (Getty Images - AFP)

In this sixth episode of the memoirs of Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam, Asharq Al-Awsat publishes excerpts of messages exchanged between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, and President Hashemi Rafsanjani, before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Khaddam does not reveal how he obtained these secret messages, some of which are published for the first time. In his draft book on the Syrian-Iranian relationship, he says that Saddam “in preparation for the invasion of Kuwait, took the next step, which is to ease tension with Tehran, to be able to withdraw his forces from the Iraqi-Iranian borders, on one hand, and also to prevent Iran from launching an attack in the event of war against Kuwait. ”

Between April 21 and August 4, 1990, many messages were exchanged between Saddam and the Iranian leadership.

Khaddam comments: “I present to the readers these messages between both sides, to show them that the invasion of Kuwait was not a transient state, but had a goal that is broader than disagreements over debts and oil prices.”

In a letter addressed to Khamenei and Rafsanjani on April 21, 1990, Saddam Hussein said: “I have addressed you on previous occasions, during the Iraq-Iran 1980 - 1990 war, indirectly, through the Iraqi media, which was the only available means (...), and I was also listening to what you say through your media. Our last initiative towards you had the intention of achieving complete and comprehensive peace, which we announced on January 5, 1990…

“This time, I am addressing you in this blessed month, in which Muslims fast as they seek to receive the blessings of the Most Merciful, to hold a direct meeting between us, in which the author of this message (Saddam), and (his deputy) Ezzat Ibrahim (Al-Douri) will represent us, along with a team of our assistants, while your side will be represented by Mssrs Ali Khamenei and Hashemi Rafsanjani and a team of your assistants. I also suggest that the meeting take place in Makkah Al-Mukarramah… or any other place agreed upon between us. Let us work, with the help of God, to achieve the peace that our peoples and the entire Islamic nation await, and by that we spare blood that may flow again for any reason whatsoever.

“You must be following the threats to Iraq and the Arab nation from Zionism and some great and powerful countries. There is no doubt that you know that the main goal of these threats is to keep the Zionist entity free to wreak havoc on earth and to oppress anyone who seeks to obstruct its ambitions in the region and put an end to its occupation of the Arab land of Palestine and the holy Jerusalem, dear to every Muslim…"

“We believe that the direct meeting between us is an opportunity to… block the way to those seeking to obstruct peace…”

Only a few days later, Saddam received an answer from Rafsanjani:

“I have seen your letter. If the subjects of this message had received attention eight years ago, and the message was sent instead of the soldiers, then Iran, Iraq, and perhaps the entire Islamic nation would not be facing all these losses and victims today..."

“We have repeatedly said that if the war had not started and if the capabilities available to the people of Iran and Iraq were used for the sake of unity and preservation of the interests of the Muslims, then the Western arrogance and Zionism would not have dared to do what they did… In any case, a lesson must be learned from everything that happened, and attention must be paid to the fact that the continuation of the state of no peace and no war would bring about more affliction and destruction for the Iranian and Iraqi countries and peoples and further weaken the Islamic nation…"

“On this basis, we welcome any kind of initiative or proposal that leads the two countries to a comprehensive peace, especially in the current circumstance in which the protectors of Israel are trying to take advantage of the rupture of the Islamic world, to obtain more privileges and weaken Muslims and strengthen the Zionists…”

A delegate dispatched by President Yasser Arafat carried Saddam’s message to Tehran on May 22, 1990.

“I take advantage of the arrival of our envoy to you, Brother Abu Khaled, carrying a special message from President Saddam Hussein… this surprising and important message is a goodwill initiative from Iraq to Iran… dictated by the circumstances and the dangers that the Islamic nation is going through (...)"

“The Arab and Islamic worlds, the peoples and countries of the Third World, and the people of Palestine, in particular, await from you a positive and constructive response to the initiative sent to you by Mr. President Saddam Hussein…”

A few days earlier, on May 19, 1990, Saddam Hussein addressed a letter to the leaders in Tehran, saying:

“I received your letter of reply (...). I read it more than once with my brothers in the leadership. Although we understood that you agree to our proposal to hold a meeting between us to find a definitive and final solution to the outstanding problems between our two countries… we found that the spirit of the message was not what we had hoped for. That is because it contained linear phrases at its beginning… and roughness in its conclusion.

“And because we want peace for no reason other than its great importance for us, we put concepts and expressions in our message with our human measurements… so we only used expressions that please God and people, and this does not mean a change in our concepts and opinions, but a way to express our desire to open a new door closer to the opposite side, that is more capable of influencing it in favor of the peace approach, which we consider an honest destination that serves our people and humanity…"

“We understood from your response to the inquiries presented by our ambassador in Geneva to your ambassador there regarding a preliminary meeting between representatives of the two parties that you prefer this method to prepare for the summit meeting. We agree to this arrangement, and our ambassador in Geneva, Barzan Al-Tikriti, has authorized us to hold talks with your ambassador, Cyrus Nasseri, to exchange views on the positions of the two parties, so that each party knows the opinion of the other side in a way that clarifies the picture for us at the meeting at the summit level, which facilitates our mission."

“As for the venue for the summit, we are still waiting for your proposal, because we did not find in your answer a definite opinion on the place that we proposed, which is Makkah Al-Mukarramah, and this may be one of the matters that the two delegates will discuss…”

Rafsanjani replied to Saddam, saying:

“I have received your letter (...) and given the possibility that your government is serious about peace, as it appears in your message, we send you our answer but we hope that we will not waste time from now on in exchanging messages except in necessary cases…"

“In your letter, you complained about some of the expressions and contents of our reply. We surely do not accept that peace messages raise harmful or painful topics. Unfortunately, however, the cornerstone of this building was laid in the first letter you wrote to us, which included a claim that the side facing us is the Arab nation, to which great efforts were made but remained without success or result."

“Moreover, the etiquette followed in official correspondence was not taken care of in your first and second letters, where we found phrases and expressions that contain negative and painful arguments similar to those you pointed to in our message, so it is better to skip them…"

“As for the level of representatives in the talks, it is better to clarify that Mr. Khamenei will not participate in the meetings. Of course, the President of the Republic and the rest of the officials will not do anything contrary to the leader’s opinion, and if the President of the Republic participates, he will inevitably have full powers..."

“As for the venue of the summit, the territory of Saudi Arabia is not, at present, an appropriate place for peace talks. With attention to the existence of multiple places, choosing the right place by the two sides will not represent a problem for us…"

In conclusion, I ask God Almighty to grant us full success to root out the conflict, and pave the way for peace for the two peoples…”

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