Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia

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BITTER RIVALS: Iran and Saudi Arabia (PART I)

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent:  [voice-over]  I’ve reported from the Middle East for nearly two decades, yet I’ve never visited Tehran before.   I’ve come here to report on the intense rivalry between Shia Iran and its Sunni neighbor, Saudi Arabia.  It’s been nearly 40 years since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini led a revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed monarchy.  Ever since, relations with the outside world have been strained.

Chapter One


For an American journalist, it’s not easy to report here.  This is an authoritarian state.  It takes courage for Iranians to speak out.  Many have been jailed for opposing the government.

SASSAN, Guide:  One of the sights that you are going to see on the 22nd when Imam Khomeini has his lecture.

MARTIN SMITH:  My guide is Sassan.  Usually, Sassan works with tourists, but he has been assigned to me by a media agency that operates on behalf of the government.

[on camera]  Sassan, you tell me again, who is this man we’re going to see?

SASSAN:  This gentleman?

MARTIN SMITH:  Yes, tell me

[voice-over]  We’ve given them a list of people we hope to meet, but it’s not clear who the government will actually approve.

SASSAN:  Mr. Rafighdoost is one of the living historians of the Iranian revolution.  And me as an Iranian, this is the first time I’m going to see him from the very close in person.

MARTIN SMITH:  The man we’re going to visit today, Mohsen Rafighdoost, is a founder of Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC.  Today, as result of his connections, he’s one of the wealthiest men in Iran, with stakes in hundreds of companies.  In the late ‘70s, he led protests against Iran’s unpopular Shah, preparing for the day Ayatollah Khomeini would return from exile.  On February 1st, 1979, Rafighdoost was in charge of Khomeini’s security.

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST: [subtitles] Thirty-eight years have passed now, and still I remember that day.  Whenever it’s being discussed, my mood changes and I get very excited.

MARTIN SMITH:  Iran’s Western-backed monarch, the Shah, had left the country on what he said was a vacation.  Khomeini seized the moment.

[on camera]  What was going through your mind and in your heart about what this meant for the country?

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST:  [subtitles] It was a shared feeling among all the six to eight million people who attended the ceremony.  It was 15 years since I had last seen Imam.  When I saw him, I felt like I was seeing all the good in the world collected in the form of a person.

NEWSCASTER:  The people were in a frenzy to catch just a glimpse of the man they revere like a god.  They clawed and clamored and ran to see and be near him for 15 miles, and no more than a tiny fraction of the multitude succeeded.

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST:  [subtitles] I’m 76 years old now.  I believe those three hours and 20 minutes were the most precious time of my whole life.

CROWD:  [subtitles] God is great!  God is great!

MARTIN SMITH:  Later that same day, Khomeini gave his first major address to the Iranian people.  It was a rejection of British and American domination of the Shah’s Iran.

AYATOLLAH KHOMEINI:  [subtitles] I’m going to punch this government in the mouth!  I will decide the government. And it will be a government for the people because the people have accepted me.

CROWD: [subtitles]  God is great!  God is great!

MARTIN SMITH:  Khomeini would now use religion to re-order every aspect of Iranian life.  And he declared that Islam was fundamentally opposed to the whole notion of monarchy.  His message was a direct assault on kings from the Gulf states to Saudi Arabia.  Iranians believed it was the end of decades of autocratic rule and repression.

JAVAD ZARIF, Foreign Minister, Iran:  I believe the revolution was a demand for dignity on the part of the Iranian people.  They wanted recognition for who they were, for their history, for their identity.

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera] Do you think Americans generally understand the Iranian experience prior to the revolution?

JAVAD ZARIF:  I guess not.  I believe the American people have not been subjected to the type of indignation and lack of respect that the people of Iran were subjected to.

NEWSCASTER:  Today, both the peaceful economy and the defensive strength of the free world are heavily dependent upon the petroleum resources of Iran.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  As the Iranians tell it, there were decades of exploitation and abuse.  The West had relied upon Iran to supply much of its oil.

NEWSCASTER:  ─has supplied more than a quarter of Britain’s needs─

MARTIN SMITH:  The British had commandeered a near monopoly of Iranian oil profits.

NEWSCASTER:  Iran becomes the center of a major international crisis.

MARTIN SMITH:  Then in 1951, Mohammed Mossadegh was nominated by Iran’s parliament to lead the country’s first democratically elected government.  After Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s British-run oil industry and chased the Shah from Tehran, the CIA and British spies engineered a coup in 1953.  Mossadegh was arrested, imprisoned and lived in captivity for 14 years until his death.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. State Dept., 1972-2012:  We’re not so great at history in America.  When we say, “That’s history,” it’s a pejorative.  Well, the rest of the world takes history pretty seriously.  And 1953 definitely resonated in 1979.  It resonates today.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Shah was reinstalled.  To stay in power, he built a massive police state and relied on the West for support.

Pres. JIMMY CARTER:  Iran, because of the great leadership of the Shah, is an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.

NEWSCASTER:  What the United States gave the Shah aside from flattery was military might.

MARTIN SMITH:  The U.S. sold him weapons, and the CIA trained the Shah’s secret police, the SAVAK, which brutally suppressed all opposition.

NEWSCASTER:  During the trouble, I saw the police beating passersby indiscriminately with their sticks.

MARTIN SMITH:  By 1978, the country was convulsed with protests.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles] Death to the Shah!  Death to the Shah!

MARTIN SMITH:  The people wanted control of their own destiny.

NEWSCASTER:  The fact is, the Shah has failed to make civilian government work.  And until a proper solution is found here, there can be no satisfactory form of government for Iran.

MARTIN SMITH:  Then came 1979 and Khomeini’s revolution.  Its impact was felt across the Middle East, wherever unpopular elites were supported by the U.S.

NEWSCASTER:  A huge mob armed with rifles and shotguns and screaming, “Kill the American dogs,” stormed the U.S. embassy compound in Islamabad and set parts of it afire.

AHMED RASHID, Author, Descent Into Chaos:  1979 was a crucial year, I think, for the Muslim world.  I mean, Sunnis were celebrating the Iranian revolution as much as Shias were.  There was enormous enthusiasm and support because Khomeini’s initial line was not sectarian, against the Sunnis and such, it was anti-American.

NEWSCASTER:  Iran today saw the biggest demonstration yet.  More than one million persons marched through the streets, shouting “Death to the Shah,” “Death to Carter.”

BERNARD HAYKEL, Author, Revival and Reform in Islam:  Khomeini’s vision was to annihilate America’s presence from the Middle East.  He wanted this Islamic revolution of his to spread, and to see the end of Western influence, cultural, political, military, financial, in the entire Islamic world.

JAVAD ZARIF:  It just provided the example that people, without any foreign help, were able to engage a very brutal regime, supported primarily by the United States, and defeat it.

SASSAN:  [subtitles]  Just say they’re reporters.  They’re filmmakers.  They’re making a program for television.

MARTIN SMITH:  To this day, loyal regime supporters gather to celebrate their revolution.  They march down Enghelab or Revolution Street every February 11th.

[on camera]  What brings you here today?

BOY:  [subtitles] I’m here because my country is the best in the world.

SASSAN:  My country is the best country in all of the world.

MARTIN SMITH:  What makes your country the best country in all of the world?

BOY:  [subtitles]  Because during the Islamic Revolution, we were able to kick the United States out of here.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Almost four decades of indoctrination have ritualized these anti-American sentiments.

[on camera]  Hello.  My name is Martin.  How do you do?

[voice-over]  But what we didn’t expect is how everyone went out of their way to welcome an American reporter.

MAN:  I like all the people in the USA.

MARTIN SMITH:  They make a distinction.

MAN:  [subtitles] The people of America are different from their politicians.  Those politicians are just a bunch of rich people.  They’re different than 99 percent of the American people.

MARTIN SMITH: Many people stay away in protest against the regime, but government employees are expected to attend.

MAN:  [subtitles] Until our last breath, until the last drop of our blood, we will stand with the revolution.

MAN:  [singing]  [subtitles] The spirit of the revolution can be seen in the bodies and souls of this new generation.  It was not just the efforts of our nation.  Our victory was in the hands of God.

MARTIN SMITH:  Compared to the passions of 1979, the whole march had a kind of carnival feel to it.  There were plenty of anti-Western posters with all those familiar slogans.


PROTESTER: Down with America!

CROWD:  Down with America!

PROTESTER:  Down with Israel!

CROWD:  Down with Israel!

PROTESTER:  Down with the unfaithful House of Saud!

CROWD:  Down with the unfaithful House of Saud!

MARTIN SMITH:  More than anything, the march was about pride and defiance.

PROTESTER:  [singing] [subtitles]  Our country still has so many soldiers.  On this road, there’s no turning back.  We’re rocks.  Those who are silent are afraid.  We are shouting, so we are men of war.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles]  Down with America!  Down with America!

MARTIN SMITH:  But in the beginning, it was not clear if this revolution would survive.  It was the American hostage crisis that would help Khomeini secure its future.

NEWSCASTER:  The American embassy in Tehran is in the hands of Muslim students tonight.  Spurred on by an anti-American speech by the Ayatollah Khomeini, they stormed the embassy, fought the Marine guards for three hours, overpowered them, and took dozens of American hostages.

MARTIN SMITH:  The fear was that the United States was preparing to reinstall the Shah.  A small group of students reacted.

MASOUMEH EBTEKAR:  The hostages are in our hands, and we─

MARTIN SMITH:  Masoumeh Ebtekar was a spokesperson for the students.

MASOUMEH EBTEKAR:  ─so that in the case of any military intervention, we will destroy them.

MASOUMEH EBTEKAR, Vice President, Iran:  The students, they believed that there is a serious possibility that what happened in 1953, the coup d’etat, could again happen.  History could repeat itself.

NEWSCASTER:  Militant Muslim students today vowed to kill the 49 American hostages if the U.S. launches a military attack against Iran.  Their demand remains the same, return the Shah to stand trial.

MARTIN SMITH:  The taking of the hostages was initially prompted when President Carter reluctantly granted the Shah permission to enter a U.S. hospital.

NEWSCASTER:  The Former Shah of Iran is suffering from cancer and is receiving needed treatment in this country.

MOHAMMAD MARANDI, Tehran University:  The United States gave refuge to the person who had imprisoned thousands of people, who had killed thousands of people on the streets of Tehran.  He was a mass murderer.  Yet the United States let him into their country, took him to a hospital.  And then they expected the Iranian students not to show outrage?

NEWSCASTER:  The Iranians burned the United States flag and denounced the U.S. government, saying they would stay until the U.S. sends the deposed Shah back to Iran.

MASOUMEH EBTEKAR:  The students, they thought that they would take the embassy for a few hours maybe.  But then suddenly, the people poured out in the millions in support of this.  And suddenly, Imam supported it, too.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Khomeini?


AYATOLLAH KHOMEINI:  [subtitles] Our young people have taken over this nest of corruption.  They have captured the Americans there, and America can’t do a damn thing about it.

MASOUMEH EBTEKAR:  Imam Khomeini, he named this overwhelming response of the people.  He named it as the second revolution.  He used it to actually construct the political institutions of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Yankee go home!  Yankee go home!

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. State Dept., 1972-2012:  This was a tactical ploy to take the embassy, to demonstrate revolutionary credentials in the face of the Great Satan.  We were just a useful tool, and the regime fostered its legitimacy by confronting the United States.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  After the hostage crisis, Khomeini was fully empowered.  Post-colonial Middle Eastern states had embraced nationalism, capitalism and communism, but with Khomeini’s revolution, Iran was embracing Islam.

VALI NASR, Author, The Shia Revival:  Before ‘79, Islam as a political phenomenon was a marginal idea in the region.  The Arab world was all about socialism and Arab nationalism, and Iran was dominated by secular forces.  Now, once Khomeini takes over, Islam is squarely put in the middle of the table in the Middle East.

MARTIN SMITH:  A few hours south of Tehran is the holy city of Qom, Iran’s preeminent center of Shia learning.

SASSAN:  We go to the office of Ayatollah, if you want to interview anything─

MARTIN SMITH:  OK.   Great.  Perfect.  Thank you.

[voice-over]  I wanted to talk to an Ayatollah here about Khomeini’s revolution.

AYATOLLAH HADAWI TEHRANI, Islamic scholar and Jurist:  After Islamic revolution, there is a movement towards religion, towards God.  And there is a new role for the religion in all the issues, global issues, international issues.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Iranian revolution established that Islamic law, Sharia, would now govern Iran.  And Khomeini determined that a cleric should rule as its head, a cleric who received his authority directly from God.

AYATOLLAH HADAWI TEHRANI:  We believe that imams, they are guided by God.  And therefore, they are able to show us the right path.  And this is the idea of Shia.

MARTIN SMITH:  Shia are a minority sect, around 12 percent of all Muslims.  They split from the majority Sunnis 1,400 years ago following the death of the Prophet Mohammed.

BERNARD HAYKEL, Author, Revival and Reform in Islam:  When the Prophet Muhammad died in 632, a dispute emerged over who would succeed him.  And the Sunnis believed that the leadership of the Muslim state and community would go to his best friend and companion, a man called Abu Bakr.  But the Shias believe that Ali, the cousin, should have succeeded the prophet.

MARTIN SMITH:  Shia means “followers of Ali.”  And they developed a doctrine that Ali and his successors were infallible representatives of God.

BERNARD HAYKEL:  He had a certain quality that was similar to that of the prophet in that he was impeccable or made no errors.  He was error-free.  The Sunnis never agreed to this.

MARTIN SMITH:  While in exile, Khomeini took this Shia belief and formulated a new kind of government around it.  He called the principle “velayat-e faqih,” the guardianship of the jurist.

BERNARD HAYKEL:  What Khomeini did was that he politicized what was until then much more of a religious/spiritual doctrine and turned it into a political doctrine whereby a jurist, a legal and theological scholar, could actually rule a state.

MARTIN SMITH:  Many Shia scholars believed Khomeini had gone too far.

BERNARD HAYKEL:  He would rule the country and he would have ultimate and final say over all matters.  And if he issues a command in his capacity as the supreme leader of Iran, then obeying him is required and disobeying him is a sin.

MARTIN SMITH:  He declared his Islamic revolution in the name of all Muslims, Shia and Sunni, but that’s not how others saw it.

