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8/12/03 - FAITH AND FREEDOM FOR IRAN - 2003-08-12

In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni took power in Iran and established a radical Muslim clerical regime. His grandson, Ayatollah Seyed Hussein Khomeini, is now an outspoken critic of that regime. "It is clear to Iranians that they have suffered from the tyranny of that country," he said, "Iranians want freedom and democracy."

Ayatollah Hussein Khomeini, who recently took refuge in Iraq, was once an ardent spokesman for the Iranian clerical regime. In July 2001, he was in Havana to help dictator Fidel Castro celebrate nearly fifty years of Communist rule. At an event in Iran in June 2002, hosted by the Iranian-Palestinian Friendship Society, he said that "Israel should be wiped off the face of the earth."

Today, Hussein Khomeini is talking very differently. He recently called for the people of Iran themselves to decide their own form of government:

"The only way that seems best at present is to ask for . . . a referendum to decide whether people want the Islamic Republic or not. This is the most suitable way to get out of this critical dead end. This will prove whether or not the regime, as they claim, are supported by the majority or not."

Ayatollah Hussein Khomeini also says the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime was a victory for the Iraqi people:

"They asked us after the U.S. came here if the situation has improved or not. I say in the past thirty-five years the [Saddam] regime has committed so many atrocities that I don't think you can find many parallels in history. Therefore the Iraqi people had no other way except for a power like the U.S. to come to their aid. They believe the U.S. came as a liberation force. . . The people are happy the problem is being worked out and are optimistic about the future."

Ayatollah Hussein Khomeini is also calling for separation of mosque and state -- a view that would have his grandfather spinning in his grave. "Religion has got to be separated from regimes, such as in America," he said. Such separation, he says, is essential to preserve both individual freedom and the integrity of faith.