08.07.10

Mysterious Letter Exposes Iranian State Secrets

A letter rumored to be written by opposition leader Mir Hussein Mousavi 20 years ago has resurfaced and is lighting up Iran's blogosphere. Omid Memarian on why the letter could open decades of dark secrets and bitter rivalries.

A letter rumored to be written by opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi 20 years ago has resurfaced and is lighting up Iran's blogosphere. Omid Memarian on why the letter could open decades of dark secrets and bitter rivalries.

Hidden away for more than 20 years, a mystery letter suddenly reappeared last week.

The letter, supposedly written by a Tehran insider turned opposition leader, was explosive: it alleged that Iran sponsors terrorism abroad.

Like a middle manager ignored by his bosses, the letter writer expressed frustration that he was kept in the dark about Iran's involvement in events that he described as “operations abroad.”

“If they were to engage about the validity of the letter’s contents, skeletons would come tumbling out of the closet, and that wouldn’t be good for anyone in power.”

“After an airplane is hijacked, we are informed; After a machine gun opens fire on a street in Lebanon and its sound is heard, we learn about it; After explosives are found on our pilgrims in Jeddah, I am informed of it,” said the letter, allegedly written by Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the leader of the Green Movement that sparked massive protests after last year’s fraudulent election.

The letter is an embarrassment for the Iranian government, which has always denied involvement in terrorist attacks beyond its borders. And no matter the origin of this mysterious letter or why it suddenly reappeared, it quickly set the Iranian blogosphere on fire. And for those outside the country, it became a window on the secretive world of Iranian politics.

Mousavi was prime minister when the letter was first published and some say this was his resignation letter. After it was initially published in 1988, he disappeared from politics for decades, reinventing himself last year as the leader of the strongest opposition movement the Islamic Republic has ever seen.

Neither Mousavi nor people close to him have questioned the letter’s authenticity which was reposted by websites including Balatarin.com, the Iranian version of Digg.com, making it a viral sensation.

The original recipient of the letter was President Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, who has tried to quell the demands of the so-called Green Movement that protested the results of the Iranian elections last year as fraudulent.

The letter was first published in a newspaper by the first president of the Iranian republic who today lives in exile in France. Abolhassan Banisadr re-published the letter on his website, Jomhoori Eslami (Islamic Republic), last week.

“This letter has historical significance now,” Banisadr told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. “At the time of its initial publication it was significant, too, because it clearly stated that the Iranian regime was involved in terrorist activities abroad; that these actions were not sporadic, but that it was the Iranian government that was engaged in terrorist activities.”

Neither Khamenei nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has commented on the letter. But people in Iran speculate that the letter re-emerged at this moment because Mousavi was threatening to reveal secrets in connection with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, having been accused by current Iranian authorities of losing the war. And some hope that Mousavi’s secrecy standoff with the government might cast light on another dark moment in Iran’s history–the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, which reportedly cost the lives of thousands of people. Within Iran, the executions are a taboo subject. But last month, Mousavi alluded to them, suggesting that his cabinet was kept in the dark.

Omid Memarian is columnist whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications. He was a World Peace Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism in 2007-2009 and the 2005 recipient of the Human Rights Defender Award, the highest honor bestowed by Human Rights Watch.