AFSHON OSTOVAR, Author, Vanguard of the Imam:  The revolution had two sides.  Certainly, rhetorically, the Khomeinist Revolution, the 1979 revolution, was pan-Islamic.  But right below that rhetoric, these were Shia clerics taking over a country and remaking that country by the ideas, the beliefs, the mores of the Shia clergy. So, it was inextricably Shia.  It was outwardly Shia.  And all of Iran’s neighbors saw this.  Even if it had sort of pan-Islamic ambitions, it was very much a Shia experiment.

VALI NASR:  The fact that Khomeini carried out the revolution in the name of Islam was a source of his popularity and power in the Arab world.  The fact that he was a Shia ruler was also the limit of his power.  And it’s that limit that the Saudis, Pakistanis, Egyptians, Jordanians used in order to make sure the Iranian revolution doesn’t spread.

MARTIN SMITH:  No country feared the spread of Khomeini’s revolution more than here, across the Gulf, Saudi Arabia.  It was a direct challenge for the leadership of the Islamic world and to the royal House of Saud.


Chapter Two


MARTIN SMITH:  Until 1979, the Saudi royal family maintained relations with Iran.  The two countries were both Western-backed, oil-rich monarchies that the U.S. saw as pillars of Gulf security.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, Dir. of Saudi Intelligence, 1977-2001:  We had very good relations with the shah, especially in his later years.  I remember before Khomeini came, I had gone to Tehran to see the shah.  And I remember driving to his palace, Yerevan palace.  It was after dusk, and there were no lights in the palace because there had been a strike by the oil workers and there was no fuel for the generators.  And it was very indicative of what was happening in Tehran, that he was losing his authority.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  So there’s a big question mark.  Khomeini comes to Tehran.  And you must have been listening carefully to his words.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  Absolutely.  Khomeini described the rulers of the Gulf as being like the shah, who must be toppled.

KIM GHATTAS, Journalist/Author:  Khomeini really rattles the Saudis because the supreme leader was, in essence, undermining the Saudi royal family’s own credentials as the leaders of the Muslim world because they are home to Mecca and Medina, the two holy sites in Islam.  This is what gives them a leadership role in the Middle East.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  An absolute monarchy, the Saudi royal family retains control over everything, from the country’s oil to the news media.

This is the fifth time I’ve reported from here.  In 2005, I was allowed a rare visit inside the royal palace in Riyadh.  It was the occasion of a Majlis, where the kingdom’s subjects come for a royal audience.  It reveals a lot about how this country is governed.

Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, a son of the kingdom’s founder, was then the de facto ruler.  To one side sat Sunni Wahhabi clerics, guardians of tradition, who habitually resist change.  On his other side, the royal family, allies to the West.  These are the partners in power.

After the clerics and the royals paused to pray together, I took the chance of asking the crown prince about his family’s claim to power.  He barely responded.

[on camera]  What is the legitimacy of the monarchy based upon?

ABDULLAH BIN ABDUL AZIZ:  [subtitles]  Our legitimacy comes from Islamic theology and the glorious Koran.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  In fact their legitimacy is rooted in the deal made at the founding of the Saudi state in 1932.  King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud, in order to unify the warring tribes of Arabia, signed a pact with fundamentalist Wahhabi clerics.

The Wahhabis follow the teachings of an 18th century Islamic cleric, Mohammed bin Abd al Wahhab, who had demanded a return to an older, harsher faith.

KHALED AL-DAKHIL, Political Sociologist:  Being harsh, that reflects the circumstances of Arabia in the 18th century.  You know, when a religious political movement starts, always at the beginning, they are very austere, very conservative, very harsh, very radical.

ALI SHIHABI, Founder, Arabia Foundation:  Wahhabism really is an extremely puritan form of Islam.  The Wahhabis believe that Islam has to be cleansed of all the accoutrements, that there has to be very literal interpretation of the text.  And they are very intolerant about people who don’t agree with them.

GRAND MUFTI: [subtitles]  So fellow Muslims, you should advise all Muslims…

MARTIN SMITH:  In Riyadh, I listened as Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, the Grand Mufti, warned his faithful against deviation.  The Mufti is a direct descendant of Abd al Wahhab.

GRAND MUFTI: [subtitles]  Do not stray toward deviant beliefs, which are against the path of Islam and Muslims.

MARTIN SMITH:  Fundamentalist Sunnis believe in a direct personal connection between a believer and God.  They abhor the Shia embrace of clerical hierarchy, saints, shrines and icons.

AFSHON OSTOVAR, Author, Vanguard of the Imam:  Wahhabism has a very stark anti-Shia perspective.  There’s no nuance with its perspective on Shi’ism.  Shi’ites are heretics.  Shi’ism is a heretical strain, which makes them effectively non-Muslims.  They’re not part of the tent.

MARTIN SMITH:  Throughout the 1970s, the royal family faced dual challenges.  They were trying to modernize the country and maintain their alliance with the Wahhabi clerics.

NEWSCASTER:  One of the teachings of Islam is that every Muslim should at least once make a pilgrimage to Mecca…

MARTIN SMITH:  Their guardianship of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina had always been their greatest responsibility.

NEWSCASTER:  The fact that Mecca is the source and the shrine of Islam gives Saudi Arabia a central place in the Islamic world.

MARTIN SMITH:  But then in November 1979, the Grand Mosque of Mecca came under terrorist attack.

NEWSCASTER:  Fifteen thousand pilgrims were praying at dawn when the thirty giant doors were sealed off by hundreds of members of a Muslim sect.  The first pictures of the siege showed gunfire from the minarets of the Muslim world’s holiest shrine.  An eyewitness said he heard machine guns and explosions, possibly grenades, within the Mosque compound.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  The Saudi leadership saw this as a challenge to the security and the stability of the kingdom.

NEWSCASTER:  Six or seven thousand pilgrims remain inside the buildings as hostages…

MARTIN SMITH:  It was just days after the hostage crisis in Iran began.  The assumption in the West was that Iran or Iranian-inspired Shi’ites were to blame.  Khomeini shot back, blaming the Americans.

NEWSCASTER:  Khomeini for his part is blaming the United States for the Muslim extremist takeover in the holy mosque at Mecca─

MARTIN SMITH:  The Saudis soon found out that the attack was led by a young Saudi militant, part of a fringe group of Wahhabi extremists.

NEWSCASTER:  The gunmen seek to purify the religion from what they say is the corrupt influence of the current Saudi Arabian government.

MARTIN SMITH:  Then things went from bad to worse.  And this time, Iran was involved.  In the oil-rich eastern province, thousands of Shia took to the streets in protest.  This is what the royals had always feared.

VALI NASR, Author, The Shia Revival:  The Saudis rightly feared that the Shia population in the eastern provinces, where all of their oil is, are very quickly going to gravitate towards Iran.  And they may become rebellious.  They may become secessionist.

MARTIN SMITH:  A minority politically and economically excluded for years, Saudi Shias waved pictures of Khomeini and demanded that Riyadh grant them more rights.

RADIO BROADCAST:  [subtitles] People in the east have suffered far greater [than others]─

MARTIN SMITH:  They were encouraged by Iranian radio stations.

RADIO BROADCAST:  [subtitles] Holy hatred has spread in the hearts of the people against these unjust tyrants!

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Radio stations in Iran called for the Shia to rise up against the state here.  You weren’t in government at that time.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia:  I was a student.

MARTIN SMITH:  You were a student.  Do you remember it?


MARTIN SMITH:  What was your reaction then?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR: It’s not their business to interfere in our affairs.  The Saudis who are Shia are Saudi citizens.  They belong to the Saudi state.  Their loyalty is to the Saudi state.  And Iran or any or nobody else either has the right to interfere.  We don’t go and try to provoke minorities in Iran.  We don’t go and try to provoke the Sunnis in Iran into taking up arms against the Iranian state.

JAVAD ZARIF:  We did not take action against any country.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The Iranians see it differently.

JAVAD ZARIF:  We made our views clear about the nature of governments that were submissive to the United States, governments that were presenting a message of hatred.

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera]  But back in 1979, there were radio reports coming out of Iran calling for Shia in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia to rise up against the monarchy.


MARTIN SMITH:  That sounds like interference to me.

JAVAD ZARIF:  We always rejected the use of force against governments.  We may have encouraged people to ask for their rights.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  To crush the uprising, the Saudis pulled whole battalions of national guard away from Mecca and brutally suppressed the protests.  At the same time, back in Mecca, after a two-week standoff, the army, with the help of French commandos, moved in with heavy weapons and explosives, and with permission from the Wahhabi clerics.

NEWSCASTER:  A religious council had to be convened to permit the assault on the holy mosque.

NEWSCASTER:  Saudi troops have been conducting a mop-up operation there after driving out all but a handful of Muslim gunmen.

MARTIN SMITH:  Scores of rebels were killed.  Among those captured was their ringleader, Juhayman al Otaibi.  Juhayman and his followers had been outraged by recent social changes and liberalization condoned by the royal family.

Over the previous decade, the monarchy had permitted a gradual loosening of religious rules.  Women had been given prominent roles in the media and were anchoring news programs without head coverings.  Western brands, pop culture and luxury goods flooded the country.

NEWSCASTER:  As the thirst for oil grows bigger, Saudi Arabia gets richer and richer and richer.  But Western money has brought Western attitudes along with it.

BERNARD HAYKEL:  The 1970s oil boom was very disruptive to a traditional society.  And the reaction of some of the zealots that they had in 1979 in the takeover of the great mosque was a reaction to that modernization.

MARTIN SMITH:  In fact, Juhayman would get his way.  After his execution, the Wahhabi establishment pressured the royals to put in place many of the conservative Islamic practices Juhayman had called for.

KHALED AL-DAKHIL, Columnist, Al Hayat Daily:  The consequence of that siege, the government started to be more conservative than it was before.  I think the government was trying to absolve themselves, and that, “We are not anti-religious.  We are not anti the religious establishment.”  They emphasize their religious credentials.

MARTIN SMITH:  Women announcers were banned from TV.  Even Western companies within Saudi Arabia were discouraged from employing women.  Movie theaters and music shops were shut down.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  There was a reaction.  Religious authority in the kingdom promoted stricter practices of Islam, whether it is in prayers, in the performance of religious duties, and social mores─ meaning, for example, women had to be more veiled, if you like, than had previously been practiced.

MARTIN SMITH:  As Iran had embraced Shia Islam, Saudi Arabia now fully embraced its own fundamentalist Sunni Islam.

[on camera]  The double hit that Saudi Arabia took, both the revolution of 1979 and the siege of Mecca, did result in increasing sectarianism coming out of Iran, but also coming from Saudi Arabia.  Is that a fair statement?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  I think perhaps in some social contexts.  But also, there were some who saw Khomeini’s efforts must be countered by a similar sectarian thrust from Saudi Arabia.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The Saudi government would grant their religious establishment billions more Saudi petrodollars to spread Wahhabism around the world.

BERNARD HAYKEL:  They have to double down after 1979 because they have these zealots internally.  They have the threat of Iran.  So they mobilize all their religious resources.  They pump a lot of money into religion, basically, both domestically and internationally, in order to boost their legitimacy and in order to ward off and fight the Iranian threat, which was very serious.

MARTIN SMITH:  And then came an historic opportunity to promote Wahhabi ideas in a country back across the Gulf, a country that had been founded as an Islamic republic, Pakistan.

Chapter Three


MARTIN SMITH:  The King Faisal Mosque in Islamabad is the largest mosque in Pakistan and among the largest in the world.  Evoking a Bedouin tent, it’s named after Saudi King Faisal because he funded it.

AHMED RASHID, Author, Descent Into Chaos:  The King Faisal Mosque is a very powerful symbol.  It was built at the height of the relationship between the Pakistanis and the Saudis.  Khomeini’s revolution was a religious revolution in favor of Shi’ism, and that really prompted the Saudis then to spend so much money around the Sunni world to build up support for Saudi Arabia and support for Wahhabi-ism.

MARTIN SMITH:  Since the 1960s, the Saudis have funneled over $100 billion into funding mosques and religious schools all over the world.  Sixty years ago, there were 244 madrassas in Pakistan.  Today there are 24,000.  Many of them are still teaching conservative Wahhabi doctrines.

A majority Sunni country with a large Shia population, Pakistan has become increasingly sectarian over the years.

MAHMUD ALI DURRANI, Pakistani Ambassador to U.S., 2006-08:  You know, when I was a young boy, I didn’t know who was a Shia in my class or who was a Sunni.  It didn’t matter.  It was not an issue.  But after the Iranian Revolution and after the Saudi money pouring in here, we split between the Shia and the Sunni.  It is after that, ‘79, that this became a major issue in Pakistan.

AHMED RASHID:  Of course, the Saudis, they wanted to stop Iranian influence, and Pakistan became the junior partner.  But I think for the Saudis, the great opportunity was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

NEWSCASTER:  ABC News has learned that a massive build-up of Soviet troops is taking place in Afghanistan, leading some intelligence analysts to conclude that a Soviet invasion is underway.

MARTIN SMITH:  In the same year as the Saudis were confronted with the Iranian revolution and the siege of Mecca, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.  The Saudis seized the opportunity to defend their Muslim brethren against the godless communists and to gain regional influence.  They found a perfect partner in Pakistan’s president, Zia ul-Haq.

NEWSCASTER:  President Zia ul-Haq is very much the man in charge of Pakistan these days.  He rules the country with his own particular style.

MARTIN SMITH:  Zia had come to power in a coup and begun a campaign to Islamicize every aspect of Pakistani society.

NEWSCASTER:  When Pakistan was founded, equal rights for women were enshrined in the constitution.  Women were accepted in many professions.  Under General Zia’s martial law regime, the orthodox Muslim view is gaining ground that a woman should be completely covered and veiled.

AHMED RASHID:  We’d never had such a transformative military dictator who wanted to change the whole British inherited colonial system of state institutions, the legal system, the constitution, and change it all towards an Islamic system.  Zia introduced Sharia courts and set up a parallel Islamic system of punishments.

NEWSCASTER:  There are public floggings in Pakistan, and the authorities put microphones around the necks of those being flogged so their screams could be amplified to the crowds watching the flogging.

ZIA UL-HAQ:  We started out with an open hand, a hand of love and affection for the people of Pakistan.  But then I find that at times, a squeeze has to be applied.

