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A resident of Tehran washes "Yankee Go Home" graffiti from a wall in Tehran on August 21, 1953, after the coup d'etat which put the Shah in power. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/cc)

Can Iran Sue the US for Coup and Supporting Saddam in Iran-Iraq War?

Juan Cole

 by Informed Comment

Iranian members of parliament have approved the details of a bill that insists US compensate Iran for its crimes against that country.

The bill comes as a result of a $2 billion judgment against Iran entered by a US court and backed by an act of the US Congress, on behalf of the families of Marines killed in a Beirut bombing in 1983. Iran was allegedly behind the attack, though responsibility for it was attributed to a fundamentalist Lebanese Shiite splinter group that was a predecessor of Hizbullah.

BBC Monitoring translated from the website of the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) in Persian 0622 gmt 17 May 16:

“The bill is entitled “Requiring the government to pursue compensation for damages incurred as a result of US actions and crimes against Iran and Iranian nationals”.

It was unveiled following a controversial US Supreme Court ruling that allows the use of nearly two billion dollars from Iran’s frozen assets as compensation for US “victims of terrorist acts sponsored by Iran”.

Of the 203 MPs present at the open session, 131 voted “Yes”, 10 “No”, and nine abstained.

Details of the bill

Article 1 of the bill, which was passed on 17 May, lists the following nine events as instances of “US crimes”:

“1) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the 1953 coup d’etat [that removed popular democratic leader Mohammad Mossaddeq from power];

“2) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Nozheh [Nojeh] coup d’etat [a foiled attempt in 1980 by a group of armed forces personnel that sought to topple the newly formed Islamic Republic];

“3) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the Imposed War [Iran’s name for the 1980s war with Iraq];

“4) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of over 223,000, and the self-sacrifices of another 600,000 (war prisoners and war disabled) [still referring to the Iran-Iraq war];

“5) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the martyrdom of 17,0000 assassinated martyrs [no elaborations provided];

“6) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the attacks on oil rigs [during the Iran-Iraq war];

“7) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of anti-Iran espionage conducted, sponsored or supported by the United Sates;

“8) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of blocking, seizing or interfering with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s assets and finances – including those of government and public organisations and institutions, as well as Iranian officials;

“9) Financial and non-financial damages incurred as a consequence of the actions undertaken, as well those which will be undertaken in the future, by the usurping Zionist regime – which have been carried out with the support or partial role of the US;”

The differences are not moral or legal high ground, but practical. Iran just doesn’t have possession of US assets that it can sequester. In contrast, the US froze billions in Iranian accounts in the US after the 1979 revolution. (This is Iran’s money and the US has no legal right to it, contrary to what Donald Trump keeps alleging).

It is not in fact clear that Iran was responsible for the 1983 bombing, though allies of Iran were.

But it certainly is the case that the US overthrew the elected government of Iran in 1953 and imposed a brutal dictatorship on the country, so as, in part, to dictate to Iran the terms on which it could export petroleum. And, it certainly did trillions of dollars of harm to Iran as a result.

It is also the case that the Reagan administration sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its war of aggression on Iran, supplying Iraq with weaponry and intel and even precursers for biological and chemical weapons. The chemical weapons were used on Iranian troops at the front. When Iran sought to have Iraq condemned for chemical weapons use at the UN Security Council, the Reagan administration ran interference for Saddam Hussein and prevented a UNSC condemnation of Baghdad.

Just to show that hypocrisy never goes out of style, Iraq’s use of chemical weapons was cited as a casus belli by the George W. Bush administration for its war of aggression in 2003.

So, yes, I think the harm the US did Iran during the Iran-Iraq War could well also be worth trillions. The blocking of a UNSC condemnation of Iraqi chemical weapons use alone would be worth that.

Iran won’t see a dime.

But it is the case that in a world where courts are making claims for universal jurisdiction, the US should be careful about litigating past political and military conflicts. Washington’s list of crimes is so long that sooner or later it will boomerang on the US elites.


© 2021 Juan Cole
Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His newest book, "Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires" was published in 2020. He is also the author of  "The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East" (2015) and "Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East" (2008).  He has appeared widely on television, radio, and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. 

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