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IRAN: Facts and Ahmadinejad's political rhetoric

September 23, 2008 |  2:13 pm


As Americans are repeatedly being reminded during this marathon political season, all politicians stretch the truth.

But sometimes their bending of facts goes over the line.

During a lively interview with the Los Angeles Times in New York on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiled amicably and graciously accepted a Los Angeles Dodgers cap as a small token of Angeleno courtesy.

But as politicians do throughout the world, he also made several statements that did not entirely square with publicly known facts.

[UPDATE, Sept. 24, 2008, 3 a.m. PST: A number of commenters below appear to believe that this blog item was the only article that came out of the interview. In fact, a news article and a partial transcript were also published in the paper and posted to the website. Click links above to access them.]

For example, responding to a question about Iran's economy, Ahmadinejad stated that "we do not have poor people or people who live below the poverty line to the extremes that you find in the United States," an assertion that raised eyebrows among Iran experts. 

Despite great successes in increasing literacy and public health, grave poverty still exists in the Islamic Republic, especially in rural areas on the country's eastern, southern and western fringes and in certain urban pockets.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, 40% of Iranians live below the poverty line. And 7.3% subsist on less than $2 a day, according to the World Bank, even as inflation has spiraled so high in Iran that authorities are planning to lop several zeros off the Iranian rial, the national currency.

Iran's prez also said he had never claimed that he was guided by God's hand. "I am the representative of the people of Iran," he told Los Angeles Times Managing Editor Davan Maharaj, Foreign Editor Bruce Wallace and Jerusalem bureau chief Richard Boudreaux.

But in his public speeches, Ahmadinejad has repeatedly invoked the Imam Mahdi, known as the as the "Savior of Times," who in the Shiite faith will appear on Judgment Day to herald a truly just government.

And when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 2005 Ahmadinejad asked the "mighty Lord" to hasten the emergence of the Mahdi. Some scholars say Shiite religious texts outlaw such claims to revelations.

According to a Washington Post report, Ahmadinejad ran into a spot of trouble earlier this year when several leading Iranian clerics criticized him for saying that the Imam Mahdi runs modern-day Iran.

"We see his hand directing all the affairs of the country," Ahmadinejad had told students during a speech in May. "A movement has started for us to occupy ourselves with our global responsibilities. God willing, Iran will be the axis of the leadership of this movement."

Finally, Ahmadinejad also said that in Iran "freedom is absolute and it is the law that rules.... Even academics can freely speak in the presence of our leader and criticize."

He all but condemned criticism of his country's human rights records as lies made up by "Zionists" and the U.S. government. But independent human rights groups and monitors say Iran has a fairly atrocious record when it comes to freedom of speech and repression of political dissidents.

In a Sept. 18 press release, Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group, said that "under President Ahmadinejad’s administration, Iran’s human rights record has deteriorated markedly."

The European parliament recently adopted a measure condemning Iran as the leading country in the world in terms of imposing capital punishment on juvenile offenders.

In its last serious assessment of Iran's human rights practices five years ago, the United Nations found "situations of arbitrary detention," "infringements of freedom of opinion and expression" and "abuse of 'solitary confinement,'" among other violations of basic rights.

— Los Angeles Times staff writers

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Photo: From left, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Los Angeles Times Foreign Editor Bruce Wallace, Managing Editor Davan Maharaj and Jerusalem bureau chief Richard Boudreaux speak in New York on Monday. The Dodgers cap sits on the table. Credit: Raja News