AHMED RASHID:  All this, Zia carried out with his own agenda, but which was very lavishly funded by the Saudis.

MARTIN SMITH:  Funded by the Saudis, with the support of the United States.

Pres. JIMMY CARTER: In addition, we are deeply grateful for President Zia’s visit.  He’s a military man who received part of his training in our country.  He’s familiar with our own nation.  His knowledge of the sensitivities and ideals of America make him particularly dear to us.

MARTIN SMITH:  Beyond his expression of friendship, President Carter pledged to defend Pakistan and Saudi Arabia against Soviet expansion into the Gulf with its oil.  It became known as the Carter Doctrine.

Pres. JIMMY CARTER:  An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America.

TALAT MASOOD, Political Analyst:  The United States wanted Pakistan and the region to become a bastion against communism.  And in order to become a bastion, they thought that these religious forces were the best to act as some sort of a great break against the expansion of communist forces, and that resulted in creating a monster in Pakistan and in the region.

MARTIN SMITH:  President Carter approved a covert operation in which the U.S. and Saudis would jointly fund the Afghan Mujahedeen.

STEVE COLL, Author, Ghost Wars:  And it was Pakistan and its intelligence service, ISI, that identified the Afghan rebel groups that they wanted most to support.  And so, Pakistan really affiliated itself with some of the networks that regarded Shi’ism as you know, heresy.

MARTIN SMITH: [on camera]  So basically, the Americans outsourced the selection of who to back to the ISI, to the secret service of Pakistan.


MARTIN SMITH:  And they chose the most radical element of the jihadists.

STEVE COLL:  That’s right, partly because Pakistan chose the most radical elements among the jihadists because it saw that radicalism as a potential instrument of control in post-Soviet Afghanistan.  If they won the war, these were groups that would be loyal to them.

NEWSCASTER:  In Afghanistan, the Soviets are continuing their heaviest offensive of the war against the Afghan rebels.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The war dragged on for years.  Following Carter, President Reagan celebrated the efforts of the Afghan fighters and dramatically increased their support.

Pres. RONALD REAGAN:  You are not alone, freedom fighters.  America will support you with moral and material assistance, your right not just to fight and die for freedom, but to fight and win freedom.

NEWSCASTER:  Intelligence sources have told NBC News that the administration is now sending secretly more than $600 million worth of military supplies to the resistance fighters in Afghanistan.

AHMED RASHID:  Now we know, of course, that every billion that the Americans were giving to the Afghan Mujahedeen to fight the Soviets, the Saudis were matching that.

MARTIN SMITH:  And the Saudis did even more.  The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia had decreed the war a jihad and encouraged thousands of Saudis to become holy warriors.  One of the first to go to Pakistan and join the Afghan cause was this man.

AHMED RASHID:  When bin Laden came to Pakistan, his first job, which was given to him by the C.I.A. and Pakistani intelligence, was actually to create ammunition dumps and arms dumps on the Pakistan-Afghan border but just inside Afghanistan.  And he dug out these caves, which eventually became, of course, the famous caves of Tora Bora, where he escaped to after the Americans bombed him and invaded Afghanistan.

NEWSCASTER:  The last major convoy of Soviet troops from Kabul has crossed the border from Afghanistan into the Soviet Union on its way home.  The last Soviet soldiers─

MARTIN SMITH:  By 1989, after 10 years of fighting, the Mujahedeen had succeeded.

NEWSCASTER:  ─13,000 Soviet soldiers killed, and the Afghan guerrillas stronger today than when it all started.

AHMED RASHID:  The moment the war ended, the Americans handed over Afghan policy to the Pakistanis and the Saudis and literally told them, I mean, “We’re out of here now.  You do what you will.  You do what you want.”

And what we had then was Pakistan and Saudi joint support for bringing in extremist Afghan Mujahedeen into power.  And of course, everything stems from there.  If you see the growth of al Qaeda and the acts of terrorism against the West, it all stems from this original cardinal sin whereby jihad is elevated and is then supported at a global level by everyone.

MARTIN SMITH:  Many of the jihadists trained for the Afghan war would mature into the jihadists of al Qaeda and ISIS, encouraged by Saudi Wahhabi teachings.

[on camera]  Why was it that this extremism came from your schools and from your mosques?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia:  It was the provocation of the Iranian revolution created a reaction in the Sunni world that then translated into extremism and violence on our streets.

MARTIN SMITH:  So you blame the Iranians?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  In part, yes.  And in part, I blame ourselves also in hindsight because it─ are there things that we could have done?  Probably.  But at the time that this was all─ that all these forces were being unleashed, you deal with them at the time.  Thirty years later, you can go back and say, “Could things have been done differently?”  Of course.

MARTIN SMITH:  That’s an important reflection on your part, I think.  I think a lot of Americans feel that they never hear that from the Saudis.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  But that’s the reality.  That’s the nature of life.  You learn as you go.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  While the Saudis supported jihad in Afghanistan, Iran took sides in another regional war.  Across the Middle East, west of Iraq and Syria and bordering Israel, is Lebanon.

Chapter Four


MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  I drove south into Lebanon’s Shia heartland and the town of Nabatieh.  Lebanon has had a large Shia minority for hundreds of years.

NICHOLAS BLANFORD, Author, Warriors of God:  There’s been a linkage between the Lebanese Shia and Iran that goes back centuries, so there are family connections that continue to persist.  The followers of Khomeini going back to the 1960s have been there.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Shia had been a poor and disenfranchised group compared to Lebanon’s Christians and Sunnis.

MOHAMMAD KAZEM SAJJADPOUR, Foreign Ministry, Iran:  Shia was the marginalized group in that society.  Population-wise, they were big enough, but their share of power was not that much.  So, Iranian revolution really was a turning point in a type of identity revival.  And then, of course, many other issues came, including the Israeli aggression.

NEWSCASTER:  The Middle East appears dangerously close to all-out war tonight, with thousands of Israeli troops deep inside Lebanon.

MARTIN SMITH:  In June 1982, Israel invaded and occupied southern Lebanon in order to drive out the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had been shelling Israel from here.  The residents of Nabatiyeh remember those days.

[on camera]  What do you remember of the time during the Israeli occupation?

OLD MAN:  [subtitles]  They came in 1982, during the days that the Palestinians were here.  The bombing started.  For four days, bombing, bombing, bombing.  The [Israelis] swept in.  The Palestinians fled.  The Israelis remained, and after a while, the resistance emerged.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Within weeks of their invasion, Israel had advanced on Beirut.

NEWSCASTER:  Israeli warplanes pounded the area around the headquarters of the PLO in central Beirut today, leaving scores of people dead and wounded.

NEWSCASTER:  The Israelis fired shell after shell into the western part of the city.  Some analysts said that the Arab world had reached an all-time low if it was prepared to stand by and see an Arab capital taken by the Israelis.

MARTIN SMITH:  Seizing an opportunity, Khomeini immediately sent around 1,500 Islamic Revolutionary Guards to Lebanon.

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST:  [subtitles]  Our wise Imam said that we couldn’t fight Israel from such a far distance.  He said prepare Lebanese people so they can fight the enemy that has taken over their land.

MARTIN SMITH:  Mohsen Rafighdoost, one of the founders of the IRGC, made more than 30 trips to Lebanon.

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST:  We wanted Lebanon to be free from America, Saudi Arabia and Israel.  So, we trained the Lebanese, but they established Hezbollah by themselves.

MARTIN SMITH:  The IRGC, which had started as Khomeini’s private militia, was always meant to spread Iran’s influence throughout the Islamic world.  Now they began recruiting Shia fighters from other local militias.

NICHOLAS BLANFORD, Author, Warriors of God:  We had Iranian Revolutionary Guards coming into Lebanon, and they were very much the impetus to get things going.  This was a very small, nascent organization back then.  They would inspire the Shia population there living in these little hill villages to embrace the cause of Iran.  And they marshaled them into military units.  They gave them basic training and some weaponry, as well.  And gradually, the ideology of Hezbollah spread from the Beqaa to the Shia areas of southern Beirut.

RADIO BROADCAST:  [singing] [subtitles]   “Oh, God is the greatest!” sang the bullets.  Oh, Israel will receive retribution.  And we continue on the path of our Koran.  And only Hezbollah, they are the victors!  And only Hezbollah, they are the victors!

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Why was Lebanon given such a priority?

NICHOLAS BLANFORD:  Well, I think they recognized, first of all, there’s the obvious ideological struggle against Israel.  And there was an opportunity to be had.

NEWSCASTER:  Hezbollah, the Party of God, the most fanatical of Lebanon’s Shi’ite Muslims, are now firmly, openly and successfully established in Beirut.  Day by day─

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  When exactly Hezbollah was formally established is still contested, but a turning point for the group came by accident in 1983, during the Ashura festival in Nabatiyeh.  Ashura in Nabatiyeh is particularly dramatic.  The Shia faithful cut and beat themselves bloody to honor the death of Hussein, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, who was martyred in the 7th century.

But on this day, an Israeli military convoy lost its way and drove into the crowd.  People began throwing rocks.  The Israeli soldiers fired back.  At least two people were killed and many injured.  Tensions had been escalating for months.

NEWSCASTER:  This just in from Beirut.  At least 40 U.S. Marines and 10 French soldiers are dead after two explosions.

MARTIN SMITH:  A week later, there was an attack on Israel’s allies, France and the United States.

NEWSCASTER:  A truck filled with explosives crashed through the gates─

NEWSCASTER:  A suicide bomber driving a truck loaded with TNT blew up the barracks of U.S. Marines who had been stationed as peacekeepers.

NEWSCASTER:  A minute later, the same happened here at a French military─

MARTIN SMITH:  At almost the same time, another suicide driver crashed into the French barracks a few miles away.

NEWSCASTER:  In Lebanon, the death toll has been steadily climbing all day─ 125, 135─

MARTIN SMITH:  Two hundred and forty-one U.S. Marines and 58 French paratroopers died.

NEWSCASTER:  The explosion was the worst attack on the Marines─

MARTIN SMITH:  The era of suicide bombings had begun.  The attacks were widely attributed to Hezbollah acting under Iranian direction.  And they continued.

NEWSCASTER:  The latest attack brings to more than 100 the number of people killed in bombings in Lebanon this year.

MARTIN SMITH:  The attacks seemed to be working.  Hezbollah won new followers.

NEWSCASTER:  More and more fundamentalist Shi’ite Muslims are volunteering to blow themselves up in what they see as the holy fight against oppression.

MARTIN SMITH:  The U.S. pulled out and Israel was forced to retreat.  Israel would eventually withdraw all its troops from Lebanon.

ALI RIZK, Journalist:  Never before had we seen an Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab territory.  So that was basically the big turning point, the image of Hezbollah as a successful force which achieved what other Arab militaries were not able to achieve.

MARTIN SMITH:  Hezbollah marks their victories every year in a celebration they call Liberation and Resistance Day.

SONG:  [subtitles]  Fire and wind will call out.  Oh, protector of our homes, blessings to you!  Whoever thinks they’re stronger than the wind, let them taste the fires of hell.

MARTIN SMITH:  Hezbollah’s security would not allow us to bring our own camera crew, so they assigned us one of their own.

SONG:  [subtitles]  Your power is what brings you praise, through your martyrdom and your wounds.

MARTIN SMITH:  Hezbollah has grown into a major political party with a powerful militia.  Designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., Hezbollah is widely seen as controlled by Iran.

But Hashem Safieddine, one of the party’s highest-ranking officials, disagrees.

HASHEM SAFIEDDINE:  [subtitles]  This understanding is wrong.  We were born and raised in Lebanon, and we made sacrifices for our country to liberate it from occupation.  But we acknowledge that Iran helped and supported us to be strong and defend our own country, not Iran.

MARTIN SMITH:  The connection between Hezbollah and Iran is hard to deny.  Hezbollah’s name, the Party of God, was given by Ayatollah Khomeini.  Its emblem is modeled on the IRGC’s.  And they hold allegiance to the current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

MAN ON STAGE: [subtitles]  Peace be upon the leader of the martyrs of the Islamic revolution…

NICHOLAS BLANFORD:  The ideology comes very much from Iran, not just the military training, but the very intensive religious lessons that they undergo.  Even after they’ve become full-fledged fighters, they’re still learning about Islam and about the velayat e faqih and all this kind of thing.

MARTIN SMITH:  Velayat e faqih ─ guardianship of the jurist ─ Khomeini’s core doctrine that gave him ultimate religious and political authority.

NICHOLAS BLANFORD:  Velayat e faqih─ this is really the backbone of Hezbollah that binds all its constituent parts together.  They have to subscribe to this central ideological pillar.

MAN ON STAGE: [subtitles]  …to the Muslim leaders and Imam Khomeini, God bless him…

MARTIN SMITH:  With Iranian funding, training, arms, and exported ideology, Iran turned Hezbollah into a powerful militia that serves Iran’s interests.  For security, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, almost always speaks from an undisclosed location.

HASSAN NASRALLAH:  [subtitles]  Your only salvation is through unity and resistance!  And I tell you, with certainty and honesty, the axis of resistance in this region will not be defeated!

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Was it as clear at the time that this was to be a major Iranian project?

NICHOLAS BLANFORD:  I don’t think the Iranians necessarily planned that, you know, “In 35 years, by 2017, we will have turned Hezbollah into this massive military machine that’s even stronger than the Lebanese army, that Israel has called for the first time and generally this year its greatest threat.”  Today, my guestimate on their strength is a standing army of 20,000 fully trained fighters.

MARTIN SMITH:  And it’s a force that projects outside of the borders of Lebanon.

NICHOLAS BLANFORD:  And it’s now a force that projects outside.  And it allows Iran to project its influence across the region.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  One can’t fully understand Iran and the bitter divides in the region today without looking back to the 1980s and the Iran-Iraq war.

Chapter Five


MARTIN SMITH:  Each year, Iran rolls out a huge military parade to commemorate the eight-year-long conflict.  They see it as instrumental in shaping their foreign policy stance today.

NEWSCASTER:  This event is also an opportunity for Iran to show off its military power.

MARTIN SMITH:  Here is where they parade their latest long-range missiles.

NEWSCASTER:  …uniting to keep out foreign invaders.

