Osama bin Laden, shown in April 1998. (Associated Press )
Reporting from Beirut and Tehran — Osama bin Laden was a Sunni Muslim extremist who considered Iran's Shiite majority faith a blasphemous deviation from the Koran. His ideological fellow travelers killed members of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guard in eastern Iran and slaughtered Shiites in Iraq.
But his death was a great victory for the United States and the Obama administration. And so, within the cold calculus of Middle East politics and diplomacy, it was a defeat for Tehran.
"Because the algebraic sum in the Middle East is zero, whatever is a victory for the U.S. should be assumed as a defeat for the Islamic Republic of Iran," said Maziyar Aqazadeh, the head of the international desk at the daily newspaper Farhikhtegan.
As word of Bin Laden's death spread Monday, Iranian officials and state media alternately disparaged the news as a fabrication, labeled it part of a cynical conspiracy and cited it as a reason why the U.S. should now pull its troops out of the region.
"Obama and the Democrats are busy with their election campaigns, so it was apparently the best time to announce the killing of Bin Laden," a news reader on state television said. "Perhaps the announcement might divert public attention from the economic crisis and the Alabama storm and the Obama administration's incompetence in the face of such crises."
Another commentator, addressing the U.S. directly on state television, said, "If Bin Laden was your major problem in the region, you should withdraw your troops from the region now."
Some intelligence analysts have long accused Iran of providing logistical support to Bin Laden and his allies, a charge Iranians have denied. But despite their ideological differences, Bin Laden served Tehran's interests. He whipped up anti-American sentiment in the region and urged his followers to kill U.S. soldiers, activities in line with Tehran's strategic agenda. His injection of scripture into political rhetoric fit in well with the Iranian political elites' melding of the messianic and the mundane. Both Iran and Al Qaeda opposed the influence of the region's native secularists.
"Fighting fundamentalism and promoting democracy is not what the Islamic Republic of Iran wants," said one analyst, who asked that her name not be published for fear of retribution. "The loser now is the Islamic Republic of Iran in the aftermath of killing Bin Laden."
Times staff writer Daragahi reported from Beirut and special correspondent Mostaghim from Tehran.