JAVAD ZARIF, Foreign Minister, Iran:  We are required to produce our own means of defense because the United States conducts a campaign of preventing Iran from acquiring its means of defense.  That campaign started during the Iran-Iraq war.  So we have to do our own defense.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  I don’t think it’s a war that Americans understand very well.  Your generation that now leads Iran─ you were all shaped by that experience.

JAVAD ZARIF:  But it’s a very unfortunate fact that people have short memories.  And actually, some of them may not want to remember what happened.

NEWSCASTER:  Iraq declared today that its fighting with Iran is now a full-scale war.  Twice today Iraqi, warplanes bombed Iranian air bases, Iran retaliated, with heavy damage to both sides.

MARTIN SMITH:  In the year following Khomeini’s revolution, Saddam Hussein suddenly attacked Iran.  He sensed an opportunity to both capture territory and possibly topple the regime before it became a threat.

REPORTER:  Are they interested in knocking off, toppling the Khomeini regime?

MAN:  Absolutely.  They’d like to see Khomeini gone and a moderate regime embedded─

JAVAD ZARIF:  This was a shock and awe operation, almost.  Everybody expected the Iranian government to fall within seven days.

NEWSCASTER:  Under Khomeini, Iran’s armed forces are a pale shadow of their former selves.  The best officers have been purged, shot or escaped.

MARTIN SMITH:  Iran’s military was woefully unprepared.  Without money or allies, Iran focused on building up their ground troops.

HOSSEIN SHEIKHOLESLAM, Foreign Ministry, Iran:  The same way that the revolution succeeded, Imam Khomeini brought people by millions to the war against this aggression.

MARTIN SMITH:  Ayatollah Khomeini told his people that Iran’s troops were equipped with divine power.  Many of those encouraged to sign up were just boys.

YOUNG SOLDIER:  How old this guy?  How old this guy?  He must be 14, 14 or something.  But he’s come here to fight.  He’s left his mother, he’s left his father just to fight the Iraqis.

MARTIN SMITH:  Boys as young as 12 were sent into battle with keys to wear around their necks, keys they were told that, as Shia martyrs, would get them into heaven.  Poorly trained and barely armed, these young soldiers were meant to clear the way for the more experienced regular troops in what became known as human wave attacks.

NEWSCASTER:  Young boys aged 10 and upwards sent in human waves by the Iranians against the Iraqis.  They’re told of the glory of martyrdom.  God will make them invisible to their enemies.

MOHAMMAD SALAM, Associated Press:  Hi.  I’m Mohammad.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Mohammad, good to meet you.

[voice-over]  One of the few reporters to witness these human wave attacks was Mohammad Salam, who had been reporting for the Associated Press.  I found him at his home in Beirut.

[on camera]  Did you see these waves of children?

MOHAMMAD SALAM:  Oh, yes.  Oh, my God.  They gave their little children, the children soldiers, 12, 13 years old, these keys to heaven.  I mean, that’s─ that’s─ that─ that’s really─ that’s─ that’s something that made me cry.  I mean, usually, the group was a group of children with an elder guy who had the imama, a religious─ who was the leader.  They go through these minefields.  Then they go through the Iraqi fortifications that were actually protected by a network of napalm mines.  Then they enter Iraq.  And during all this process, they were under shelling.  They were being blown up.  Earth up, sky down.

They were being bombed by helicopters, by warplanes, by Howitzer, by rocket launcher, and stepping on mines.  And they kept coming.  They kept coming.  They kept coming.  They were like─ actually like sea waves.  And there were more humans than bullets.   They were stepping on their colleagues’ bodies.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  These human wave attacks turned out to be extremely successful.  Iran learned that by sheer force of numbers, they could compete against Iraq’s superior military power.  Over the course of the war, hundreds of thousands of Iranian boys would be sent to the front lines.  By Spring of 1982, Iran succeeded in pushing Iraq back.

NEWSCASTER:  The Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein announced a voluntary withdrawal from all captured territory.

MARTIN SMITH:  Iran was then faced with the decision to either accept a ceasefire or advance into Iraqi territory.

NEWSCASTER:  Iranians are showing signs of resistance to the very idea of a ceasefire.

MARTIN SMITH:  Khomeini chose war.  He declared that Iran would not be satisfied until Saddam Hussein was toppled.

SOLDIERS: [singing] [subtitles]  Karbala, Karbala, we are coming.  We are coming.

MARTIN SMITH:  Taking the holy city of Karbala, in Iraq─ that became the battle cry for Iranian troops.  Karbala is where in the 7th century, the revered Imam Hussain was martyred.  It’s an event depicted in Iranian films.

ACTOR:  [subtitles]  Do you know what you’re doing?  You are blocking the way to the grandson of the Prophet!

BERNARD HAYKEL:  So Imam Hussain is the prophet Mohammed’s grandson.  He claimed to be the successor to the Prophet.  And there was a very famous battle that took place in Karbala between him and the Sunni army.  The army surrounded him and his supporters.   Many of his supporters abandoned him, and he was brutally murdered by this Sunni army.

ACTOR:  [subtitles]  Make my satchel full of rubies and emeralds because I have killed Hussain, the son of the Lion of God!

BERNARD HAYKEL:  His murder, his abandonment by his followers has become a great tragic tale for the Shia community.  For most of Shia history, that story, the story of Hussain, was one of admitting defeat, of accepting your fate as having to live under unjust circumstances.   What Ayatollah Khomeini did was that he reinterpreted this story.  It became a source for activist politics, for Shias to not accept their permanent fate having to live in an unjust state, but rather one in which they could take matters into their hands and try to change the world.

NEWSCASTER:  …a dawn raid by Iranian jets…

NEWSCASTER:  Fighting on a massive scale is continuing this morning along the Iraq…

MARTIN SMITH:  With Khomeini’s push into Iraq, the war entered a dangerous new phase.

NEWSCASTER:  …heavy casualties on both sides…

MARTIN SMITH:  Sunni Gulf states who had mostly stayed out of the fight now became involved.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, Dir. of Saudi Intelligence, 1977-2001:  When Khomeini began attacking Iraq and declaring publicly that his aim was to topple Saddam and liberate Baghdad, that’s when Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries decided to support Saddam Hussein, along with European and─ and American countries, as well.

NEWSCASTER:  Donations, running into millions from countries like Saudi Arabia, enable Saddam Hussein to buy the arms to keep the war going.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  We supported Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein was an ally.  It was a war between Iran and Iraq.  Iraq is an Arab country.  We have defense agreements within the Arab League, and so we supported Iraq.  Iran at the time publicly called for the overthrow of the Saudi government.

KHALED AL-DAKHIL, Columnist, Al-Hayat Daily:  They want to export their revolution.  They want to topple the monarchies.  They want to send their militias.  Of course, the Saudis will support Iraq.

NEWSCASTER:  Iraq buys weapons around the world.  Countries include France, West Germany, Russia, Jordan and China and many more…

JAVAD ZARIF:  We were up against a regime that was receiving equipment from almost everybody.  The Americans provided it with AWACS intelligence.  The French provided it with Mirage fighters.  The Russians provided it with MiG fighters.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  And the Saudis?

JAVAD ZARIF:  The Saudis provided it with all the money they need.

NEWSCASTER:  The Ayatollah Khomeini has called on the Iraqi Army to desert and overthrow Iraq’s president, Saddam Hussein.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Khomeini had hoped Iraq’s Shia, a majority of the population, would support Iran.  But as Iraqis, they opposed Khomeini’s invasion of their country.

AYAD ALLAWI, Vice President, Iraq:  When the revolution happened in Iran, a lot of Arabs sympathized with the revolution for various reasons.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Sunnis as well as Shias?

AYAD ALLAWI:  Sunnis as well as Shias.   But once Iran started the war machine and started trying to export the revolution, then people started to realize gradually that this is really a sectarian way to dominate.

NEWSCASTER:  War has become a way of life for both sides, as has hating each other.

NEWSCASTER:  This bloody war, which has cost 200,000 lives…

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Saddam Hussein, now fully emboldened by his Arab and Western allies, did not hold back.

NEWSCASTER:  Iraq said it will use any means at its disposal to vanquish the Iranians.

MOHAMMAD SALAM:  Saddam Hussein was not a joke, and that was a regime, a real tough, cruel regime.  I mean, you cannot…

MARTIN SMITH:  Mohammad Salam was in Iran with Iraqi troops after one notably brutal battle.

MOHAMMAD SALAM:  After the battle, I went into the battlefield.  And I found something strange.  I found thousands and thousands of Iranian soldiers in trenches holding their AKs and dead.  I couldn’t understand what happened.  They had no bullet wounds.  They had nothing.  They simply had blood up their noses and mouth.  And they had urinated in their clothes.  And we started counting and counting and counting, was a full day counting bodies, lines of bodies, like the photos of World War I, in trenches.  But obviously, it was the first evidence I saw of the effect of chemical weapons.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  You reported this.


MARTIN SMITH:  There was no outrage?

MOHAMMAD SALAM:  No nothing.  No nothing.  No nothing.

MARTIN SMITH:  In the Arab press, there was no outrage?

MOHAMMAD SALAM:  Iraq came out victorious, period.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  That chemical attack was one of the first of a series launched by Saddam Hussein.  Recently declassified CIA documents have revealed that the Reagan administration knew about Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons, and they suspected he might get away with it.  At least once, the CIA gave Hussein the intelligence he needed to target Iranian combat units, despite knowing he could again use chemical weapons.

NEWSCASTER:  These dead Iranians soldiers lie where they fell, but they do not bear the mutilations or obvious signs of artillery or small arms fire, a possible indication then that chemical weapons have been used.

MOHAMMAD MARANDI, Tehran University:  These were crimes against humanity.  American officials should be in prison for these crimes because they gave Saddam Hussein the technology.  I was a victim of chemical attacks personally, and I survived two attacks.  Where was the outrage?  There was no outrage.

NEWSCASTER:  In the Persian Gulf today, both Iran and Iraq have staged new attacks against each other while diplomatic efforts intensify in an effort to bring about a ceasefire.

MARTIN SMITH:  Finally, in 1988, eight years after it began, with the war at a stalemate, Khomeini agreed to a ceasefire.

NEWSCASTER:  Just as a U.N. team arrived in Tehran to discuss a truce in the 8-year-old Gulf War, Iran said─

MARTIN SMITH:  As many as one million people had died.

NEWSCASTER:  This has cost more lives than any conflict since World War 2.

MARTIN SMITH:  Both Iran and Iraq’s countries and economies had been devastated.  Iran had been internationally isolated by the war.  But six years before, Iran could have stopped it.

[on camera]  You had a chance to bring that war to an end in 1982.  And yet you made decisions at the top of the government to continue the war.

HOSSEIN SHEIKHOLESLAM, Foreign Ministry, Iran:  No, no, no, no.  It was important that they confess.  Our condition was that, no, we do not stop the war unless you confess that Saddam Hussein started this war.

MARTIN SMITH:  Was it a mistake to reject the ceasefire?

JAVAD ZARIF:  No.  No, in 1988, we had a resolution, 598, which addressed Iran’s major demand that Iraq was responsible to initiate this war.  That was very important for us.

MARTIN SMITH:  But a lot of lives were lost in the interim.

JAVAD ZARIF:   It’s the unfortunate situation…

MARTIN SMITH:  For that principle…

JAVAD ZARIF:  That’s a question that the Iranian people need to ask the international community.  Why didn’t anybody in the international community say a word about the Iraqi use of chemical weapons?  I believe the international community owes Iran an explanation for its disastrous behavior.  Iran doesn’t owe anybody any explanation for defending itself.

NEWSCASTER:  From Iran came a statement reportedly from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who admitted that changing his position and agreeing to a ceasefire was like taking poison.  He indicated that he only did it because things had become so desperate in Iran that the survival of the revolution depended upon it.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment:  I think more than any other historic event, it’s been the Iraq war which has really shaped the worldview and attitudes of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  And it’s notable when you look at the last will and testament of Ayatollah Khomeini, he reserves the most amount of hatred not towards America, not towards Israel, but towards Saudi Arabia.  And I think it was really as a result of Saudi Arabia’s support for Saddam Hussein.

MARTIN SMITH:  Khomeini’s mausoleum is just south of Tehran.  After accepting the ceasefire, his son wrote that the Ayatollah never again spoke in public.  A year later, he died.  But for Iranians, the survival of the revolution was its own victory.

AFSHON OSTOVAR, Author, Vanguard of the Imam:  And the fact that they didn’t win that war but they didn’t lose that war was a testament to them of their resolve and of the strength of their ideology, of the strength of their faith, that they could basically fight the entire world.  They could fight the United States.  They could fight Iraq.  They could fight chemical weapons.  They could fight Saudi Arabia.  And do it all with not having to capitulate on their ideals, on their beliefs, or even on their geographical integrity.

MARTIN SMITH:  Fourteen years later, Iran would have another chance to extend its power into Iraq. This time, thanks to the United States.


Chapter Six


KANAN MAKIYA, Author, Republic of Fear:  This was once upon a time the Fertile Crescent.  Saddam’s turned it into a desert.

MARTIN SMITH:  I came to Iraq for the first time in 2003, right after the fall of Saddam.  I was with the Iraqi writer and activist Kanan Makiya, who for more than a decade had been at the center of efforts to topple Saddam.  He hadn’t seen Baghdad since he was 19.

SCOTT ANGER, Dir. of Photography:  How do you feel coming back here?

KANAN MAKIYA:  I feel that the size of the task is overwhelming, facing reconstruction of this country.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  I was with you in 2003─


MARTIN SMITH:  ─just as the American soldiers had taken down Saddam.  We followed on their heels, drove up from Kuwait.  You favored that invasion.

KANAN MAKIYA:  I did.  For me, that kind of a regime was an abomination that I was─ I─ I was prepared to say, and I still think is true, the country had no future whatsoever until that abomination was eliminated.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  For years, Makiya had been watching as Saddam’s Sunni Arab regime had suppressed all opposition, including the majority Shia population, with threats, expulsions and a routine brutality.

SADDAM HUSSEIN:  [translator]  In accordance with the law, we say he who collaborates with a foreign party is sentenced to death.

MARTIN SMITH:  Back in 1991, the Shia had risen up against Saddam.  The U.S. had just driven Saddam’s army out of Kuwait.

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH:  ─that brutal dictator in Baghdad!

MARTIN SMITH:  But President George Bush, Senior, had decided it would be unwise to take out Saddam.  He encouraged Iraqis to do it themselves.

Pres. GEORGE H.W. BUSH:  ─military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Shia believed the U.S. would come to their aid.  They were wrong.  Saddam came after them with extreme violence.

KANAN MAKIYA:  We used to calculate the casualties of the 1991 uprising at 40,000 to 60,000 people in human rights reports, and so on.  We now are talking 100,000 people killed.  The regime did something for the first time that it hadn’t done before.  It attacked Shi’ites as Shi’ites.

MARTIN SMITH:  Saddam held on to power. But Makiya and other Iraqi exiles continued to press the U.S. to help remove him.

KANAN MAKIYA:  And I said this at the time, the chances of something dramatically better than Saddam was a very small chance.  I personally felt morally obligated to struggle for that 5 percent, 10 percent chance that the transition from Saddam to something better might be possible.

MARTIN SMITH:  And then came 9/11 and its consequences.

Pres. GEORGE W. BUSH:  The war on terror is not confined strictly to the al Qaeda that we’re chasing.  The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein.

MARTIN SMITH:  This President Bush would do what his father had not.

NEWSCASTER:  Saudi Arabia has publicly opposed U.S. military action against Iraq and says the U.S. won’t be allowed to use Saudi air bases.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Bush administration sent Vice President Dick Cheney to Saudi Arabia to get their support for an invasion.  But Crown Prince Abdullah warned against it.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, 2007-2009:  Abdullah, in particular, felt that we were actively working against Saudi national security interests.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  To destabilize the neighborhood and allow for Iran to move in.

RYAN CROCKER:  Yeah, and not to heed Saudi counsel, which was, “Don’t do this.”

ADEL AL JUBEIR:  We do not want people to rush into something that could have disastrous consequences.  Do you know what will happen the day after?

BERNARD HAYKEL, Princeton University:  Saudi Arabia knew that if you smash the state in Iraq, you would open up a Pandora’s box.  They just knew it, that Iraq would implode.  And then it would offer an opportunity to the Iranians to take it over, which is exactly what happened.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  But U.S.-Saudi relations were tense.  Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis.

STEVE COLL, Author, The Bin Ladens:  The relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia at that point was so poisoned by 9/11, there was really very little willingness on the American side to heed this advice.  They felt that the Saudis, while maybe not directly complicit in 9/11, were indirectly complicit.  But the momentum for the invasion out of the Pentagon and elsewhere, as we well know, was unstoppable.

NEWSCASTER:  This was central Baghdad today as Saddam Hussein’s regime finally lost control.

NEWSCASTER:  The statue of Saddam Hussein is still hanging on the pedestal, and as it collapsed, a great roar came out from the crowd.  There it goes.  It has fallen down to the ground.  It’s come apart.  The crowd is going mad, rushing towards it.  They’ve been pelting it with stones.

MARTIN SMITH:  Taking Baghdad took just three weeks.  But the Bush administration failed to anticipate what would come next.

AHMED RASHID, Author, Descent Into Chaos:  There was a complete failure to understand the Sunni-Shia equation that existed in Iraq at that time.  I think the Americans have never really understood, even as late as after 9/11, when there should have been much greater understanding of the Middle Eastern world, the depth of the antagonism between Shia’ism and Sunni-ism.

MARTIN SMITH:  With Saddam suddenly gone, the fervor and strength of the Shia population was on view for the first time.  Just days after Baghdad was taken, Shia poured into the streets to begin one of the holiest pilgrimages, the Arbaeen.  It commemorates the 40th day after Imam Hussein’s death.  An estimated two million pilgrims turned out.  Shia themselves were surprised at their numbers.

ADEL ABDUL MAHDI, Vice President, Iraq, 2005-11:  The Shia power came as a wave.  No one was expecting there is this majority here in the country.  We didn't know there had been Arab Shias.  We thought Shi’ism is Iranism .  And then we recognize that we have─ we have Shi’ism in Iraq.  So the fall of Saddam Hussein really exposed the whole situation. This made it a direct fight between Shi’ism and Sunnism.

POLICEMAN TO CROWD:  [subtitles] Get back!  Get back!

MARTIN SMITH:  Leading the pilgrims that day was an ayatollah just back from years of exile in Iran.  He and other returning exiles were eager to remake Iraq into another Shia Islamist state.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Welcome back!  Your people are greeting you!

AFSHON OSTOVAR, Author, Vanguard of the Imam:  Basically, very early on, you have Shia political groups that become very important in Shia politics after Saddam Hussein, groups that had just spent the last 20 years learning Persian, becoming very close friends with Iranian leaders, with leaders of the IRGC, and trusting them as much as they trusted any government.

BERNARD HAYKEL:  What the 2003 invasion did was give Iran an opportunity that it could never have dreamt of having, which was to bring Shi’ites into power in Iraq who were beholden to the Iranian state.

IMAM:  [subtitles]  It is not enough for the tyrant to fall.  We need to prevent the conditions that allowed him to reign so neither he nor any other tyrant ever returns!

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  The Americans did you a favor.  They took out Saddam Hussein.

HOSSEIN SHEIKHOLESLAM, Foreign Ministry, Iran:  Oh, yes.  You are right.  They did us a favor.  More than that─

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  In Tehran, they were elated.

HOSSEIN SHEIKHOLESLAM:  To take Saddam, that we wanted to do.  So you were sacrificing your own soldiers for our aim.

KHALED AL-DAKHIL, Political Sociologist:  The American role in Iraq is just a puzzle, I think for me, and I think─

MARTIN SMITH:  In Saudi Arabia, they were dumbfounded.

KHALED AL-DAKHIL:  Why would the Americans hand the government to the allies of Iran?  Iran is considered a sponsor of terrorism by the Americans.

PAUL BREMER: And those who were on high before, in particular the Ba’athists who used their power to repress the Iraqi people, will be removed from office.

MARTIN SMITH:  Then American envoy Paul Bremer handed Iran another gift.

PAUL BREMER: Shortly, I will issue an order on measures to extirpate Ba’athists and Ba’athism from Iraq forever.

MARTIN SMITH:  Thirty to forty thousand members of Saddam’s Ba’athist Party, most of them Sunnis, were banned from holding any public office, and the Iraqi army was dissolved.  Protests broke out immediately.  Moderate Shia leaders had warned the U.S. against de-Ba’athification.

AYAD ALLAWI, Vice President, Iraq: I considered what happened as a very wrong mistake and is going to be disastrous for the country.

PROTESTER:  [subtitles]  Is this what we get for our service?  These are the sacrifices we made for this country.  I lost my leg for Iraq!  And now Mr Bremer would repay me by dissolving the army?  With no rights?

ABDUL LATIF AL HUMAYEM, Pres., Sunni Endowment, Iraq:  [subtitles]  All of a sudden, the Sunnis felt like they had lost control, and the resistance began.  Resisting the occupation became entangled with reclaiming power.

ADEL ABDUL MAHDI, Vice President, Iraq, 2005-11:  The way it was applied, it became an instrument, to intimidate people, even people not Ba’athists.  It became really a way to push people out.

MARTIN SMITH:  Violence followed Bremer’s orders.  First a car bomb detonated outside the Jordanian Embassy, killing 18 people.  Twelve days later, a second attack.  This one was on the U.N. headquarters.

NEWSCASTER:  The attack was similar to last week’s bombing of the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad.

MARTIN SMITH:  The attacks had been planned by radical Sunni extremists.  Their leader was a Jordanian who had been trained in the Mujahedeen camps of Afghanistan, Abu Musab al Zarqawi.  Later, he would tell Osama bin Laden that he aimed to begin a sectarian war.  Ten days after the U.N. attack, a massive bomb exploded outside the holy Shia shrine of Imam Ali in Najaf just after Friday prayers.  More than 100 people were killed.  Embittered Sunnis and officers once part of Saddam’s regime now joined Zarqawi’s cause.

NEWSCASTER:  We saw Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, and we’re seeing a proliferation of these groups, like-minded ones springing up and joining the cause.

JABER AL JABERI, Member of Parliament, Iraq:  For the officers who served during Saddam regime, I cut his salary and I put him in the street.  What do you expect from him?  Of course, he will fight.  He will join all the military groups who try to destabilize the country because he lost all of his rights.

NEWSCASTER:  These guys are spreading and growing.  They have hundreds if not thousands of new Iraqi recruits.

KIM GHATTAS:  There was a sense in the region that Sunnis had lost and that Iran was on the rise because, suddenly, Shias had more power in Iraq.  Sunnis, in principle, should not feel like they are helpless.  They represent 80 percent of Muslims in the region.  And yet many of them are feeling wronged, and it’s hard to argue with that perception.

MARTIN SMITH:  Samarra, in central Iraq.  During much of the 9th century, this was the capital of the great Sunni Abbasid dynasty, an Islamic empire that stretched from North Africa across the Middle East and into Central Asia.  The Great Mosque of Samarra, completed in 851, was then the largest mosque in the world.  It could hold more than 10,000 worshipers.

GUIDE: [subtitles]  In this huge area, the worshipers would come to pray.

MARTIN SMITH:  Samarra is a majority Sunni city, but it’s also an important Shia pilgrimage site.  They come to worship under the golden dome of the al Askari mosque, one of the most sacred sites in all of Shia theology.  Local Sunnis used to join them.

GUIDE: [subtitles]  If someone died or got married or had a baby, they would visit the shrine to get their blessings.  But now this seldom happens.

NEWSCASTER:  Iraq got worse today, a lot worse.  Terrorists committed a uniquely shocking act of religious violence.

MARTIN SMITH:  In 2006, two bombs set off by Zarqawi’s al Qaeda in Iraq destroyed the dome.  Shia took to the streets and began a new wave of sectarian reprisals.  These were among the darkest days Iraq has ever endured.

NEWSCASTER:  The anguish and rage of the Shia crowds soon turned into bloody retaliation.

NEWSCASTER:  The attack has sparked rage and revenge across the country.  The majority Shi’ites are venting their fury on the minority Sunni Muslims.

NEWSCASTER:  Many Iraqis have been killed in the last few days.  Forty-seven men were pulled from buses near Baghdad and executed.  Sunni mosques are pock-marked by bullets, some still smoldering after grenade attacks.

MARTIN SMITH:  Within a week of the Samarra bombing, scores of Sunni mosques were reported attacked.  Sunni imams were killed.  Bodies were dragged through the streets.  The violence would only escalate.  The police lost control.

I was in Iraq a few months after the bombing.  By that point, the bodies of Sunni men were turning up regularly on the streets of Baghdad.

U.S. SOLDIER: Bravo Charlie, this is Alpha.  We found a dead body.  Over.

Ist U.S. SOLDIER:  See his face?

2nd U.S. SOLDIER:  Yeah.

1st U.S. SOLDIER:  Pretty nasty, huh?

2nd U.S. SOLDIER:  That sucks.

MARTIN SMITH:  Shia militia, many of them funded and trained by Iran, were operating death squads from within the Shia-led government.

U.S. SOLDIER:  He has no eyes, his ears been cut off, his nose has been cut off, tore off part of his skin.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  You see a lot of this?


MARTIN SMITH:  How often do you find bodies?

U.S. SOLDIER:  Every day, every other day.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq 2007-09:  There was a particularly gruesome style of murder, basically a Shia tool, where it was death by power drill.  That’s kind of how you could tell who was the victim.  The guy had drill holes in his head, he was probably a Sunni taken by the Shia.  I mean, what─ what the Sunnis did was no nicer, but it had sunk to that level.  It was a─ it was a horrible, horrible period.

MARTIN SMITH:  And who were the Shi’ites that were doing this?

RYAN CROCKER:  Well, there was quite a collection.  Certainly, the Badrs, the Badr Brigade, was involved in it.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The Badr Brigade was just one of many militias operating under the guidance of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

AFSHON OSTOVAR:  The IRGC is the branch of the Iranian military that does foreign operations─ not doing direct fighting themselves, but supporting allies, helping with training, helping with logistics, helping with funding.  Where Iran excels is that ground game, is working with people outside of Iran’s borders, being able to create actual relationships of trust and being able to get those groups to do what Iran wants to do.

KANAN MAKIYA:  There were hundreds of different armed groups, on the Shia side far more so than on the Sunni side.  And the Iranians were having a field day playing or arming this group, contacting this group.  All of them were turning back to the Iranians.

MARTIN SMITH:  Qais al Khazali runs one of the most powerful Iranian-backed Shia militias in Iraq today.  He claims to have launched 6,000 attacks against American and allied forces.  Following the bombing of Samarra, he turned his sights on al Qaeda.

QAIS AL KHAZALI:  [subtitles]  At that time, al Qaeda’s motto was that killing the Shia is more important than killing Americans.

MARTIN SMITH:  Khazali, who has never spoken to an American TV reporter, was open about the support Iran gave to his Shia militia.

QAIS AL KHAZALI:  [subtitles]  Iran supports all the resistance movements in the region.  During the occupation [of Iraq], the resistance had good relations with the Islamic Republic.  For Iran to support the resistance in the same way it supports other resistance movements is no longer a secret.

NEWSCASTER:  The tensions are sustained by violence committed on both sides.  The Shi’ite militias have not been disarmed.

NEWSCASTER:  Sectarian scores are settled.  From 2006 to 2007, each month some 3,000 Iraqis were killed.

RANDA SLIM, Middle East Institute:  The removal of Saddam Hussein created this perfect opportunity for Iran to establish leverage over an important Arab capital in Baghdad.  And that forced the Saudis to try to, you know, counteract that and to confront Iran.  This Saudi-Iranian competition is primarily a competition about the direction of politics in the Middle East.  The two never fight, but they have access to proxy forces throughout the region that can do the fighting on─ on their behalf.

MARTIN SMITH:  Within Saudi Arabia, the royals were conflicted about how to respond to the situation in Iraq.

STEVE COLL:  The Saudi royal family was in a real difficult position and it was on the defensive, worried about sanctions, worried about other forms of pressure if it were accused again of supporting violent groups like al Qaeda.  On the other hand, it had a restive population, full of radical ideas, which it had funded over many years.  You know, there were certainly some people in Saudi Arabia who thought that it was just and important to counter Iran’s influence in Iraq after the U.S. invasion.

YOUNG MAN:  [subtitles]  I was mobilized at the mosques by the imams and preachers who had been enlisted by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

MARTIN SMITH:  This Saudi insurgent was encouraged to go to Iraq to fight the newly empowered Shia.

YOUNG MAN:  [subtitles]  They urged us to go battle with the rejectionists [the Shia] in order to destabilize the country, to destabilize Iraq.  Many young men were mobilized and I was among them.

STEVE COLL:  So you had young Saudi men turning up as volunteers in Sunni territory of Iraq, facilitated by the same kinds of networks that have facilitated the jihad in Afghanistan, preaching networks, charity networks, volunteer networks.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Networks that got money from the government.

STEVE COLL:  Networks that were funded by the government.  Very much.  And those volunteers would turn up, and the next thing you know, a Saudi father would know he’d be getting a call from somebody on a cell phone in Baghdad saying, “Your glorious son was martyred in a car bombing yesterday.”  You know, “Here’s a video of his last moments.”

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  From Riyadh and other Gulf capitals, money also streamed into Iraq for the Sunnis taking up arms.

ABDUL LATIF AL HUMAYEM, Pres., Sunni Endowment, Iraq:  [subtitles] The first way was through secret intelligence channels  The second way was through businessmen.  There are businessmen who use donations to Islamic charities.  The resistance, it needed an RPG-7 launcher and a PKC, a machine gun, and some explosive devices, and this doesn’t require large sums of money.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, 2007-09:  And Abdullah, in particular, was still so bitter toward us for having carried out the invasion in the first place, I’m sure he was paying people here and there but without a clear policy objective that we could determine.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Paying whom?

RYAN CROCKER:  Various Sunni leaders.  They were supporting the tribal leaderships.  That was─ those were the allegations.  I mean, you know, there was never any evidence for that and─

MARTIN SMITH:   I understand there was no evidence.  But what was your belief?

RYAN CROCKER:  My belief was that the Saudis were not funding al Qaeda directly, by any means.  Did some of their largess get to al Qaeda?  Probably.

NEWSCASTER:  Shock and awe, but this time, Sunni insurgents were sending in the bombs.  The series of coordinated blasts, were mainly in Shia areas, have claimed more than 50 lives.

NEWSCASTER:  An al Qaeda group claimed responsibility today and warned of more attacks against Iraq’s government.

KANAN MAKIYA:  Saudi Arabia was joining the great struggle against Shi’ism.  And they were successful insofar as, you know, the sectarian genie had been let out of the bottle.

NEWSCASTER:  The situation in this country has done nothing but deteriorate from al Qaeda, the local insurgency, the death squads buried within this government, to Iranian influence.  All of it─

KANAN MAKIYA:  But the Iranians had much greater influence because they had an influence over the majority Shia population and the new Iraqi government, which was Shia.

MARTIN SMITH:  At the end of that year, the Shia-led government in Baghdad cemented their power and pushed their sectarian agenda further by rushing forward to execute Saddam Hussein.  It was a decision carried out despite U.S. and Arab concerns.

MOWAFFAQ AL RUBAIE, Iraqi National Security Adviser, 2004-09:  We were worried that something will happen.  We don’t know what that something was.  The Americans would change their mind.  Saddam might run away from─ run away from the American prison.  All sorts of things he can be done.

MARTIN SMITH:  __[on camera]_  You had bodies showing up on the streets of the neighborhoods in Baghdad every day.  I was here.  I saw it.  And in the midst of this, you have a Sunni Arab leader who is up for execution.  I mean, the sectarian component of this or dimension of this wasn’t lost on you.

MOWAFFAQ AL RUBAIE:  I can assure you that there was no shred of settling scores or revenge in my heart or in my mind when we carried the execution.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  But it was just that.  The government released an official video of the execution, but that is not what most of the Arab world saw and heard.

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraqi Foreign Minister, 2003-14:  The government said a number of the relatives of those who were killed by Saddam were asked to attend his execution.  But they started filming through their iPhones, and so on, the scene and started shouting sectarian slogans.

ONLOOKER:  [subtitles]  Muqtada!  Muqtada!  Muqtada!

MARTIN SMITH:  “Muqtada” referred to the militant Shia cleric whose father had been tortured and killed by Saddam.  Saddam responded, “Muqtada?  Is this how you show your bravery as men?”

KANAN MAKIYA:  Saddam throughout the whole incident handled himself very well.  The rope was put around his neck.  He refused the hood.  He asked to be allowed to read verses from the Koran.

SADDAM HUSSEIN:  [subtitles]  I bear witness that─

KANAN MAKIYA:  In the meantime, this jeering, shouting crowd hurling insults.

SADDAM HUSSEIN: [subtitles]  And I bear witness that there is no god but God─

KANAN MAKIYA:  And halfway through the reading of the Koran, the trapdoor was released.

ON-LOOKERS:  [subtitles]  God bless Muhammed and his family!  The tyrant has fallen!

KANAN MAKIYA:  The only person who emerged from that scene, that piece of theater, with dignity was the arch-criminal himself, Saddam Hussein.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  So you were the man that pulled the lever─


MARTIN SMITH:  ─that released the door.

MOWAFFAQ AL RUBAIE:  Yes.  And Saddam came down.

MARTIN SMITH:  But clearly then, there was a sectarian tone to the taunting and his response.

MOWAFFAQ AL RUBAIE:  I didn’t see it that way.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Many Sunnis did see it that way.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles] With our souls, with our blood we will sacrifice for you, Saddam!

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Around the world, they came out to protest─ India, Sri Lanka.  In the West Bank, demonstrators carried the green Saudi flag and railed against Iran and Shia.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles]  The Shia will lose!  The Shia will lose!  Screw Iran!  Screw Iran!

MARTIN SMITH:  The execution was meant to mark the end of Saddam’s reign of terror.  Instead, he emerged as a Sunni hero who had stood up to both the Americans and their Shia partners.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles]  Saddam, your name is pride and dignity!  Long live Saddam!  Long live Saddam!

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, Iraqi Foreign Minister, 2003-14:  Really, we shouldn’t have given him that status.  I mean, this dictator, this criminal, to turn him into a hero, you see, and courageous, with all these slogans, you see, of sectarian content.  It’s bad.  It helped him.  It damaged us.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles]  All of Iraq is shouting out loud, “Saddam is the pride of our country”!

KANAN MAKIYA:  I was physically sick that day.  And any lingering doubts and hopes, et cetera, dissipated.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  So this weighs heavily on you.

KANAN MAKIYA:  It did for many years.  And naturally, for a year or two, I wouldn’t admit to the failure in all its magnitude.  But that was a turning point for me personally.  It’s sickening, to think that I had─ you know, I had a role in this was shameful.


BITTER RIVALS: Iran and Saudi Arabia (PART II)

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent:  [voice-over]  On the edge of the Shia city of Najaf in southern Iraq is the world’s largest cemetery, the Valley of Peace─ 1,500 acres, 5 million bodies.  The cemetery has been open for over 1,700 years.  Today, among the dead are the Shia martyrs killed in the sectarian war that has torn Iraq apart.

At the nearby shrine of Imam Ali, the son-in-law of Prophet Mohammed, bodies of newly deceased fighters are carried past the tomb of Ali to receive his blessing.  Some are Iraqi army, others are members of private Shia militias backed and trained by Iran who’ve been fighting the Sunni extremists of al Qaeda and ISIS.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  And say it loud, Baghdad!  You are victorious!  We are Iraqis.  The militias are the crown on our heads!

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent:  Today, both those militias, and Iran, have emerged as victors in Iraq.

DEMONSTRATOR:  [subtitles]  We congratulate the great commanders who liberated us from those rats, those filthy men!  Thank the Lord.

MARTIN SMITH:  I was in Baghdad on the day that ISIS was driven out of Mosul.  The crowd, mostly Shia, cheered for the victory.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Mosul has returned to us, and she is Iraqi, Iraqi!  Mosul has returned to us, and she is Iraqi, Iraqi!

NEWSCASTER:  A victory against ISIS has been declared in the Iraqi city of Mosul.

MARTIN SMITH:  For Sunnis, this is what victory looks like.

NEWSCASTER:  What was once the capital in Iraq of ISIS’s caliphate is now reduced to rubble around us here.  The devastation of this city─

MARTIN SMITH:  In city after city, it is Iraq’s Sunnis who have borne the brunt of the fight.  These were the cities where some had at first welcomed ISIS, places like Tikrit, Baiji, Tal Afar and Ramadi.

IBRAHIM AWSAJ, Mayor of Ramadi:  [subtitles]  Ramadi is a disaster.  Eighty percent of our population’s property has been destroyed.

MARTIN SMITH:  Ibrahim Awsaj is Ramadi’s mayor.

IBRAHIM AWSAJ:  [subtitles]  This is the Bekir neighborhood.  Most of the military offensives took place here.  It was completely demolished.  We haven’t been able to rebuild due to lack of funds.

MARTIN SMITH:  Today, few have been able to return to their homes.  Across Iraq, millions of Sunnis have been displaced.  Tens of thousands are stuck in camps like this one.  Some are still suspected of being ISIS sympathizers.

TRANSLATOR:  [subtitles]  Can you tell me why you’re here?

1st REFUGEE:  [subtitles]  I’m here because my husband was with ISIS.  He’s been dead for seven months.  If I’m a member of ISIS, then let them go ahead and sentence me.  But I have nothing to do with my husband.  He followed his own path.

2nd REFUGEE:  [subtitles]  Have mercy on us!  My husband is not with ISIS.  And my kids here, they’ve been sick for a month.  It is so hot here we can’t deal with this.

AYAD ALLAWI, Vice President, Iraq:  The Sunnis are suffering a lot.  You can’t leave them in the camps.  If we don’t get these people back to their places, if we don’t find them jobs, if we don’t embark on getting rid of sectarianism, then I assure you the civil war will rage and will expand to the whole region.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Look at this.  Talk about apocalyptic.

[voice-over]  In the West, today’s sectarian conflict has been characterized as part of an ancient war inside Islam.  But on the ground, the reality is more complicated.

KIM GHATTAS, Journalist/Author:  There is no doubt that the historical schism between Sunnis and Shias has been there since the 7th century.  But the violence that we are seeing today is new.  It is modern political violence.  It is a power struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance of the Middle East and the Muslim world.

MARTIN SMITH:  That power struggle started here in Iran almost 40 years ago with Ayatollah Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution.  Every week at Friday prayers in Tehran, a leading Imam reiterates the core principles of Khomeini’s revolution.

AYATOLLAH KASHANI:  [subtitles]  We should identify and know our enemy.  We should see what Imam [Khomeini] did and what our nation did at that time.  Let us take the same path.

MARTIN SMITH:  Khomeini’s doctrine was based on Islamic law and the ultimate authority of the supreme leader, the rejection of Western domination─

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Khamenei is the leader!  Down with America!

MARTIN SMITH:  ─and the overthrow of the Gulf monarchies, particularly the Saudi royal family.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Down with the unfaithful House of Saud!

MARTIN SMITH:  It also included the command to spread Islamic rule to other countries.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Down with those against Islamic law!

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST:  [subtitles]  When Imam Khomeini says that we should Islamize Islamic countries─

MARTIN SMITH:  Mohsen Rafighdoost, a founding member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the IRGC, believes they have a continuing duty to spread Khomeini’s revolution.

MOHSEN RAFIGHDOOST:  [subtitles]  Iran is helping.  We are helping the oppressed against the oppressor.   It is not Iran that went into Syria and Iraq.  Iran is not a threat.  It is Saudi Arabia that has gone over there and murdered people.  We have gone there as saviors and have saved the people.

DEMONSTRATORS:  [subtitles]  Down with the House of Saud!  Down with the House of Saud!

MARTIN SMITH:  At a pro-government rally, it’s clear that opposition to Saudi Arabia is central to their world view.

DEMONSTRATORS:  [subtitles]  Down with the House of Saud!

BERNARD HAYKEL, Author, Revival and Reform in Islam:  And so in the Iranian case, Saudi Arabia is an agent of the United States.  It is there to keep a global order in which the U.S. dominates the world.

DEMONSTRATORS:  [subtitles]  Down with the unfaithful House of Saud!

BERNARD HAYKEL:  And Saudi Arabia’s control over Mecca and Medina, the two holiest shrine complexes in the Muslim world, is unacceptable.  If you read Imam Khomeini’s last will and testament, if you listen to the sermons of the supreme leader who succeeded him, Ayatollah Khamenei, Saudi Arabia is a state that needs to be destroyed, a state that needs to be eradicated, really.

1st MAN:  [subtitles]  Saudi Arabia is the same as the U.S. and Israel.  It’s their puppet.  It’s nothing.  They can’t stand against Iran.

2nd MAN:  [subtitles]  We’re willing to go fight if our Supreme Leader asks us to.  We are ready for jihad.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  The Saudis insist that Iran is a hostile, belligerent, adventurous nation attempting to export revolution around the region.  How do you respond?

JAVAD ZARIF, Foreign Minister, Iran:  Well, talk is cheap.  Let’s look at the actions.  Saudis helped Saddam Hussein for eight years.  Saudis helped al Qaeda.  Saudis created Daesh.  Saudis created al Nusra.  Saudis are funding terrorists who are operating in eastern Iran.  So they started this sectarian message, not us.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Iranians look at you and they say you’ve been busy supporting and exporting extremism.  What’s your response to that?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia:  Nonsense.  The Iranians are the ones who are exporting terrorism.  They’re the ones who are stoking the fires of sectarianism.  They’re the ones who are violating international laws and norms and acceptable behavior.  And they are the ones who have been on an aggressive path since 1979.

JAVAD ZARIF:  Despite the fact that the United States and almost every other powerful nation supports Saudi Arabia actively and tries to undermine us actively, we are still the most influential power in the Middle East.  That─ that should tell you something.  That should tell you that we have made the right choices and they’ve made the wrong choices.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  One of the most important choices Iran made has been in Syria, where war has raged for almost seven years.  Today, over five million people have fled Syria.  Millions more have been displaced, hundreds of thousands killed.

The last time I was in Syria, the ancient city of Aleppo was divided.  East Aleppo was held by rebel forces.  After a long, brutal siege, the Assad regime finally retook control in December 2016.  Today in east Aleppo, people are trying to resume their lives.  I spoke with some regime supporters.

[on camera]  So how are you doing?  How’s your business?

MAN:  [subtitles]  It’s going, thank God.  The situation is back to normal and better, thank God, under the leadership of President Bashar al Assad and the army.  [This neighborhood] was filled with armed militias.

MARTIN SMITH:  Who were your friends?  Who was helping Syria?

MAN:  [subtitles]  Iran.  We thank Iran.  We thank Russia, Iranians, and the Syrian army, as well.  God gave us victory.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  We asked people what Iran was doing here now, and they pointed us to this school.  Next to portraits of President Assad and Iran’s Ayatollah Khamanei, the sign reads “Gaza School, A Gift from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

TEACHER:  [subtitles]  How much do you like school?

PUPILS: [subtitles]  This much!  This much!

TEACHER:  They are happy because they lived now maybe eight years.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Six years of war, and they’re 8 years old now.

TEACHER:  Yes.  This is the fifth school opened after the war.

MARTIN SMITH:  It was built by whom?

TEACHER:  The worker from Aleppo, but the money come from the people from Iran to help us.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  I was told Iran has contributed to the rebuilding of 47 schools in the province.  It seems to be part of a larger strategy.

ANAS JOUDEH, Syrian Nation Building Project:  The Iranians are here for their interests.  Nobody would send money and fighters and others for─ because they are a charity.  They are here for their interests.

MARTIN SMITH:  I first met Anas Joudeh in Damascus in 2015 when he was leading a group of pro-democracy activists.

ANAS JOUDEH:  [subtitles]  Today, we should talk about saving Syria.  Syria is on the verge of complete destruction.

The Iranian interest is obvious.  Now we are seeing it.  Iran mainly wants to be recognized from United States and the international community as a normal country, not as a part of the “axis of evil,” not as a country that is not part of the international community.

MARTIN SMITH:  From the start, Iran backed Assad.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment:  Syria has really been Iran’s only continuous ally since the 1979 revolution.  And when the uprisings began, the Iranian regime was determined to do all in their power, both financially and militarily, to prevent the Assad regime from collapsing.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles]  We want freedom despite you, Bashar!  We want freedom!

MARTIN SMITH:  Back in 2011, inspired by the “Arab spring,” protests began against the Assad regime.

RANDA SLIM, Middle East Institute:  The first six to ten months of the uprising, this was truly a civil uprising that was motivated by the rest of the Arab uprising, the need for political participation, asking for freedom, reining in the security services of the Syrian regime.

PROTESTERS:  [subtitles]  The people want the downfall of this regime!

RANDA SLIM:  And it was led by a fairly nonviolent civil movement of students, laborers, villagers─

GIRL:  [singing] [subtitles]  I am longing for freedom.  I am longing─

RANDA SLIM:  And then, I think what happened is a decision was made by Assad regime that we are not going to negotiate.

NEWSCASTER:  New deadly violence in Syria.  Army and security forces fired on peaceful protesters.  The government denies anyone was killed.

MARTIN SMITH:  Once the violence began, Iran sent in money, weapons and military advisers from the IRGC to help Assad crush the protests.

NEWSCASTER:  ─Syria, violence and protests.  Will the government─

MARTIN SMITH:  The official line both here and in Iran is that the uprising in 2011 was really a foreign plot.

[on camera]  Was there never a popular revolution in the first month─

FAISAL MEKDAD, Dep. Foreign Minister, Syria:  No.

MARTIN SMITH:  ─or weeks of the uprising?

FAISAL MEKDAD:  In fact, it has never been there.  I’m living here.  I know what happened.  It was a prepared, pre-fabricated scenario of what will happen.  Since the beginning, we have said that this is a war against Muslim fanatics.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  In fact, armed opposition to Assad grew gradually and was eventually made up of many different groups backed by many countries.

AFSHON OSTOVAR, Author, Vanguard of the Imam:  You had Saudi Arabia, who was an important patron, Qatar, who was an important patron.  UAE, to a lesser extent, was a patron.  You had Turkey, who was a patron.  You had the United States, who was a patron.  You had the EU, who was a patron.  Everybody is giving money to different people.   Everybody is giving different types of weapons to different groups.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Saudi Arabian government supported two hardline Sunni Islamist groups.

[on camera]  You paid millions of dollars into groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jaysh al-Islam─

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL, Dir. of Saudi Intelligence, 1977-2001:  And who are Ahrar al-Sham?  And who is Jaysh al-Islam?  They’re Syrians.  They’re Syrians being killed by whom?  They’re being killed by Iranians.  So we’re giving them the means to defend themselves.  We support the Syrian people.  The Iranians are killing the Syrian people.  That’s the difference between us.

RANDA SLIM:  Saudi Arabia tried to play the Iranian playbook, which is, “Let’s find groups which share sectarian identity with us and which are willing to fight and die for the cause.”  And the groups that they were able to find were Salafi groups.  These are the groups that they could find, fund, share with them sectarian identity, and they were willing to fight, to stand up to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, but also the Iranian proxy groups, be it Hezbollah or be it the Shia militia.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  There’s another militia group.

[voice-over]  The Shia militia groups backed by Iran are hard to track down here.  We’d been discouraged by Syrian officials in Damascus from visiting a famous Shia holy site.  We decided to go anyway.  This is the shrine of the Prophet Mohammed’s granddaughter, Sayedah Zeinab.

We arrived on the day of Arbaeen, where pilgrims mourn Zeinab’s brother, Hussayn, the revered Shia figure who was brutally murdered in the 7th century.  Worshipers ceremonially strike themselves for failing to save Hussayn from martyrdom.

[on camera]  What does it mean to you to be here?

PILGRIM:  [subtitles]  It means a lot to be here.  Sayedah Zeinab means so much to us.  We love the family of the prophet, and every year we come and pay our respects because of what happened to him.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Among the pilgrims were Shia fighters recruited by Iran.  This was why we were not supposed to film here.

SARA OBEIDAT, Producer:  They’re Afghans.  They don’t want to be filmed.

MARTIN SMITH, Correspondent:  [on camera]  All right.  So we just passed a group of Afghan volunteer soldiers who’ve come to fight in the Syrian war.

[voice-over]  There was the Fatemiyoun division, Afghan Shia trained by the IRGC.  And all around town there were posters of Iranian-backed Shia militia leaders from Iraq.

Most significant here among the pilgrims, Hezbollah fighters, Iran’s proxy army from neighboring Lebanon.  Supported by Iran since the early 1980s, Hezbollah has become a major political party and the most powerful military force in Lebanon.  They were secretive about their involvement in Syria.  Coming to the defense of Assad was politically controversial in Lebanon.  But Syria is strategically important for their survival.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment:  Iran has basically been using Syria as a thoroughfare to arm and finance Hezbollah.  And so for that reason, I think both Iran and Hezbollah saw the potential fall of the Assad regime in Syria as an existential threat to them, certainly for Hezbollah.

MARTIN SMITH:  And Iran had a much larger regional ambition, a land route from Tehran all the way to the Mediterranean and the border with Israel.

NEWSCASTER:  Iran has now secured a land corridor stretching from Tehran through Iraq and Syria all the way to Lebanon.

AFSHON OSTOVAR:  To me, that’s really the key to their foreign policy.  For Iran, a lot of what gives them any say in the region,  any say with the United States, is that they’re able to constantly put pressure on Israel and constantly threaten that they can attack Israel.  It’s an ideological goal.  It’s a political goal.  But it’s also a goal that they feel like they are slowly, gradually making progress on.

NEWSCASTER:  Hezbollah is projecting Iranian influence across the Middle East by fighting in Syria alongside the Syrian military.

MARTIN SMITH:  Meanwhile, Iran continues to say they don’t have a military presence in Syria and only provide advisers at the request of the Syrian government.

NEWSCASTER:  Hezbollah has supplemented its war of guerrilla warfare with conventional warfare and played a critical part in turning the war Assad’s way.

MARTIN SMITH:  In the end, the war in Syria will be recorded as among the most brutal in modern times.

NEWSCASTER:  An aerial attack in Syria’s Aleppo province using improvised munitions like these, the so-called barrel bombs.

MARTIN SMITH:  Assad has been guilty of horrific violence─ barrel bombs packed with nails and shrapnel, chemical weapons.  Whole cities have been under siege, an estimated half million dead.  And the war is not yet over.

NEWSCASTER:  Human beings inside Syria on all sides have suffered in the course of this war─ you know, nearly 10 million people made homeless, almost half the population of Syria having left their homes, you know, the sheer magnitude of what’s happening in Syria.

MARTIN SMITH:  But the opposition has been unable to topple Assad.  The Saudis believe the U.S. shares part of the blame.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  There was regional willingness to undertake action that U.S. and other countries were reluctant to lead.  But it would have required joint action by the United States.  And when Mr. Obama began to talk about red lines, naturally, the regional states thought that he was serious about that─

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  He was stepping up.

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL:  ─that he was stepping up.  But we know what happened.

NEWSCASTER:  ─getting reports minutes ago that Russia has launched air strikes in Syria.

MARTIN SMITH:  Two years later, when the Russians began aerial bombing, Iran sent in even more ground troops and the war turned decisively in Assad’s favor.

NEWSCASTER:  Russia wants to keep Assad in and working with Iran.

MARTIN SMITH:  Saudi support for the rebels has declined.

NEWSCASTER:  There seems to be a power vacuum developing in Syria─

ANAS JOUDEH, Syrian Nation Building Project:  The Saudi have withdraw from Syria.  If they are talking about vacuum, about filling power, they withdraw.  Nobody told them to─ to go out.  They withdraw.  And by de facto, the─ the power who is here will fill the vacuum.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  And what does it mean to you that these outside players have been destroying your cities and are making decisions outside the country as to what happens?

ANAS JOUDEH:  For us, it’s a matter now to choose between the bad and the worst.  Sadly, the interest of the average Syrian now is security.

MARTIN SMITH:  Just to be safe.

ANAS JOUDEH:  Just to be safe, a way that they can send their children to schools, that they can provide food to their families, they can live safely.  We are against the regime, the political power who is controlling the state, yes.   But we can’t leave the country.   We can’t afford not to work for this country.  We can’t.  We can’t.  It’s our destiny.

RANDA SLIM:  What happens in Syria will go a long way in shaping the perception throughout the region of who is the winner in this contest.  And right now, as of today, the winner in this contest in Syria is Iran.   We have now an Iranian expeditionary force that includes Hezbollah, includes Shi’ite militias from Iraq, Shi’ite from Pakistan, Shi’ite from Afghanistan that now can be deployed at Iran’s wish and under Iran control.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Confronted by Iran’s expansion, and nervous about America’s commitment to the region, the Saudis made a show of force.  In 2016, with a coalition of 34 mostly Sunni states, they staged a massive military exercise.  They called it Northern Thunder.

STEVE COLL, Author, The Bin Ladens:  Everybody in the neighborhood knows the truth about Saudi Arabia.  You know, it’s a powerful, very well financed, very economically important country, but there’s a little bit of a hollow core there.  And that’s what makes the Saudi royal family so insecure.

MARTIN SMITH:  The coalition was driven by the new young minister of defense, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who sat just behind his father, the aging King Salman.  The prince also intended Northern Thunder to send a message to the Americans.

STEVE COLL:  The Americans had been feckless in Syria and had left them with a regional conflict on their border.  And then to learn that the Obama administration might be making a kind of Nixon-to-China pivot in favor of Iran was infuriating and really disorienting, I think.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Saudis felt betrayed by Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, saying it would do nothing to curtail Iran’s military adventures.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, Foreign Minister, Saudi Arabia:  Our concern was what is being done about Iran’s nefarious activities in the region.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  And what did the Americans tell you?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  “We are dealing with this.  This is only strictly the nuclear talks.”  The view in the U.S. was that, “We deal with this separately.”  But the Iranians are making threatening moves in the Gulf.  Are we supposed to sit there without any defenses?  Of course not.

MARTIN SMITH:  Do you believe they have designs on Saudi Arabia itself?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  I hope not.  But from their actions and from their attempts to destabilize and their attempts to cause mischief, that may not be the case.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  South of Saudi Arabia, bordering the strategic passage to the Suez Canal, is Yemen.  Here, in the poorest country in the Middle East, is where Prince Mohammed bin Salman decided to draw a line against Iran.

This is Sa’dah, in Yemen’s far north, close to the Saudi border.  It is the tribal stronghold of the Houthi rebels.  The Houthis are from Yemen’s Zaidi sect, an ancient offshoot of Shia Islam.

[on camera]  It took us nine hours to get here last night.  They estimated it would take us four, but with checkpoints and bad road and bridges that were blown out, it took us nine hours.  This is a town that’s seen an immense amount of destruction.  There’s a building right here that’s been rocketed.

[voice-over]  Air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition have destroyed most of the city center.

[on camera]  There’s another destroyed building there.

[voice-over]  It’s a hard war to cover.  Outside media is rarely let in.  We were the only American reporters allowed inside Houthi-controlled northern Yemen in all of 2017.

In the old city, the marketplace had been bombed the previous year.

SHOPKEEPER:  [subtitles]  It was all full here, but from the bombing─

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  So what are you going to do now?

SHOPKEEPER:   [subtitles]  We are shut down now.  There is nothing else we can do.

MARTIN SMITH:  What do you say to the people who did this to you?

SHOPKEEPER:  [subtitles]  This is wrong, according to both Sharia and the Prophet teachings.  The people who did this are oppressive people.  They set the entire market on fire.  They turned it all into one big fireball.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Missile strike right here on the left.

[voice-over]  Everywhere we went, we saw and heard about the devastation from Saudi bombs.

[on camera]  Why would they bomb that?

DRIVER:  [subtitles]  [They bomb] infrastructure in general.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  In the towns and in the countryside.

1st BOY:  [subtitles]  It fell and hit the middle of the house.  Whhshhhhh-boom!

2nd BOY:  [subtitles]  I saw a missile coming down.  I was terrified and started to cry.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  Were friends of yours inside the funeral?

GIRL:  [subtitles]  My aunt Ishraq and all of them.

PRODUCER:  What happened to them?

GIRL:  [subtitles]  They were killed by the missile.

MAN:  [subtitles]  The rocket came from this side.

MARTIN SMITH:  War is not new to Yemen.  The country has been wracked by civil wars for more than 50 years.

NEWSCASTER:  Houthi rebels advance in Sana’a as the situation in Yemen deteriorates further.

NEWSCASTER:  ─that Yemen is at the edge of civil war.

MARTIN SMITH:  And in 2015, the Houthis seized the capital.

NEWSCASTER:  The rebels have taken over the Yemeni capital Sana’a and advanced into majority-Sunni areas.

MARTIN SMITH:  Although the Houthis had a relationship with Iran and Hezbollah, at this stage, there was little evidence of direct military support.

NEWSCASTER:  The country’s information minister says Houthi rebels have seized the presidential palace.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Saudi-backed president fled to Riyadh, where he was met at the airport by Prince Mohammed.  The prince had made a crucial decision.  Convinced that the Houthi rebellion represented a threat from Iran, he ordered a bombing campaign together with a coalition of Sunni states, called “Operation Decisive Storm.”

NEWSCASTER:  These Saudi fighter jets are on their way to attack rebel positions in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia has long been known for getting Washington to fight its battles.  Not this time.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. State Dept., 1972-2012:  The Saudis didn’t consult with us.  They told us about 48 hours before they started the campaign.

NEWSCASTER:  The chaos in Yemen has suddenly expanded into a dangerous regional war.

RYAN CROCKER:  We were the closest of allies in the Middle East, and that decision shows how badly the relationship had unraveled, where they would take a military action, again, without consulting us on it.

PRINCE MOHAMMED BIN SALMAN:  [subtitles]  The war [in Yemen] was not the preferred choice of Saudi Arabia.

MARTIN SMITH:  The prince said the war was necessary because Iran’s goal is to get to Mecca, and, quote, “We will not wait for a war on Saudi soil.”  I had met the prince in Riyadh last year.  He didn’t want to do an on-camera interview, but we had a long talk.  He told me how he wanted to reform and modernize Saudi society.  He dismissed the rivalry with Iran.  But he said he would stop them once and for all in Yemen.

[on camera]  I met with Prince Mohammed bin Salman the other night.  And he told me, quote, “There’s no rivalry with Iran.  This is Iranian propaganda.  They are not worthy of our attention, and not even number 20 on our list of concerns.”  You buy that?

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  Of course.  We don’t─

MARTIN SMITH:  “Of course” because it’s from─

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  No, what we─ what we have with Iran is, when you see rivalry as competition.  We’re not competing with Iran.  We don’t want to compete with Iran.  We just─ we─ we just─

MARTIN SMITH:  But you’re fighting a war against them in─ in Yemen.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  We’re not fighting a war against them in Yemen.  We want them to get off our case.  That’s what we want.   Yemen was taken over by a militia allied with Iran and Hezbollah that is now in possession of ballistic missiles.    The Iranians have no business in Yemen.

Gen. AHMED ASIRI, Saudi Ministry of Defense:  [subtitles]  They were targeted in the first operation─

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The spokesman for the Saudi-led military coalition at the time was General Ahmed Asiri.

Gen. AHMED ASIRI:  The Houthi, they hijack the country, they hijack the parliament.  They seized the institution of the country.  They imprisoned the president.  We decide to protect our national security and to help the Yemeni government,

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  So you launch air strikes─

Gen. AHMED ASIRI:  No, we launch a military operation.  We don’t want to emphasize in using this kind of sensitive or bombing air strike.  We launch a military campaign.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Whatever the general wants to call it, the bombing has been relentless.  In October 2016, Saudi warplanes struck the al Kubra hall in the capital, Sana’a.  Hundreds of people, including some Houthi officials, were attending a funeral.

NEWSCASTER:  Officials say at least 140 people were killed and hundreds more injured when the bombs fell on this funeral hall on Saturday afternoon, the single deadliest attack in this 19-month war.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Saudis fired two American-made precision weapons.  As people ran back inside to save lives, the second missile hit.

MAN:  [subtitles]  The hall was packed with people.

MARTIN SMITH:  This man told me 26 members of his family died.

MAN:  [subtitles]  And all of a sudden, the first missile hit and the whole hall was engulfed in fire.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  The Saudis say this was a mistake, that they didn’t intend to bomb a funeral.

MAN:  [subtitles]  I don’t care what they say, they attacked the Yemeni people.

ABDULAZIZ BIN HABTOUR, Houthi Prime minister:  [subtitles]  Saudi Arabia bombs us during our wedding ceremonies.  It bombs our funerals.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  Abdulaziz bin Habtour is the Houthi-led government’s prime minister.

ABDULAZIZ BIN HABTOUR:  [subtitles]  Every time that Saudi Arabia takes new measures against us, the entire world either remains silent, closes its eyes, or applauds.  This is the bitter truth that the world doesn’t want to acknowledge.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  We have in March the market bombing in northern Yemen.  And then in May, we have the bombing of Sa’dah and Marran.  And in October 2016, a Sana’a funeral bombing.  People say the Saudis have not complied with generally accepted rules of warfare in terms of protecting civilian populations.  The question is, why do these persist?

Gen. AHMED ASIRI:  No, let me tell you something.  When you conduct a military operation, mistake will happen.

MARTIN SMITH:  How many civilians have died as a result?

Gen. AHMED ASIRI:  No, we don’t have numbers of civilian death because of the─ the Yemen government have this─

MARTIN SMITH:  What was their number?

Gen. AHMED ASIRI:  Ask the Yemeni government.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  But no one could give us accurate numbers.  The U.N. last estimated 10,000 civilian dead, but that was over a year ago.

NEWSCASTER:  Saudi Arabia’s air campaign against Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen is setting off concerns for a far-reaching regional war.

BERNARD HAYKEL, Princeton University:  The Saudis have always regarded Yemen as their back yard and as their ward, geopolitically but also economically.  And what you’re seeing with the Saudis in Yemen is they’re building their capacity to project force.  And Yemen is, in fact, in some ways a training ground for them to be able to do that, ultimately not with the aim of, you know, destroying Yemen, but building up the capacity be able to confront Iran, should there ever be a war with Iran.

MARTIN SMITH:  Fifteen hundred miles away in Tehran, officials blame the Saudis for Yemen’s trouble.

[on camera]  What is the importance strategically of Yemen?  What’s your─

JAVAD ZARIF, Foreign Minister, Iran:  It’s not─

MARTIN SMITH:  ─interest in Yemen?

JAVAD ZARIF:  It’s not.  We know that Yemen is important for Saudi Arabia, and we never want to stab Saudi Arabia in the back.  We send messages to them before Yemen erupted into this that Yemen is in turmoil.  Let’s work out something.  And the only response we got─ you know, what─ what was the response?  “Arab world is none of your business.”

HUSSEIN SHEIKHOLESLAM, Foreign Ministry, Iran:  Yes.  We tried to solve this.  We tried to talk to the Saudis.

MARTIN SMITH:  The Saudis say Iran is involved in Iraq, Iran is involved in Syria, in Lebanon, in Bahrain, and in Yemen.  And they fear─

HUSSEIN SHEIKHOLESLAM:  The two finally─ the two final country, Yemen and Bahrain, we are not really there.

MARTIN SMITH:  But you’re still involved in─ you’ve chosen sides.


MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  A few hours outside Sana’a, we came upon a graduation ceremony for fighters about to set off for the front lines.  Their slogans sounded like what I’d heard in Iran and with Hezbollah.

MEN:  [subtitles]  Death to America!  Death to Israel!  God curse the Jews!  Victory to Islam!

MARTIN SMITH:  While the Houthis continue to deny they’re getting military help from Iran, analysts believe some has been getting through.

AFSHON OSTOVAR, Author, Vanguard of the Imam:  What I think Iran is trying to do is to fund and support an insurgency in Yemen that, should it succeed, Yemen suddenly becomes an ally of Iran.  But even if it fails or it just lasts a long time, you have completely distracted your chief adversary, Saudi Arabia, from the war in Syria, from the war in Iraq.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  And how much is it costing Iran?

AFSHON OSTOVAR:  It’s hard to say, but it does not seem that it’s costing them all that much.  They’re not able to give them enough for the Houthis to succeed.  But what they are able to do, I think, is perpetuate that conflict and to fuel the fire as long as it goes.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  It’s hard to track how much help Iran is providing.

TIM MICHETTI, Conflict Armament Research:  If, indeed, the Iranians are providing support to the Houthis, that should show up in the weapons record.

MARTIN SMITH:  To determine the level of Iran’s engagement, Conflict Armament Research has analyzed Houthi weapons.  CAR is a private group with funding from the EU and a contract with one member of the Saudi coalition.

TIM MICHETTI:  We were able to determine that these drones were not indigenously designed nor manufactured.  Its design was essentially identical to an Iranian drone called an Ababil-II.  The serial number prefixes were almost exactly the same.  The internal components matched with up with internal components used in Iranian drones.  And then we traced some of the components back to an Iranian distributor.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  So when the Houthis say, “We’re not getting any kind of support from Iran in terms of weapons or material.”  What do you say to that?

TIM MICHETTI:  The evidence clearly shows otherwise.

MARTIN SMITH:  Are you familiar with Conflict Armament Research Group?  Their conclusions are that Iran has provided technical know-how at least, and in some cases, armaments to Yemen.

ABDUL AZIZ AL HAPTOUR:  [subtitles]  While searching underneath the table, above the table, inside the matchbox, inside the cigarette pack, thinking “this is Iranian” or “that concept is Iranian” or “the fingerprint is Iranian”?  All these are lies.  Of course, they provide us with humanitarian aid.  Iran helps us in that sense.  But anything from the IRGC that was sent to the Houthis, only God would know.  We haven’t heard of anything like that until this moment.

HISHAM SHARAF, Foreign Minister, Houthi-Controlled Yemen:  They are not helping us.  We wish they are doing so.

MARTIN SMITH:  The problem is that nobody believes you.

HISHAM SHARAF:  Yes, I know that.

MARTIN SMITH:  Americans don’t believe you when you say that there’s no help from Iran.

HISHAM SHARAF:  Yes, I let them believe that.  I believe what I say.  I’m very happy with that.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  There are no questions about who supplies weapons to the Saudis.  The largest amount comes from the United States.

This is the Amran cement factory.  After successive Saudi air attacks, it was shut down.  Fifteen hundred workers lost their jobs.

ABDULLAH AL HAIMI:  [subtitles]  We’ve had to take our daughters out of university.  No job, no income.  The children are just sitting at home.  What kind of life is that?

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  The Saudis say that they’re fighting Iran in Yemen.

ABDULLAH AL HAIMI:  [subtitles]  It has nothing to do with this.  The factory has nothing to do with a political dispute.  It has nothing to do with Iran in any way.

MARTIN SMITH:  So who makes this?

ABDULLAH AL HAIMI:  [subtitles]  America, the United States.  It’s American.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  It’s a CBU 105, a U.S.-made cluster bomb.  It delivers 40 separate explosive projectiles.  Following reports of their use in Yemen, they were discontinued.  How many are left in Saudi stockpiles is unknown.  In 2016, the Obama administration halted shipments of both cluster bombs and precision-guided weapons, but the damage had been done.

CROWD:  [subtitles]  Death, death to America!  America is the mother of terrorism!

MARTIN SMITH:  Back in the capital Sana’a, we came across a rally called “No to U.S. Terrorism.”

[on camera]  What brought you here today?  Why’d you come?

MAN:  Today I came here to tell the world that we are suffering.  We are dying here.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The rally was timed to coincide with President Trump’s arrival in Riyadh, the first foreign visit of his presidency.  He pledged to renew America’s relationship with the kingdom.

RALLY SPEAKER:  You, Trump, stop killing Yemenis with Saudi hands!

MARTIN SMITH:  Trump promised another $110 billion in weapons to the Saudis.

Pres. DONALD TRUMP:  And we will be sure to help our Saudi friends to get a good deal from our great American defense companies.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The Houthis greeted him by launching a missile at Riyadh.

[on camera]  You seem like you’re bogged down in Yemen at this point.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR:  I don’t think so.  We’re not bogged down.  We’re making progress.  The U.S. has been fighting in Afghanistan for 10 years.  You’ve been fighting in Iraq for how many years?  The coalition against ISIS in Syria has been conducting operations for how many years?  Longer than our war in Yemen.

MARTIN SMITH:  [voice-over]  The war in Yemen is now in its fourth year.  Both sides stand accused of war crimes.  The country is failing.  Garbage lies uncollected.  Drinking water is polluted.  And there’s the biggest cholera outbreak in modern history.  In addition, there is widespread malnutrition.

In Hajjah, one of Yemen’s poorest provinces, I met 5-year-old Ruqayah.  The hospital up near her home, hours away, had been bombed.  Other children can’t even reach here.

NURSE:  [subtitles]  They don’t have the means to travel from their areas, which are usually very far from ours.  So they wait.

MARTIN SMITH:  Just a day or two before, a severely malnourished boy had come in, but it was too late.

NURSE:  [subtitles]  We get very upset.  We do our job and we love the child.  And in the end, they pass away.  It’s hard.

MARTIN SMITH:  [on camera]  And who do you blame for the war?

NURSE:  [subtitles]  For the war?  I blame this nation and the foreign countries attacking us.  That’s how I see it, both sides.

MARTIN SMITH:  Yemen now is facing a dual humanitarian crisis.    Does that matter to Tehran?

AFSHON OSTOVAR:  I don’t think so.  And the reason I don’t think so is because I don’t think they see it as their fault.   any of the injustice that’s happening, any of the suffering.  The entirety of the humanitarian crisis is being blamed on Saudi Arabia.  But what Iran never does is take responsibility for any of the bad things that happen in the areas that it’s involved in.  Together, they have done this to the region.  But neither of them see themselves as responsible.  They all see it being driven from the other side.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, Carnegie Endowment:  When elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers.  And in today’s Middle East, the two elephants are Iran and Saudi Arabia.   There’s been over a million casualties in the Middle East over the last decade.  But they’ve been Syrian.  They’ve been Yemeni.  They’ve been Iraqi.  Iranian and Saudi citizens aren’t the ones that are suffering.

Journalist Nawal al-Maghafi Yemen
Yemen’s COVID Cover-Up
How the coronavirus pandemic has deepened Yemen's humanitarian crisis.
February 9, 2021